Stage performance on screen: Is it to be or not to be for the English National Opera?

ENO artistic director appears to have experience a fiscal Christmas epiphany

Share

Screening stage performances in the multiplex has been one of the great successes of recent times. Several of our big companies, including the Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and National Theatre, are at it. So it was fitting that the end of this year has seen English National Opera decide to screen its shows. ENO artistic director John Berry said: “ENO’s entry into cinemas will be as distinctive as our live work in the theatre, creating a truly cinematic experience....I believe that the cinema broadcasts will enable many more people to enjoy the excitement and passion of ENO’s work...”

But wait a minute. Deep in the memory something stirs. Who was it who declared controversially but unequivocally in May 2012: “This obsession about putting work out into the cinema can distract from making amazing quality work. It is of no interest to me. It is not our priority. It doesn’t create new audiences either.”

Good heavens. It was the same John Berry. Actually I’m rather an admirer of Mr Berry and the brilliant work he has done at ENO. But this is quite a change of mind. How can he be convinced in 2012 that a cinema screening “doesn’t create new audiences”, but certain in 2013 that “it will enable more people to enjoy ENO’s work.” It’s all very strange. Was there some sort of epiphany that occurred? Perhaps it was a fiscal epiphany, with someone drawing to his attention that New York’s Metropolitan Opera, which pioneered screenings of performances in cinemas, makes 11m dollars profit a year.

This is the time of year to be charitable. So let us allow our arts grandees to change their minds, even in spectacular style. But as it happens, I think John Berry had some right on his side when he spoke out, unfashionably and against current cultural thinking, last year. Good and successful as these multiplex screenings are, they do not have the magic and electricity of witnessing a live stage performance. Perhaps more importantly, they deflect attention from the lack of touring in Britain by publicly funded companies like the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet. How easy it is to say that you are reaching audiences  across the country, when what you mean is in cinemas rather than by touring.

Come to think of it, English National Opera is another of those publicly funded “national” companies that does no touring whatsoever. Is the belated entry into the “cinematic experience”, and the spectacular change of mind, realisation that this can be a substitute for touring? It isn’t. The first priority of our national companies must be to be seen, and seen live, by more of the taxpayers who fund them. The “cinematic experience” is an extra, a wonderful extra, but still an extra.

Bonuses and fundraising

One fact in a story this week about pay rises for gallery directors rather intrigued me. A gallery spokesman said that some of the rise was due to “bonuses against fundraising” which are “quite normal in the cultural sector.” I’d say the cultural sector has kept this rather quiet. Indeed, the cultural sector, and those at the top of it, normally say privately how wearying it is to spend so much time fundraising, instead of working on exhibitions, plays, operas and the like. They never mention these bonuses. One would have thought that fundraising, the norm in the cultural sector for decades now, would be seen as part of the job and bonus-free. Perhaps the cultural sector could offer clarification.

Mistletoe and Cliff

After artist Grayson Perry had outed Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota as a Cliff Richard fan in his Reith lecture, I speculated on the cosy evenings Sir Nicholas must spend at home listening to Summer Holiday and Bachelor Boy at the end of a hard day’s viewing of conceptualist art. This week Sir Nicholas hosted the annual Tate Christmas lunch for the press, always an excellent occasion. When he made his speech, he took with him to the stage a vintage, 1970s portable record player and proceeded to play to the assembled guests Cliff Richard’s former Christmas hit, Mistletoe and Wine. Fortunately Sir Nicholas is an arbiter, not a follower, of fashion as this was the very week that Mistletoe and Wine was voted the second worst Christmas hit ever — whisper it not in the Tate, but Sir Cliff also occupied first place). Some might think that Sir Nicholas was enjoying a good-natured festive joke in playing the song in the august surroundings of Tate Britain. But I think not. I suspect this is something he has been dying to do for years, and his ambition is now fulfilled. To him, all art lovers, and even all Cliff-lovers, a very happy Christmas and New Year.

d.lister@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New rules mean individuals will no longer be allowed to register other people in their household  

A political voice that really needs to be heard

Rebecca Armstrong
If Miliband is PM, it is expected that Cameron will stand down as party leader quickly  

Election 2015: The Ed Miliband I worked with in Downing Street

Nick Rowley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living