Letter: Wanting opera at music hall prices

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: Many of us who worked on the finances of the Arts Council from the Fifties to the Eighties have a feeling of deja vu on reading David Lister's well-balanced article 'Save up for a night at the opera' (11 August) about the problems with the Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet companies. Nicholas Payne, soon to head the Royal Opera Company, was my specialist financial adviser on music when I was the council's finance director and we discussed these problems daily.

They were clarified for me nearly 40 years ago when Sir William Emrys Williams, the Secretary-General of the Arts Council, said:

You can decide, as a democracy, not to have a Royal Opera and Royal Ballet, but you cannot decide to have them on the cheap.

He also pointed out that you could not order smoked salmon and caviare and explain to the waiter that you were not going to pay more than five shillings.

The Royal Opera House seats 2,098 people, so, whatever the subsidy and the seat pricing, only a tiny minority of the population will ever have access to its performances. What its existence guarantees is the production of opera, dance and music, which should be available to the vast public who need to have access to it through radio and television, films, cassettes, records and videos and, yes, even Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Indeed, most of this country's musical output is dependent on these subsidised activities since singers, dancers, musicians and technicians from subsidised companies go on to use their training in the whole commercial world of entertainment.

While at the Arts Council I produced figures, which were agreed by the Treasury but not accepted as a basis of subsidy, that the country received back pounds 3m in VAT, taxes and financial benefits for every pounds 1m invested in the arts.

Yours faithfully,


London, NW5

11 August