Why the furlough scheme should be extended for musicians and actors

Antonio Pappano presented 'Live from Covent Garden' last weekend, the first live performance from the Royal Opera House since it closed its doors in March. But musicians are on the brink of an economic precipice, says Michael Church

Tuesday 16 June 2020 07:02 BST
Antonio Pappano and Louise Alder performing live from the Royal Opera House
Antonio Pappano and Louise Alder performing live from the Royal Opera House (Lara Cappelli / ROH)

It’s no surprise that those who work in the performing arts are looking over an economic precipice. Given a fanatical Brexiteer cabinet fixated on impossible dreams, and with some stunningly inadequate ministers in charge, it was grimly predictable that this Tory government would put concert halls and theatres right at the back of the queue for reopening.

The “devastated landscape” that the conductors Simon Rattle and Mark Elder fear for musicians is no exaggeration. Most musicians are freelancers, with forty per cent now missing out on any kind of financial support; most concert halls, like theatres, will run out of money by the end of this year, and many may close for good. If there was ever a case for selectively extending the furlough scheme, it should be for musicians and actors.

Regarding state support for the arts – or the lack of it – a telling comparison may be made. While 20 per cent of the Royal Opera House's (ROH) income, for example, comes from state subsidy, the equivalent figure for an opera house in Germany is 80 per cent. No wonder German musicians can contemplate the pandemic with relative equanimity. While their arts infrastructure is still intact, ours is crumbling; when the lockdown is lifted, there may simply be no work for our performers to come back to. The culture secretary Oliver Dowden has not thought to include even one representative of the musical world in his hastily-assembled cultural-renewal "taskforce". He protests that he "won’t let anyone down", but that’s very hard to believe.

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