Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Tuesday, 8 June 2004

Scottish Opera has been forced to adapt, to survive

Scottish Opera has been in dire financial straits for some time. The crunch had come - close, or adapt to survive. It is a long and not particularly unusual story - the artistic ambitions of those who ran Scottish Opera were not matched by the realities of the funding available or the potential audiences available (and the ticket prices that could realistically be set) outside the major populations areas of Scotland, which had to be served if the opera company was to be 'national' rather than limited to Glasgow and Edinburgh. This is explained at much greater length here. One particular comment from an indirectly attributed interested party, said to be someone 'closely involved with the opera for many years', strikes me as particularly to the point:

"It was one of the saddest results of the move towards independence that the Scottish Arts Council was split to match the political scene. We are now dealing with a much smaller view of Scottish Opera than was managed when it [was] dealt with down south. Overall, there is a general feeling that it is an elitist entertainment for wealthy people."

- I have never made any secret of my view that Scottish Devolution was a huge mistake, based upon misguided notions of Scotland and its place in the United Kingdom. Just as I predicted, the Scottish Executive is dominated by people largely drawn from the Central Belt of Scotland, only natural in one sense because that is where most Scots live. Many of these characters might just about have managed to make the grade on local or regional councils (but one look at Glasgow's public debt level might cause one to revise one's views!), but are pretty low calibre people to have running a 'national' budget (the stunning fiasco of the new Scottish Parliament building project and the lack of intelligent parliamentary oversight, and the grandiose financially moronic decisions which have been the sad result, speak for themselves). The other reality is, of course, that opera is (in the UK at least) an elitist activity - the numbers of people wo wish to attend opera productions are quite limited, quite apart from the cost of doing so; even were attendance 'free', I am not sure that huge numbers would flock in. Those who are specially keen are not, however, an economic elite - they wish their interest to be financed largely by those who have no particular interest in opera. Afficionados of opera are a self-selected 'cultural' elite, perhaps. I enjoy opera, and usually try to attend productions put on by Scottish Opera locally, in Inverness, but I do not travel to the other end of the country to see productions (as some do). Those who wanted devolution (or 'inependence' - and I use quotes around that word quite deliberately and for good reason) are now seeing the inevitable results of confusing mystic notions of what they wanted to see happen with the reality of what was likely to happen. Undoubtedly 'independence'/devolution for Scotland could have been made to work (Ireland has proved this), but to do so one has to adapt to changed circumstances. Currently we have in Scotland the very worst of both options (full integration within the UK, or 'independence'). Scottish Opera had struggled financially long before devolution ever happened, of course, but it is thrown into sharper focus today because of the wider financial and political consequences of devolution.

The solutions chosen have provoked anger amongst those who criticise the decisions taken, some of whose main effects will be to 'let go' all the professional singers, whilst retaining a core central staff and a 53-piece orchestra. Of course it still has to 'sound' good, so the continuing role of Scottish Opera regionally is emphasised, but quite how this is to be achieved with itinerant singers, in an opera company of all things (!) will be interesting to watch.

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