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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
The saga of Scottish opera
Scottish opera have had to be bailed out
By BBC Scotland's Arts Correspondent Pauline McLean

If the saga of Scottish Opera's funding was an opera, it would be a Wagnerian one.

Prolonged, passionate and full of protest, politicians of all parties wish they could confine the saga to the stage but for the past decade, it is a row which has spilled offstage.

The latest twist involves the resignation of culture minister Sam Galbraith - and a last minute bequest to Scottish Opera.

Scottish Opera office
Scottish Opera was facing bankruptcy
The issue is largely one of money. Like all the national arts companies - Scottish Ballet, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra - Scottish Opera has had to deal with virtually standstill funding through the 90s.

Their 7.5 million pound share of the Scottish Arts Council's grant has to cover the costs of a full opera season, staffing onstage and behind the scenes and a string of educational and community projects. Increasingly, that's become a tall order.

Critical acclaim

New work like the acclaimed production of Verdi's Macbeth, premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1999, doesn't come cheap.


Scottish Opera gobbled up more than half of the music budget and received 14 times the amount given to traditional music

That production cost an estimated 750,000 and while it won critical acclaim, it almost closed the company down.

And if the company is to increase access and shake off the elitist image of opera, it needs to put even more resources into its outreach work.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Arts Council, under pressure from politicians to spread its 30m budget and 25m lottery funds around more art forms, particularly towards indigenous arts, has been, in turn, pressuring Scottish Opera to find ways of keeping the costs down.

Cut back

Various money saving schemes involving merged companies and shared resources have been tried and abandoned.

Last year, the company cut back on the number of new productions: this season is mainly made up of revivals of popular shows.

But the resignation of culture minister Sam Galbraith in March brought a surprising but welcome windfall for the opera company.

Not only had he authorised an extra million pounds a year revenue funding for the next three years but he had ordered an extra 1.9m towards their much discussed deficit.

Politicians, once again overlooked in the process, were outraged, calling for the money to be suspended.

Constant patching

Other arts organisations, in similarly cash-strapped conditions were understandably annoyed, accusing the culture minister of favouritism.


If anything, the company wants to expand its work, particularly with new audiences, and all that costs money

Even before the increase, Scottish Opera gobbled up more than half of the music budget and received 14 times the amount given to traditional music.

But Scottish Opera argues that this constant patching of emergency funding is symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

Structural under funding means they have notched up a debt which will not go away unless the company is scaled down dramatically. And as a major opera company, with the cost of maintaining singers, staff and standards, that is not an option.

Promises

If anything, the company wants to expand its work, particularly with new audiences, and all that costs money.

The new 4.9m package will help. It will mean the company can at least launch a full, brand new season this summer.

But it will not wipe out the deficit and no-one least of all Scottish Opera, is making any promises.

The curtain might have fallen on the14th emergency hand-out in a decade of drama, but this story looks likely to go on and on.


In DepthIN DEPTH
BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
See also:

14 Jan 00 | Scotland
08 Nov 99 | Scotland
05 Nov 99 | Scotland
03 Nov 99 | Scotland
24 Oct 99 | Scotland
23 Mar 00 | Scotland
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