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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Opera star's anger at 'dumbing down'
Bond's album was banned from the classical charts
Bond's album was banned from the classical charts
One of the UK's top opera singers has hit out at the "dumbing down" of classical music.

Sir Thomas Allen, who has sung at the English National Opera and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, is hosting next week's Royal Philharmonic Society dinner, where he will hit out at current state of classical music.

The baritone star is upset by record companies using provocative female images, such as those of string quartet Bond, to sell records.

He also complained about the programming at London's South Bank Centre and the trend of modernising the staging of 18th-Century operas.


The recording business is in decline, so it produces all these gimmicks, the wet T-shirts and pubescence

Sir Thomas Allen
Over the last few years many classical musicians have traded on their image to make the crossover to the pop charts, including Vanessa Mae, Russell Watson and Medieval Babes.

Sir Thomas, who will be singing at the Prom at the Palace for the Queen's Golden Jubilee, told The Independent newspaper that it is time for a change.

He said: "The recording business is in decline and seeking a way to sustain itself. So it produces all these gimmicks, the wet T-shirts and pubescence, and we're looking at a diminution of quality," he said.

Sir Thomas is one of the world's top baritones
Sir Thomas is one of the world's top baritones
He highlighted the success of the Medieval Babes and Bond as examples, although he did admit in the interview that he not heard of Bond until he saw a picture of them in a magazine with them in bikinis.

"We need some sort of charisma, it does need street cred," he added. "But [conductor] Simon Rattle didn't kowtow to this kind of dumbing down."

Bond are famed for their glamorous image, but were barred from the British classical charts last year because their material was deemed too similar to pop music.

A picture of the quartet naked was withdrawn as their CD cover.

A spokeswoman for their record label, Decca, told BBC NewsOnline that no one was available to talk about Sir Thomas's comments.

Denial

Also under attack was the programming at London's South Bank Centre, which he called "pathetic".

Sir Thomas claimed that no new composers were being heard and that there were too many performances of the likes of Beethoven's Fifth.

However director of performing arts at the SBC, Jody Myers, denied this was the case.

She told BBC News Online: "His comments are many miles wide of the work.

Russell Watson is one of the crossover acts
Russell Watson is one of the crossover acts
"I think a lot of people only look at programmes that reinforce their own opinions. We pride ourselves on the high quality of work across a whole range of genres."

Sir Thomas is also upset at the reworking of 18th Century operas and cited the controversial Don Giovanni as an example.

The English National Opera's version, which featured orgies, drug-taking and explicit language, received a mixed reception when it opened last year.

He said: "What bothers me is that traditional skills seem to be frowned upon now and are being dismantled little by little.

"Those of us who know about that period and those costumes need to be able to hand on skills."

He added that he was worried that important aspects were being "diluted or lost".

The English National Orchestra were currently unavailable for comment.

See also:

27 Apr 01 | Music
Classical Brits announced
18 Apr 01 | Music
Bond quartet hit US high note
01 Jun 01 | Arts
Boos greet coke-snorting opera
06 May 00 | Entertainment
Church wins Classical Brit award
28 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Curtain up on Classical Brits
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