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Sunday, 5 December, 1999, 13:24 GMT
Should public funds prop up opera?


The Royal Opera House in London is reopening after a 214m, three-year redevelopment, helped by 78.5m from the lottery fund.

And once the pomp and ceremony of a gala night for the Queen is out of the way, the house will soon be seeking increased public subsidies to increase the number of performances at the famous Covent Garden landmark.

The management insists real attempts are being made to open up opera and ballet to more people, with a varied programme and lower ticket prices, but it remains an area of the arts seen by a fraction of the population.

So is it right that money from the man in the street should be funnelled into such a specialist area? Is it a vital part of our culture that deserves support, or should it be left to fight its own corner?


No. We are supposed to live in a free market economy. This is gross "Nanny State" interference in the operation of the market. If there is no demand then it should go. It is surely wrong for a small elite with control of our money to be able to say that what they like is of over-riding importance and must be subsidised with public money because it must exist, and to them arrange things so that only they and their friends can get to see it! Most ordinary people will never get to Covent Garden. If it is so important to the health and culture of the nation then it should be taught in schools and available outside London.
Jonathan Maytham, England

Opera and the financial support of large institutional houses kept up for opera's sake, by the government viz the taxpayer, should be restricted to a pro-rata element of support in relation to other interests. Further, whoever in your articles said that people need educating to go to or appreciate opera - inferring that 99.99% of the population are uneducated - deserves reprimanding for their stupidity. Keep one major opera house where things like ballet and experimental arts can be maintained, Yes! But try to run it commercially.
Anthony Carpenter, UK

Yes, opera is a very important part of European Culture and must be supported. I come from a country which still has not got a real opera house...and regret this greatly. I spend much of my time in Vienna very much for this reason...to enjoy the Staatsoper. If we can make the opera houses of the world more accessible I believe it will help to maintain a higher level of culture and education.
Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus

Public Funds for the Royal Opera House are important for the culture of a United Kingdom. Opera is universal, the best knowledge of music is from the study of the Opera. The value of Opera is the master of the composition of the style and sound for presentation. The Opera has given beauty to all. See the beauty, attend the Opera. The only person not attending is the one who is not educated to attend, educate the public they will attend the Opera. Place value on education and Opera.
Catharine Hannover, United States

Yes, the state should sponsor the arts in the broadest way possible, and this does include Opera. Covent Garden did used to be run as a private club, but we have to give the new management the opportunity to prove they've changed that. The Royal Opera (like ALL the major opera companies in Britain) has an education department, this takes singers, and musicians out into the community putting on shows in Schools with the children, and other outreach projects. This is a fantastic use of public money, and for the opera not so stupid as it brings new audiences. Covent Garden should be properly funded so that the ticket prices are not too high, for example the ENO down the road has tickets for almost every production that start at around a fiver. This is cheap, and thrilling art and should be supported.
Gav, Germany

No its not fair that we should fund opera. The only time I get to see it is on T.V. Opera should and needs to be preserved, but horribly wrong for us to pay for the opera when the common people can't even see it live.
Alison, U.K

Howard Rogers, and other like minded souls, please note: The argument that everyone should subsidise opera for the same reasons that we all subside roads, schools etc does not stand up. First, opera, however enjoyable to those who appreciate it, is not an essential part of the fabric of society. Second, opera companies and the theatres in which they perform are (or have the potential to be, if properly run) profit-making enterprises. If they cannot attract enough money to survive, they have no moral claim to money that could otherwise relieve human suffering. That there are people who argue otherwise is beyond me.
Paul Hicks, UK

It's cheaper to go to Covent Garden than it is to go to Premier League football matches. Of course it should be funded by the Lottery. This country spends far less on the arts than virtually every other major Western country. If those who criticise the ROH actually bothered to expand their cultural horizons and pay a visit, they would realise that it is far from the elitist institution portrayed by the media. Opera can stir emotions and give insight into the human condition more than any amount of football, television or chart music.
Mark Sceeny, UK

Opera certainly deserves to be preserved as an art form and as such has a right to lottery money and government grants. I am not an opera fan but would like to reserve the right for myself and others to become one should the desire arise in the future.
Jason Heppenstall, England

Oh yeah, right. Even though the price of tickets is well out of the reach of most people, is largely inaccessible to the majority of the country (those who don't live within commuting distance of Central London), and they hardly ever sing in English.
Perhaps we could subsidise taxis to ferry our betters to and from the place and lay on hors d'oeurves before each performance. It'll be a great comfort to my old blind grandmother next time she's trapped in her house because a home help is unavailable
Craig Harry, England


People seem to forget that the National Lottery was set up by richer people in London for richer people in London.
Giovanni Tagliarini, UK
People seem to forget that the National Lottery was set up by richer people in London for richer people in London. They'd be going against their principles to share the money with "the lesser classes" rather than spending it on "good causes" such as the Millennium dome and the Royal Opera House. The sad thing is that people are actually gullible enough to buy tickets to fund a charity for the rich.
Giovanni Tagliarini, UK

YES!!! If it means that tickets are readily available and affordable to the people who have paid the most to refurbish the Opera House, namely Joe Public.
Justin, UK

Although I see the need for an opera house on the scale of this project, I am outraged that money for good causes badly needed elsewhere has been channelled into this 214 million white elephant. The money used doesn't address anyone's basic needs - it is a luxury paid for by the masses for the benefit of a few.
Rob Docherty, England

I can't say I'm surprised at the news that they've been given 214 million pounds, but then the South East of England always gets the lion's share of arts funding.
Michael Franks, Kuwait


The subject of this "debate" is dishonest: Lottery money is not tax money... No one is forced to play the lottery.
Michael O'Shea, UK (in The Netherlands)
The subject of this "debate" is dishonest: Lottery money is not tax money. Those people who are so against taxpayers money going towards such "wasteful" ends should be glad it's Lottery money that's being used. No one is forced to play the lottery.
These people would have something to complain about if they lived in France: President Mitterand built himself a series of buildings that were dubbed "pharaonic" and they were built with the taxpayers' money.
Michael O'Shea, UK (in The Netherlands)

Well the money is spent already, there is nothing anyone can do, so if we want to do something about it, why not use it... I will ... but I object most strongly to the fact that each year they will be asking for 20 Million in funds. 20 million, can you believe the cheek, they just got 214 million to take it forward, any now they say to keep it running will cost 20million, well for that kind of money they should employ cheaper dancers, musicians, chippies etc.
Iain Ferguson, UK

As an ex-pat I feel that if the Opera House cannot sustain itself, not enough people are interested in keeping it going, therefore it should not be allowed to carry on when the money could be spent on projects affecting the whole of society, like health care. Opera has always been a pursuit for the more well to do. It flourishes in New York without subsidy, why not in Britain?
James Evans, Canada


The ROH is a crucial part of the cultural make-up of this country. More and more, our musical institutions are being starved of funding and support.
Andrew Griffiths, UK
The ROH is a crucial part of the cultural make-up of this country. More and more, our musical institutions are being starved of funding and support; the refurbishment of Covent Garden is a triumphant example of the use of public funds to promote British music making at a time when such occurrences are worryingly rare. Only this month another fine orchestra, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, has been forced to suspend players' contracts due to catastrophic lack of funding.
Andrew Griffiths, UK

It is a complete disgrace that the money that I and my friends, all ordinary working people, put into the lottery every week should be spent on a rich man's opera house. Our local cinema was recently shut down due to financial problems but the lottery board turned down their application for funding. One rule for the rich and another for the poor?
Mark Verth, UK

A more pertinent question might be "why is the audience so limited?" The truth is that there is a huge part of our population - and if we imagine it has nothing to do with social class we're deluding ourselves - who think that they ought not to enjoy opera. If the government wants to extend the audience for opera it has to address the educational question of encouraging people to see opera and to make sense of it in their own terms.
Andy Morton, Scotland

Better to increase the tax subsidy and open the facility to a wider audience .... although this is unlikely to please those who regard themselves as the "privileged" or their wannabe imitators. They believe that "Joe Bloggs" should subsidise the opera but God forbid he would ever wish to attend!!
Michael Edge, USA


Money would be much better spent on hospitals, the homeless, the disabled...
Emma Blount, Wales
I think it's disgusting! Money would be much better spent on hospitals, the homeless, the disabled.... the list goes on!!
Emma Blount, Wales

I don't think that the government should subsidise opera or any other of the arts. Once the government gets involved in the arts, it can use them for propaganda purposes, which is how Hitler manipulated public opinion to get himself into power.
Subsidising the arts will lead to greater government regulation and thus to less free expression of artists. With government subsidies, the arts will NOT flourish. Indeed subsidies will be the first step towards eliminating free speech.
Jeff, USA

If lottery money can help support football, which an increasingly small amount of the lower classes can afford to watch at the football ground or even on television, then why can't it go to support the opera?
Kevin, United States

While I personally support the arts I find it hard to justify public monies being used to fund them. Tax dollars should be spent on more concrete and generic needs. And deciding "who" receives "what" is by nature arbitrary and elitist. Let them prosper or decline on their own merit.
Krow, USA


If we let the majority decide everything in our lives, we'd be living in a giant McDonalds-like theme park listening to Cliff Richard and watching Disney 24 hours a day.
Mark Parish, USA
Of course it's right and is no such thing as "the man in the Street". The population of a country should be given a wide variety of culture and the arts in general. Of course only a minority would support public money going to the opera but that is not enough to let such institutions disappear. After all, if we let the majority decide everything in our lives, we'd be living in a giant McDonalds-like theme park listening to Cliff Richard and watching Disney 24 hours a day.
Mark Parish, USA

I see no problem with lottery funding for the Opera House. It should not be forgotten that these extra funds will mean that the House is able to offer some much cheaper tickets, thus allowing the so-called common man a chance to enjoy the opera that he might not otherwise have had .
Quinton Uphill-Gardener, Great Britain

Outrageous! It hardly counts as a charity does it? If the rich people want a fancy opera house, why can't they pay for it themselves? I bet they don't even play the lottery but there they are, skimming off the profits while genuine groups get nothing. Some things never change, do they ?
Gerry Reboe, UK

I fail to see any justification for why funds should be taken from the unwilling majority to pay for the entertainment of a privileged few. If we cannot think of better ways to spend our money in a spiralling society than to benefit those who prefer a specific medium of entertainment which they can only enjoy at the benefit of others begrudged contributions, then we have come to a poor definition of democracy and freedom of choice. None of us like having to pay road tax but we fully see the justification for it, can any of us who don't enjoy opera state the same?
Tristan Abbott-Coates, England

Opera and the other arts deserve financial support from the community, but in exchange they are morally (and hopefully contractually) required to ensure that they are as accessible as possible. Greater innovation needs to occur in the creation and presentation of opera, with greater emphasis on electronic media, free 'open air' performances and other initiatives to benefit the broader community. Greater emphasis will also need to be placed on 'small scale' productions to keep ticket prices reasonable.
Adrian Webb, Australia

I have heard of this opera house but I had no idea it was paid for by your ordinary working classes . Can't the rich people afford to buy the tickets or something ? It certainly would never happen over here . Perhaps those demonstrators were picketing the wrong place !
John Thomas, US

Of course Opera (and other forms of Art) should be subsidised. And publicised: those who don't go to see opera don't know what they're missing out on. That doesn't make it an elite artform. If I only ride a bicycle, should I not pay for roads? If I don't have children, should I never pay for schools? If opera -or art in any shape and form- is deemed a public good, the public should be prepared to pay for it, regardless of their propensity to actually partake of its pleasures.
Howard Rogers, Aystralia (ex-UK)

Absolutely not. Like most other entertainment, if it is popular enough it will survive on its own merits. It would appear that only a minority of people are interested in opera anyway, why should the majority provide funding for entertainment for the few?
Mike Rose, UK

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Entertainment
Royal rebirth for Opera House
26 Nov 99 |  Entertainment
Bryn's House party
24 Nov 99 |  Entertainment
Royal Opera reopens with a closure

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