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Friday, November 5, 1999 Published at 21:16 GMT

UK: Scotland

Opera raises cycle of debt fears

Scottish Opera has faced several debt crises

Debt-ridden Scottish Opera has come under attack over proposals to stage its largest and most expensive production to date.

Executives from the national company have been called to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament's culture committee over debts estimated at more than £1.5m.

Pauline McLean reports on the fresh chorus of disapproval
However, despite the company's third plea for financial assistance in recent years, it has announced plans to stage Wagner's Ring Cycle - viewed as one of the most lavish productions an opera company can attempt.

The disclosure was met with surprise by Mike Russell MSP, the Scottish National Party's spokesman on cultural issues.

Mr Russell said the company had so far failed to answer serious questions over its latest financial troubles and would be under additional pressure to do so when its representatives appear before the committee.

[ image: Macbeth: A previous production]
Macbeth: A previous production
He said: "I'm astonished. The company clearly has a lot of questions still to answer about its financial stewardship in the last year.

"They still, as far as MSPs know, let alone people in Scotland, don't have a secure future in terms of their funding needs and yet they are planning the most ambitious programme it is possible for an opera company to plan.

"I'm not against them being ambitious. But I do think they want to reassure the public who pay for the company before they go ahead with such things and those reassurances haven't been given."

The company has not performed the four operas in the cycle in almost 30 years. In 1991, it managed two out of the four before admitting failure.

It is regarded by many experts as the making or breaking of an opera company.

Success advertises the company's stature, its fine singers and original designers, but has been considered a hugely expensive way to make a mark.

The debt announcement has placed a question mark over the company's proposed merger with Scottish Ballet - which was viewed as a means of consolidating both companies' positions following periods of uncertainty.

Financial help

But it has raised further concerns over the management of Scottish Opera following two previous requests for financial help in the past few years.

The Scottish Parliament's culture committee is expected to begin its inquiry by questioning Junior Culture Minister Rhona Brankin.

It will then question representatives of Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra about the way those organisations are funded and how they manage their finances.

Representatives of the Musicians' Union and Equity are also expected to be called to give evidence.

Scottish Opera confirmed it plans to stage the production but had no comment to make on its financial situation.

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