I was sad to hear someone on the radio this morning talking about the Arts Council’s funding and claiming that opera and ballet were just for ‘posh’ people and ‘not for the likes of the kids round here’. He claimed that
”…the kids round here is (sic) proper community kids, know what I mean and this ballet and opera stuff don’t mean nuffin to them.”
(I quote roughly, it was early!). No one even tried to contradict him or put another point of view. Indeed the interviewer seemed to agree that ballet in particular was a minority interest and that minority was undoubtedly privileged.
This makes me so sad and a bit angry. When did this happen? Maybe it’s a London thing, or a southern thing, or an English thing, or, or argh! Billy Elliot, anyone? In other parts of the world opera and ballet are just another part of a rich culture not a status thing at all. What about the Wesh male voice choirs? Opera does not have to be posh. Harry Seacombe and Kenneth McKellar used to sing arias from opera on mainstream TV variety shows. Nessun Dorma does not belong to those with a private income so why should any of it? Art. for. All. How did this chunk of our cultural heritage get hijacked by the few?
I’m not from a rich background, no Bentleys parked outside my childhood home. OK so my dad was a professional of sorts, an architect, but he worked for the council not rich clients and he got to where he was by doing a 7 year indentured apprenticeship, not going to university. Always broke, my parents were 60s party people. However, there was always money for music and in Manchester it didn’t seem to cost that much.
I grew up going with my dad to the opera, the ballet and to the Proms at the Free Trades Hall. (Oh and I can thank him for my folk club addiction and my fondness for modern jazz and boogie woogie! Nothing if not eclectic my family!) From the age of 8 or 9 I saw some wonderful operas at the Royal Opera House and at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. I sobbed my way through La Boheme and Madame Butterfly, knew huge chunks of G&S (Gilbert and Sullivan, Savoy Operas? No?) by heart, laughed at the clog dance in La Fille Mal Garde, thrilled to Giselle. It wasn’t all magical, I also saw Dorothy Tutin play a rather elderly Cleopatra when she was in her 40s! So what? The play was wonderful anyway and she was a grande dame who helped us mostly overcome our disbelief,(except for the carpet scene, when I got the giggles). I saw Jacqueline du Pré play Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, her long blonde hair flowing, in a white frock in the Free Trades Hall to a crowd that knew we were witnessing something amazing. I thought she was an angel. (Cried too when she died of MS in ’87).
So what if there were posh people in the stalls and the Dress Circle? We were in the gods and we had our own opera glasses! I really preferred the ones you had to put a coin in the slot and pull out but my dad said that was a waste of money. If it was a really long show we took sandwiches! We had fun and firmly believed we had more in common with the artists who wrote this marvellous stuff than the people down below in monkey suits and posh frocks.
Go on, sob your way through this: Mirella Freni as Mimi dying at the end of Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” with Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo.
I mentally blogged my way to work this morning, sitting on the bus still fuming and wondering about it. I don’t go to the opera these days and I have to admit that is partly because of the cost. Last time I wanted to see something the cheapest tickets were £80 each. I couldn’t justify it when there was so much good stuff in the West End for far less. I’d love to see Aida or La Traviatta again but it is expensive in London.
What about some cultural theatre breaks? We all love a good musical but why can’t we get breaks at reasonable prices to see great plays, opera and ballet? Something should be done! Cheap theatre tickets for kids are sometimes made available in London but what about the rest of us? Big screens and cinema showings are not the same as being there. Let’s reclaim our culture! I’ll get off my soapbox now 🙂
So what can we see? Well, you could do worse than go and see Carmen, which I’ve already talked about. It doesn’t cost the earth and it will be magnificent.
Then there’s Swan Lake at the Albert Hall. It promises 60 swans, stunning costumes and sensational lighting, this spectacular ‘in the round’ production will captivate and enthral. That should be quite a spectacle! I’m tempted and if you are too, why not take a young person with you? It will be more memorable than a panto and you just might give them a life long passion for the arts! Thanks Dad 🙂