Th e new season
Giuseppe Verdi Les vêpres siciliennes Charles Gounod Roméo et Juliette Bernd Alois Zimmermann Die Soldaten Ludwig van Beethoven Fidelio Leoš Janácˇek The Cunning Little Vixen Peter-Jan Wagemans Legende Benjamin Britten Billy Budd Jean-Philippe Rameau Platée Wo lfgang Amadeus Mozart Don Giovanni Ric hard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Wolfgang Rihm Dionysos Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Yevgeny Onegin 2010 2011
Bo x Of fice T + 31 20 625 5455 www .dno.nl ITALIAN LESSONS
By the Editor
Ci risiamo: here we go again. Opera in Italy is in crisis. Four years ago, Silvio Berlusconi’s government slashed a fifth off the Italian arts budget. Despite narrowly losing a parliamentary election soon afterwards, Berlusconi—who was re-elected in 2008—has stuck to his cynical view that there are no votes in the arts and therefore no need to support them. In May he unleashed another emergency decree aimed at the arts, imposing spending cuts that could threaten the very existence of some opera houses. If put into ef fect, orchestral players, chorus members and stagehands would not only see their salaries cut but find themselves restricted from topping up their earnings with outside work. The so-called ‘Bondi Decree’, named for the Culture Minister Sandro Bondi who is in charge of wielding this particular axe, has been met with strikes at houses in Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Bologna, Trieste and Turin, among others. Banners have been unfurled with such slogans as ‘Bondi, minister of what culture?’.
The sad truth is that the malaise af fecting many of Italy’ s opera houses makes them an easy target. Most—if not all—of the 14 enti lirici (‘lyric foundations’) are underperforming and under-producing hives of outmoded working practice. The government was quick to draw attention to the most old-fashioned practices, such as the extra money chorus members get for holding a sword or singing in a foreign language. While it is sensible and necessary to address these issues, Berlusconi shouldn’t be allowed to use them as an excuse for his vandalism. Aspects of the status quo are worth saving at some level. As things currently stand, 96-strong choruses (around double the size at Covent Garden) are protected by law, and it is always a pleasant shock to attend an Italian performance and hear such rich singing. Though financially straitened times clearly call for prudence, the words of Venice’s mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, are surely worth heeding: ‘A civilized country must not forget its historic and cultural roots’.
It’s fair to say that British opera houses are managed along more modern lines, yet lessons can still be learnt from their Italian counterparts to ensure that when the cuts arrive here they will not be so exposed. Scottish Opera is already considering drastic action (see Newsdesk, p. 795). Britain’s new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, may be well-regarded and (a pleasant change, this) pro-culture—certainly an improvement over the philistine cinderellas of recent years. But the recently-installed ConDem coalition government has issued warnings of ‘painful’ cuts in public spending and a new era of austerity. It would be nice to think that blue and yellow really do make green, and that the undoing of Labour’s anti-libertarianism signals better times ahead, but the reality is bound to be different.
Even without an economic crisis to deal with, it would take a radically different sort of British government to look kindly on the arts in the run-up to the Olympic Games. Labour made huge raids on National Lottery funds to bankroll the Olympic project; let’s hope the Conservatives remember their election manifesto pledge to return the National Lottery ‘to its original purpose’. Hunt’s full job title—the bulky-sounding Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport—suggests that he will find it difficult to concentrate on the arts between now and 2012. For the sake of the arts, it’s imperative that culture and sport—which have never had much to do with each other anyway—are separated. Otherwise the score will probably read: Olympics billions, Opera nil.
Opera, July 2010