Flicking through the Metropolitan Opera programme with its proliferating lists of donors, one is struck dumb by the number of synonyms for stumpers-up of cash: there are founders, benefactors, sponsors, production funders, Golden Horseshoe donors, donors of the Save the Met Broadcasts Campaign, companies participating in the Met Opera Corporate Special Projects Program, and all this before you reach the Patron Program and the Encore Society. Every donation type is calibrated, from "$1,000,000 or more" to $4,000, which seems to be the lowest level at which you receive name recognition.
One might think the place was awash with money. Then one flicks back through the lists of administration, orchestra, chorus, ballet, the six prompters, the three diction coaches, the 40-odd assistant conductors, and astonishment gives way to despair. This kind of operation is surely too large for creative thought. Oh, the orchestra looks, on paper, like an orchestra, the chorus like a chorus and the ballet like a ballet, but the "roster" of artists goes on for ever, and the administration is enough for a city state.
What is crucially missing at the Met, as in most opera houses around the world, is flexibility: a sensible small theatre where new work, together with old work designed for small houses, can be presented without the expenditure of millions of dollars. New work is seldom put on in these mammoth auditoriums, but when it is, it gets money thrown at it with hysterical zeal, in the hope that cash will make up for whatever turns out to be missing from the mix. But the fact that so much cash is flying around only inhibits creativity.
James Fenton writing in today's Guardian. Tan Dun's new opera The First Emperor can be heard on BBC Radio 3 and online tonight in a live relay from the Metropolitan Opera (Jan 13) at 6.30pm UK time. My photo shows Placido Domingo in the opera.
Now, for more on inhibiting creativity take An Overgrown Path to the latest avant-garde tricks.
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