Monday, December 26, 2011

Major opera house and singers take tobacco money


Tosca trends on Twitter as a result of BBC TV's Christmas Eve screening from the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. But the Royal Opera's funding from a cigarette company does not trend. As well as receiving £26 million in public funding from the Arts Council, the Royal Opera takes money from "Gold Patron" British American Tobacco. With brands including Dunhill, Kent, Lucky Strike and Pall Mall, British American Tobacco is the world’s second largest quoted tobacco company.

Cigarette sponsorship is alive and well in opera and an earlier post revealed that Japan Tobacco International, which is the third largest tobacco company in the world, is a corporate sponsor of Glyndebourne, the Mariinsky Theatre and Salzburg Whitsun Festival, while tobacco money also goes to the London Philharmonic and Ulster Orchestras.

Even more surprising is the number of individual singers jointly sponsored by British American Tobacco and the Friends of Covent Garden. These include bass Jimmie Holliday, soprano Aoife O' Sullivan and mezzo Doreen Curran. It may be argued that classical music needs whatever money it can find. But it can also be stated categorically that smoking is the major cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, pharynx, larynx, tongue, lips and salivary glands.

So we have an orchestra receiving an award for a partnership with a manufacturer of the leading cause of preventable death and we have opera singers taking money from a major purveyor of throat and larynx cancer. What exactly must happen before classical music says no to ethically compromised funding?

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6 comments:

Simon said...

It's up to individuals to decide whether or not they want to smoke and increase their chance of enduring the health risks associated with it. Moreover, I highly doubt that people would be any more or less likely to smoke if such companies did not fund opera. Therefore I do not believe this is a question of ethics. The problems would start when the agendas of corporate sponsors start to influence and compromise the artistic integrity and/or choice of subject at these opera houses. As far as I'm aware this hasn't happened.

Pliable said...

Simon, sorry but I totally disagree.

If "it's up to individuals to decide whether or not they want to smoke and increase their chance of enduring the health risks associated with it" why has tobacco advertising and sponsorship being almost universally banned?

The reason why advertising and sponsorship of cigarettes has been banned elsewhere is that it encourages people to smoke.

British American Tobacco and Japan International Tobacco are not corporate sponsors because they want to help classical music. They are corporate sponsors because it is one of the few ways left that they can enhance their corporate image with opinion formers.

Let us not mince words - tobacco companies sell death. They have been prevented from advertising, promoting and sponsoring elsewhere, and they should be prevented from sponsoring classical music. As a commenter pointed out on a previous post, in Australia tobacco sponsorship of cultural events was banned in 1992. The UK is out of line on this one, which is what prompted me to write this series of posts.

As for "the problems would start when the agendas of corporate sponsors start to influence and compromise the artistic integrity and/or choice of subject at these opera houses" we already have British American Tobacco awarding scholarships to singers, which means they are making artistic judgements.

Then of course there is the power of corporate sponsors to stop adverse coverage appearing. Is it a coincicidence that I wrote this piece and am not on the ROH review ticket and access to artist merry go round?

Pliable said...

Simon, thank you for the further comment that you have submitted. Debate is welcome but circular arguments which burden posts with repeated restatements of two differing points of view must be avoided, which is one of the reasons why comments on this blog are moderated.

It is clear we are going to amicably differ on the subject of tobacco sponsorship. So, having given your viewpoint an airing, I am going to end this particular line of debate while leaving the thread open for others to contribute.

laybl said...

he issue of accepting money from "poisonous" sponsors is a tricky one. For example, Elie Wiesel, backed out of a seminar financed by Bayer, explaining that he had toiled as a slave for that corporation in a Nazi prison camp.

Similarly, the Nobel prizes are awarded by the maker of dynamite. If one scans the benefactor lists for cultural institutions, we find companies engaged in all manner of invidious enterprises, from chemical poisons to weapons of war.

I never smoked, but I drank Jack Daniel's, knowing, in retrospect, that it was harmful to my health...at 75,and after a double bypass, I continue to eat meat, love bacon, and remain determined, as S.J. Perelman once wrote, "...to go to Hell in my own fashion...", while working strenuously in our garden.

I pray to be saved from well-intentioned busybodies.

Pliable said...

Thanks for that Laybl. I have been called many things over the last seven years of blogging and am quite happy to add "well intentioned busybody" to the list.

Pliable said...

Tobacco display ban reminder for supermarkets - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16342906