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6.9.04

Opera and the Arts Race

In an article (Gadhafi - the opera?, September 3) for the Globe and Mail (Toronto), Jill Lawless reports on some new operas with daring, contemporary libretti in London. (Thanks to ArtsJournal for the link.) This includes English National Opera's commission of an opera about Gadhafi, from a dance-hip-hop collective called Asian Dub Foundation, for February 2006 ("the work will focus on the idiosyncratic Libyan leader's journey from pariah to statesman, with a rapper playing Gadhafi and the chorus his all-female cohort of bodyguards"). Peter Sellars will direct. Two recent operas she also mentions are Alfie Thomas's workshop production of Microsoft: The Opera and Jerry Springer - the Opera. The latter work will open on Broadway in 2005. Although she mentions two older operas by John Adams, there is no reference to Doctor Atomic, his new work on the life of pioneering nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, a commission from San Francisco Opera planned for October 2005. (A twelve-minute scene from the opera was performed by the BBC Symphony at the 49th concert of the Proms on August 22, in London. Andrew Clements's review from August 24, for The Guardian, is not enthusiastic.) See also my recent post on Michael Nyman's new opera, Man and Boy: Dada. The fact that Ms. Lawless could write about the state of contemporary opera, with the implicit claim that Jerry Springer is somehow relevant and Doctor Atomic is not, does not make me happy. Contrary to the impression her article gives, works with shocking material in their libretti are not the only new operas.

Finally, ArtsJournal also directed us to this report (Culture Minister: Society is commercial and kitschy, September 3) compiled by Beata Balogová for the English-language Slovak Spectator. Rudolf Chmel, Culture Minister of Slovakia, wants his government to triple its cultural budget by the year 2010. They currently spend 0.6 percent of their GDP on their ministry of culture:

According to the minister, cultural activities in Slovakia are "in a state of emergency, if not at an historical low. Ignorance of culture is colossal; society is commercial, consumer-oriented and kitschy, and it seems this trend cannot be stopped."
By the way, the GDP of the United States in 2003 was estimated at around $10.98 trillion, meaning that the estimated $1.25 billion spent by various departments of our federal government is nowhere near 0.6 percent of our GDP, which would be $65.88 billion. Slovakia is winning the arts race, people: see the Ionarts Proposal for how we can fight back.

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