DAVID MELLOR: For 33 years BP has supported Royal Opera… but the ‘woke warriors’ have triumphed because nothing will replace that funding
For 33 years, British Petroleum has supported the Royal Opera. But that all ended a few days ago when a range of BP initiatives were cancelled. Initiatives that had helped bring this most expensive of art forms to people who, otherwise, could not have afforded to go anywhere near it.
It’s a triumph for the woke warriors – those people who wish to tear down, but have no commitment whatsoever to building up.
And it’s a sad story, especially when opera is also under attack from the organisation that’s supposed to defend and promote it, the Arts Council.
First, a tribute to BP. According to a Royal Opera spokesman, ‘over the last three years, its support has focused on sustainability initiatives supporting our recovery post-lockdown’.
Sounds like a pretty good thing, you may think. But not good enough for those whose green agenda trumps all others.
British Petroleum has supported the Royal Opera for 33 years. But that all ended a few days ago when a range of BP initiatives were cancelled
David Mellor, former culture secretary, said this is a triumph for the woke warriors – ‘those people who wish to tear down, but have no commitment whatsoever to building up’
Many opera-goers down the years simply couldn’t have managed had BP not made the money available. And they won’t be able to go in future, because nothing will replace BP’s generosity.
A combination of Arts Council cuts – the Royal Opera has lost 10 per cent of its funding this year – and the inability to accept assistance from reputable companies such as BP poses a threat to the continued existence of high-class opera in this country that very few people seem to have grasped.
And that includes, sad to say, those responsible for running the Royal Opera.
The destruction of more than 30 years of carefully planned and well-targeted support, designed to make it easier for people without funds to get a seat is the responsibility of an organisation that calls itself Culture Unstained.
Their spokesman, Chris Garrard, a composer (me, neither), greeted the news with enthusiasm. ‘What we are witnessing is a seismic shift, a near wholesale rejection across the arts of BP’s brand, and the climate-wrecking business it represents by bringing down the curtain on fossil-fuel funding.
‘The Royal Opera House can now play a leading role in creating the culture beyond oil.’
Burble, burble, burble. Empty word-spinning. What is the ‘culture beyond oil’? Garrard doesn’t condescend to explain because, in truth, Garrard probably doesn’t know.
The tenor Mark Padmore, who, unlike Garrard, is at least someone a few people might have heard of, is also stimulated into a good rant.
According to a Royal Opera spokesman, ‘over the last three years, its support has focused on sustainability initiatives supporting our recovery post-lockdown’. But this is not good enough for those whose green agenda trumps all others. Pictured: Just Stop Oil protestors
He says: ‘We in the cultural sector need to ask difficult questions and encourage better practices. We must put sustainability, fairness, inclusivity and generosity at the heart of all we do.’
Try and put that into plain English, Mark. So far all I’m getting is that you are stopping a project that has helped thousands of people get into opera and ballet, and, er, that’s it.
Reviewing this nonsense, an old political slogan comes into mind. Action, not words. Padmore’s words make no sense at all. Perhaps they do when he sings them. All we will end up with is less opera and less ballet, something we can ill-afford at this time.
Behind Padmore lurks a lot of ‘woke campaigners’, who have no interest in opera, which they regard as bourgeois frivolity. A way of subsidising rich people’s hobbies at the expense of the poor and dispossessed.
All we will end up with is less opera and less ballet, something we can ill-afford at this time
So, the reason why nothing will ever replace the funding structure that has been torn down is because that’s not why the woke warriors are doing it. An opera- and ballet-free desert suits them very well.
This is not just about who sponsors this stuff. It’s about whether this stuff should be sponsored at all, and why anyone thinks it matters, whether it is or whether it isn’t.
Given these obvious realities, the most truly pathetic part of this sorry tale is the inability of the Royal Opera to resist this nonsense. Running away, like the Duke of Plaza-Toro, who led his regiment from behind, is to fundamentally betray the art form that has given board members and senior executives alike a privileged social life, swanning around from box to box, without giving them the guts to stand and fight for the art form they supposedly love.
The arguments they would have to combat, if they could be bothered to get into the fight, are often risible.
Take the distinguished actor Mark Rylance, who, as a true radical, is up to his neck in all this nonsense. Rylance was once asked why the arts sector – including the Royal Shakespeare Company, for whom he used to work – shouldn’t take BP’s money. And he replied: ‘They wouldn’t take money from drug dealers or paedophiles.’
Is he really equating BP with drug dealers and those who sexually corrupt children? His reply was equally opaque and, in truth, equally idiotic: ‘That’s the question, that’s the question.’ Yes, indeed – but what’s the answer, Mark?
Sadly, left to his own devices, and without the services of a clever playwright, Rylance was unable to explain further.
Which reminds me of some wise words of Thomas Carlyle about actors. ‘Today a pauper, tomorrow a king. It’s only when they are themselves that they are nothing.’
Faced with such incoherent nonsense, the real question is why doesn’t the Royal Opera stand up to them?
But they don‘t, because from among the ranks of their endless committees and highly paid professionals, not a single person could be found with either the capability or the desire to stand up in public and denounce this wokery for the nonsense that it is.
Do you know the name of the chair of the Royal Opera? Do you know the name of its chief executive? Have these people ever impinged on your consciousness? And even now, at this time of great crisis for opera, it appears they can’t be bothered to step up to the plate to mount a defence of what they do and how they do it.
In many ways, that is the most shameful aspect of this whole wretched business.
It’s all the more surprising because the Arts Council may not yet have finished savaging the Royal Opera. Informed gossip from well-placed people is that it intends to make a further raid on the ROH grant next year. Unless, of course, the ineptitude with which the Arts Council has conducted itself renders that settled intention impossible to carry through.
And I also have on good authority that when they started down this course of robbing London for the benefit of grants to the provinces to sustain the activities of the Salford Underwater Singing Grannies and suchlike, they intended to take a lot more money from the Royal Opera.
Only at the last moment, I am advised, was the Royal Opera spared, losing just 10 per cent, while the English National Opera was told it was to lose every penny of its funding, prior to a second-thoughts reprieve.
Back in the 1980s, when I was Arts Minister, a carefully constructed three-legged stool to provide financial support for expensive art forms was in operation: box office, public subsidy and sponsorship. Arts organisations were encouraged to find sponsorship on the basis that matching public funding would be provided, and it was.
Since then, woke warriors have been allowed to rampage all over the expensive arts provision in this country. Sad, especially since this was not inevitable. It has come about because a number of people involved with the Royal Opera are there for social reasons, and don’t know when the right time has come to put up a fight, or lack the capability to do so.
Well, soon they will, because rampant wokery is not going away.