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Should We Really Fund Wagner?

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 | 1:39:00 am

Published in Performing Arts Hub. As Opera Australia mount their $20 million Ring cycle Julian Meryrick asks can we defend such funding for just one work - or indeed any work

Should we fund Wagner operas or Kyle Sandilands statues?
Julian Meryrick 

In an age of user-generated content and zombie walks, it’s hard to defend opera’s pre-eminence.

The cultural dollar is tight. Why spend taxpayers’ money on mounting Wagner operas rather than – say – erecting a mile-high statue of Kyle Sandilands on the moon warning alien civilisations what to expect should they approach further?

The list of things considered culture is endless. Once dance, drama, ballet and opera ruled the performing arts roost. But now, in an age of user-generated content and zombie walks, it’s hard to defend opera’s pre-eminence. Should we even try?

Isn’t everyone’s taste equally valid? You like Berlioz; I prefer boot-scooting. Why should one be thought better than the other, or attract public support to perpetuate its privileged status?

Wagner is expensive even by opera’s standards, and the Ring Cycle, is expensive even by Wagnerian ones.

The production reportedly cost Opera Australia A$20 million to stage.

It’s pricey for audiences too – it costs A$1000-2000 to attend four consecutive nights of The Ring Cycle). It’s the sort of signature event that has opera buffs audibly panting and others muttering about the cost of it all.

To spend or not to spend?

The free market works, at least in theory, by striking a balance between the supply of something (s) and its demand (d). A good (x) is provided to consumers by producers, who vary in number depending on the level of profit that can be made.

Fixing the relationship between (s) and (d) is the index finger of Scottish philosopherAdam Smith’s 'invisible hand', the price mechanism (p).

Here is the source of all political objections to supply-side subsidy, be it for the car industry or for installation art: it queers (p), throwing out the delicate calibration between those who can provide a good and those willing to pay for it.