Magazine article The Spectator

Opera the Point of Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera the Point of Life

Article excerpt

The Answer to Everything Streetwise Opera, BFI Giulio Cesare Live from the Met Maria Miller, the new Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, indicated in her first speech on culture that when she hears that word she reaches for her calculator. 'When times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture's economic impact' is already a candidate for inclusion in a Dictionary of Political Philistinism, though it is the kind of thing we have come to expect from a politician of any party in the past 20 years or so, when they have gone out of their way to distance themselves from any 'elitist' activity. Even so, such a blatant statement of the supremacy of the economic gives pause, even as it paralyses one's capacity to respond coherently: anyone who can talk and presumably think as Miller does is incapable of grasping any argument that might be urged against them. Such people demonstrate their unawareness of the existence of a vast complex of activities that are, for many people, among the chief things that give living a point and value, and which entirely elude a cost-benefit analysis. The commodification of culture is no new phenomenon, and if Miller wanted to become an expert on it as well as its crass exponent, she could try reading Theodor Adorno on the 'culture industry'. But that does require thought, so perhaps not.

I wonder how the political powers would respond to Streetwise Opera, which by chance was performing at the BFI while Miller was insisting on the justification by economics of the arts. Streetwise Opera (henceforth SO) gives homeless and unemployed people a chance to work together in a field where one might least expect to find them, and for a decade now has been getting warm reviews for its mixed-media performances. It could easily sound merely politically correct, with artistic considerations the bottom of the list; but that would be wrong, not only cruel but also fundamentally mistaken.

SO's latest production, The Answer to Everything, is a superb satire on corporatism, especially timely in a week when a fabulously rich businessman was sent to prison for selling governments worthless bomb detectors that no one had bothered to check. The Answer to Everything is a kind of brick, produced by Locateco Solutions, now 'leading the way in the single person re-homing market, by our proposals to radically re-purpose under-exploited brown-field edge lands and re-direct underactive citizens', etc. , etc. ; and SO's audiences find themselves delegates at a conference to share Locateco's shared values. …

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