Billionaire Getty calls for end to opera subsidy

Billionaire Getty calls for end to opera subsidy


norman lebrecht

December 29, 2015

Gordon Getty, an amateur composer who pays for his own works to be performed, has issued a garbled and incoherent attack on opera subsidy on a classical website that he, bizarrely, subsidises.

Getty’s line of argument seems to be that stage directors would not run to sex and violence if they were not backed by public cash. He writes:

Then why does the subsidy go on?

Some is called for. The same audience goes to movies and Broadway, and reveals its preferences there. But it expects something different in the opera house. Opera is art. Art needs patience. Beethoven and Wagner and Mahler sounded all wrong at first. Now even the mass movie audience laps them up. Some subsidy is the price of patience, and patience is the price of art.

We are patient because we don’t want to gag the messenger. But why so long? Diehard leftist zeal in some suppliers, bless them or curse their carbuncles, and some on the demand side too, plus the patience duly shown for grating messages in the arts, adds up to something. Does it add up to 50 years and counting?  

Don’t all answer at once. It’s a truly confused article.


Getty’s recent opera, Usher House, evoked all the wrong sorts of horror at its recent San Francisco premiere.


usher house



  • Halldor says:

    Deeds speak louder than words. Whatever he may say here, the fact remains that in the UK Getty has funded superb premiere productions of operas by Jonathan Harvey, Richard Ayres and (coming up) Unsuk Chin.

    As far as I’m concerned that gives him a licence to say what he likes, however confusedly.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You forget to mention that staging his own opera was part of the deal for funding the other three.

      • Halldor says:

        It makes no difference. Getty’s opera was just half of a double bill with a very worthwhile Debussy rarity. Set against two sizeable, full-length productions of operas of the importance of Harvey’s Wagner Dream and Ayres’ Peter Pan, and the prospect of the first full UK staging of Chin’s Alice in Wonderland in 2017, that seems a pretty good bargain.

        Fair exchange is no robbery, and plenty of worse operas are staged for worse reasons. This snobbish British resentment against the wealthy; the implication that coming to any sort of open agreement with a private funder is an intrinsically corrupt act, coupled with an ingrained, almost dogmatic unwillingness to show gratitude for generosity, is one of the reasons why so many UK music organisations are at the mercy of politicised state funders.

      • John Borstlap says:

        So, buying his piece into public space. The solution to funding of new music is thus simple: make every composer a billionaire, and suddenly we have master works.

        But seriously, the reason that ‘extra funding’ would be needed for an opera company or orchestra, is to compensate for the inevitable fall of ticket sales. At the beginning of the last century, the appearance of an unknown work on the programme would create curiosity and thus, boost ticket sales. Funding problems of new works are the heritage of modernism.

      • Anon says:

        Since he can afford to pay for the staging of his own, if we get another three thrown in as a result of his generosity, that seems like a bargain we should be grateful for.

  • Pirkko says:

    According to what I’ve heard an seen from a documentary about Mr. Getty, he isn’t an amateur composer, but rather a pro who just happens to support himself with other means as most other composers.


    the META-Irony and perversion of our times is, that any dedication of monetary funds to the arts are misnamed “subsidy”.

    The meaning of “subsidy” is that of a financial aid to an otherwise unsustainable entity.

    But in REALITY, perversion put back from its head to its toes, it is the ARTS (and the science) who give subsidy to the society as a whole, including the financial sector.

    The civilized society would be UNSUSTAINABLE without arts and the sciences. Which in the literal sense of a “subsidy” means, that art subsidizes the economy.

    Money is just legal tender to pay debt. Parasitic elements of society have brought it under their control and have washed our brains into believing, that money is a value itself.
    Wrong. Art is value, science is value, money is just a commodity.

    If these parasites boycott the arts, then kill them. Hang them on the lamp posts. They want to kill you. Don’t let that happen.

  • RW2013 says:

    It’s a pity that no-one has the idea to stage Larry Sitsky’s excellent opera on the Usher subject.

  • Peter Rosen says:

    “Gordon Getty, an amateur composer who pays for his own works to be performed, ..”
    This is not true. I have been with there composer at almost all the performance and rehearsal venues for the last 10 years filming “Gordon Getty: There Will Be Music”

    Opens February 5 in NYC at Cinema Village:

    By the way, it’s an independent film. Getty did not finance any of it.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Excuse me: I can document instances where he paid the Russian National Orchestra, Welsh National Opera and others to perform his work – paid by means of large ‘donations’ to the institutions concerned.

      • Dirk Fischer says:

        And these ensembles were probably very happy to have received very needed funds. What’s the big deal? It is far more interesting than the concert programmes that are tailored to getting in the “common man”.

    • Inquiring Mind says:

      Just shuffling through the internet, I get the impression that Getty’s Rork Music seems to be a pretty good client of Peter Rosen Productions. For how long has Getty been paying Rosen to film his rehearsals, recordings and performances?

  • Mathieu says:

    It´s funny Norman, when a billionaire rents the Vienna Phil (among other orchestras) to conduct them and hires a prestigious record company to record it, it´s OK, he’s just fulfilling his dream, but when another billionaire rents an opera house to have his works performed there, you seem to find it highly objectionable.

    It is true however that his diatribe on subsidies is pure baloney.

  • Eddie Mars says:

    Vanity composition.

  • Peter Rosen says:

    [Redacted: defamation] The Getty donations were not tied to any performance, and were small in comparison to the RNO A list donations. Much larger donations made by Getty to opera companies and orchestras who never performed his work.

  • Peter says:

    What a moron. He, a “composer”, laments extensively and inconsistently about staging, visuals, money. Not a single word in his attempt to a reflection on the contemporary state of and old art form about the core of the matter, music. As a composer…

    Dear readers who pass through here. Don’t be mistaken by his writings.
    No matter what happens on stage and who pays how much for that:

    The most important aspect of all relevant aspects in Opera always has been, is, and will be the music.

    And for that sophisticated music to happen, operas need funding. It’s so worth it. Not for the – best case supportive, worst case distracting – staging, but for the music.

    The reason why we still have opera houses, is the music and only the music.
    All the other aspects are better realized in movies. Only the music specifically needs that format.

  • Webster Young says:

    It sounds like his basic argument is criticism of a lack of accountability and bad products coming out, for too long, from a broken system of arts and music support. Regardless of from whom this criticism comes, that critique is valid, I think.

  • Interested Bystander says:

    It’s well known in the opera community that Gordon Getty is eccentric to say the least. Several years ago he addressed a group at opera america with his brilliant plan to save money for all opera companies- all they had to do is perform operas without intervals. This was met with stunned silence.