Why does opera get the lion’s share of state funding?

Why does opera get the lion’s share of state funding?


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2017

Debate is raging in Australia,where opera is only ever to be seen in four or five cities, over why the art form gets such a huge slice of the funding cake. Can it be justified when almost the entire continent (and its media) is opera free, and when most Aussies would rather go to watch sports?

It is argued that opera represents the “highest” of artforms given its combination of music, theatre dance and the visual arts. Certainly it usually receives the most financial rewards from government and often also from private benefactors.

In 2015-16, Australian opera companies received $23.7 million from the Australia Council, representing 13.7% of the council’s overall grant allocation. Opera, while seen as an art that embraces other artforms, is located primarily within music. Music overall receives 53% of the council’s allocation. This compares with 2.7% given to literature and 9.7% given to the visual arts.

More here.

The inequality is even starker in the UK. Your views?


  • Tom Moore says:

    because rich people like to be seen enjoying opera. And they run things.

  • Boris Brott says:

    Its quite simple. Opera costs much more to produce than any other art form – Producing an opera with costumes, sets, lighting, production (and the high IATSE costs for rehearsal in a theatre) direction, multiple solo singer roles, a chorus, conductor, orchestra is hugely expensive and unless you are going to charge ticket prices only the rich can afford – you need large amounts of subsidy. BUT the results can be among the most glorious experiences mankind has invented! It IS worth it.

  • Maria says:

    Does it really need to be pointed out that it is more expensive to stage an opera than to write a book or paint a canvas? Or quite a few things for that matter.

    As for the lazy, tired old “rich people being seen” argument, I wish more of the people who run the UK did like to been seen enjoying opera, instead of sneaking in away from tabloid photograpers (Osborne and Gove).

    There are better and more fashionable ways of “being seen” these days.

    • Maria says:

      Sorry Boris, my opening comment is not a dig at you. It wasn’t there when I started typing.

      • Maria says:

        And now it’s in the wrong place. Bad day!

        • Boris Brott says:

          Don’t worry Mary – no offende taken.

          You cannot justify everything on purely financial terms.

          Great art whatever the medium needs support if it is to exist. It exists as a worthwhile standard bearer for humankinds greatest achievements.

          • Christopher says:

            Indeed. Great art didn’t come cheap for the Doges of Venice either.
            And Norman, the statistics on Australians attending arts events may (pleasantly?) surprise you.

          • David Osborne says:

            Reply to Christopher: If you’re talking about the results of the survey on participation in the Arts commissioned by the Australia Council- dodgy figures and questionable methodology.

            I confronted a board member on this and they didn’t deny it, but they thought that to paint too gloomy a picture would only put further pressure on the funding pool. I disagree.

            ‘Yes Minister’ did a great number on how these sort of polls work. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA
            The Australia Council’s big mistake was spinning the figures too far. I don’t think anyone is buying the contention that the arts engage more people than sport in Australia.

  • MWnyc says:

    Opera in Australia is usually only seen in five cities (at least in full mainstage productions), true, but (by my quick-and-dirty calculations) those cities contain just under two-thirds of Australia’s population. For what that’s worth.

  • Anon says:

    Hopeless uncultured brains.
    Opera should get what it needs. Literature should get what it needs. Visual arts should get what they need. Once the discussion starts, why one gets moe than the other, the wrong competition has begun.
    23.7 million is not much. That’s one third o the budget for one single major opera house in Germany.
    They should just spend MUCH more on everything culturally.

    • David Osborne says:

      The problem Anon, is not only how much, but how it is spent. And that’s a bigger problem in Germany than it is almost anywhere else. You just can’t make a ‘motherhood claim’ for the public funding of arts and culture anymore because in music, by far the biggest beneficiary, when it comes to new work, it has been utterly botched.

      All the aforementioned funding has achieved so far has been the entrenchment of the top down power structure, and the virtual elimination of accountability on the part of those who control the money to the people who pay it.

      It has enabled the most serious problem that has faced this art-form in it’s entire history, namely the lack of broader public engagement with work created in our time, to go unaddressed.

  • John Borstlap says:

    But that is an easy question – answer: opera gets so much funding for the same reason the national army is funded.