Opinion

Editorial, May: Proms, women conductors and austerity economics

- 24 April 2013

BBC Proms: From Daleks to Katie Derham, plus seven Wagner operas
Photo: Robert Viglasky

Many of you will have been burying yourselves in the Proms guide following the recent unveiling of the 2013 season, or indeed filling in one of the newfangled online planners. You have till 11 May to get your diary straight because when ticket sales open, you can be certain that the hottest tickets will fly. One headline grabber is the sheer quantity of Wagner on offer, including an entire Ring cycle, with a Tannhäuser, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal also thrown in for good measure. This rather overshadows the relatively minor presence of the other operatic bicentenarian, Verdi, with no full operas at all. Proms director Roger Wright ‒ in a press briefing prior to the season launch ‒ put the discrepancy down simply to a lack of offers: apparently no one was able to promise a good enough package of orchestra, chorus and cast, and Verdi ended up missing the programming train. Does this mean we are in a golden age of Wagner singers, or are they just better organised? Put away those national stereotypes, we all know opera is a global affair these days ‒ but we would be interested to hear your opinions.

The other big story coming from the Proms launch is that Marin Alsop will become the first woman to conduct at the last night. It is another chip on the glass ceiling and as such should be celebrated. But it is also a reminder that the ceiling is still mostly intact. That such a booking is even remarkable in 2013 should be a source of some concern, not to say shame, and it goes without saying that the problem goes far beyond the Proms. There is no single solution ‒ it is a question of attitude change. We can’t just sit back and expect young women musicians to come forward in their droves and commit to conducting when the career options appear so limited up ahead. The figleaf of meritocracy in the classical music industry looks tatty indeed in this light.

A little addendum to my comments in the April issue about the necessity or otherwise of this government’s budget cuts: it turns out that a major study used to justify austerity economics had some basic errors ‒ including an incorrect Excel formula ‒ which made a nonsense of its conclusion that a public debt higher than 90% of GDP causes negative growth. You can dig out the details elsewhere and come to your own conclusions. My only point here is that the evidence for having to cut fast and deep ‒ or at all, for that matter ‒ is looking that bit flimsier.

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