Friday, August 02, 2013

Lets all go to Bayreuth!

Martin Kettle writes disparagingly in today's Guardian that British MPs are philistines compared to German ones. Specifically, Angela Merkel and other prominent German politicians flock to the Bayreuth festival:
Their presence was a political affirmation that in Germany the arts matter. It was, in its way, a sign of a healthy civic society. But its equivalent simply would not happen in Britain...There are, of course, exceptions – honourable mention to Labour's Nick Brown, a devoted Bayreuth pilgrim. In general, though, it is a sign of a failed society and a failed culture.
 I've noted before the strange (though perfectly understandable) tendency of Guardian journos not to bother reading their own paper, but given that Kettle is a Wagner enthusiast, you'd have thought he remembered this story:

Chancellor George Osborne, culture minister Ed Vaizey and education secretary Michael Gove apparently bunked off work in September to attend performances, beginning at 4pm, of the Ring at the Royal Opera House, as guests of Tony Hall.
Or there was the time Michael Gove (again) wrote a column about his latest trip to... Bayreuth for the festival. Or the reference (again in the Guardian) of the "entire Tory cabinet" in the stalls for a production of the Ring Cycle. Or Michael Portillo's pretty long held and well established love of opera in general (I once shared a table with Portillo at the ROH) and Wagner in particular (guess what Martin? Portillo used to go to Bayreuth every year when he was in Government).

Kettle's argument is, in fact, decidedly odd. Wagner is very much a minority taste in Britain (hell, opera is a minority taste, and Wagner a minority of that minority). Probably the single demographic most over-represented with Wagnerians is Conservative politicians (and bloggers, obviously). And far from being seen as a sign of a healthy civic society, what is the reaction of the left (well, the BBC, but the terms are more or less synonymous here) to Tories at the opera?

Take the visit by Messrs Gove, Osborne and Ed Vaizey to the Royal Opera House in London the other week, to listen to Wagner. This was a story not because of their Germanic musical tastes, but because it fuelled a perception of top Tories swanning around at an elitist cultural event - well beyond the pockets of the toiling masses.
 Kettle has written a piece bemoaning the cultural philistinism of the political classes, but has chosen a more or less unimprovable example of the philistinism of the media when confronted with precisely the sort of culturally aware politicians he calls for.


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