Edinburgh Int'l Festival Finds Imported Company Cheaper Than Scottish Opera

Classic Arts News   Edinburgh Int'l Festival Finds Imported Company Cheaper Than Scottish Opera
A new wrinkle in the longstanding struggles over funding for the Edinburgh International Festival developed this week as it came out that festival management found it less expensive to import an opera production from Germany for this year's program than to create a new production with the city's and country's own company, Scottish Opera.

While Scotland's other national performing companies — the National Theatre, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra — have all given major presentations at this year's EIF, Scottish Opera's absence was considered somewhat conspicuous. The company, which is just emerging from several years of severe financial distress, has performed at the EIF regularly in the past — including the famous complete Wagner Ring cycle in 2003 (whose expense was considered by many observers to have caused the cash crisis) and a 2005 production of John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer that was the company's only mainstage presentation during its "dark season" in 2005-06.

At a public debate on August 29 where the directors of the EIF, the Fringe Festival of theater, the International Book and Film Festivals and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo discussed the future of their events and of the city, EIF artistic director Jonathan Mills revealed that it had proven far cheaper to import the Cologne Opera's production of Richard Strauss's Capriccio than to engage Scottish Opera for a new one.

According to the Glasgow newspaper The Herald, Mills — who is in his first year as EIF director — answered a question from the floor by saying, "The fact remains that in terms of Scottish Opera as they are currently constituted, it is very, very expensive for us — prohibitively expensive for us — to work on new work with Scottish Opera. The example this year was that I offered Scottish Opera a project, very similar to one in the festival, and the cost of bringing a foreign company to do that work, and the cost of Scottish Opera, was Ô£200,000 more for Scottish Opera."

After the debate, Scottish Opera general director Alex Reedijk told The Herald that the issue was not expense but timing: "Certainly, we have been talking [with the EIF] about a number of projects, but the reality is that ... there really wasn't enough time to get it right. I don't think we ever got down to cost being an issue. He was new to the job, I was new to the job, and we would have loved to work together — we are very hopeful of doing something in 2008."

On the other hand, Mills told the paper, "The difference is that you are dealing, with Cologne, with a company that is heavily subsidised; they have a chorus. With Scottish Opera you need to buy things in: a chorus, costuming and wardrobe — everywhere you turned with Scottish Opera you were paying for something, whereas in Cologne all those things were already part of the institution."

(Scottish Opera dissolved its chorus in 2005 as part of the radical cost-cutting which the Scottish government obliged it to undertake; the company now uses freelancers as needed per production.)

Mills observed to The Herald that said a new Ô£2 million Expo Fund recently announced by Scotland's new Culture Minister, Linda Fabiani, to support projects by Scottish artists would make future EIF-Scottish Opera co-productions more feasible.

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