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Getty opera row gets grittier

The BBC news website has added fuel to the controversy whipped up by Slipped Disc over oil billionaire Gordon Getty’s $2 million gift to Welsh National Opera. The money was given on the understanding that WNO would stage an opera that Getty had composed. David Pountney, the WNO director, argues that he agreed to stage the Getty opera out of enthusiasm for its merits.

I have a high regard for Pountney’s enthusiasms. Pountney produced Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger at Bregenz and at English National Opera, where it was almost uniformly misunderstood by the London critics. I was one of a minority that acclaimed the work as minor masterpiece.

I have obviously not seen the new Getty opera because no-one has yet staged it. I can judge Getty as a composer only on the basis of his past work, which is wishy-washy to a fault. It may be that the former oil mogul had help with Usher House from hidden hands, in which case the score might sound better than expected. We can but wait and see. But I will not be rushing to Wales to see it.



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  1. Mr Getty’s wealth is well-known. Indeed, I have been unable to find any professional criticism of his work which has not alluded to his wealth. His music could be good, bad, or in-between, and it wouldn’t alter the fact of his wealth, and good, bad or in-between, critics will find a way of blaming the quality on that wealth. Nor would that fact alter the fact that any presenter would assume that Getty could be touched for a large contribution, and anyone encountering his music would likely assume that he has subsidized if not paid in entirety for its performance. Given this, one can only say that, for one, it is astonishing how modest Mr Getty has in fact been in using his resources to promote his work and, also, knowing the suspicion that his wealth would inevitably cast on his estimation as a composer, he is very brave.. And, in this case, if Mr Getty’s donation to the opera house allows that house to do work above and beyond his opera, putting the house and ensemble to work for additional days or weeks in these days of ever-more tightened belts, well, fine for the house, fine for the musicians, and thank you, Mr Getty.

    • Quite! If it’s good the envious will say “it’s only because he could afford the best tuition, and the time to develop his composition without worrying about having to earn a living”, and if it’s rubbish the crits will do as we’ve seen and carp about only being performed because of the money. (Frankly, a lot of rubbish is performed without the money, so so what if he pays for it? Better than the rest of us paying for it, if it’s no good!)
      The poor chap can’t win either way, and I can only agree with your comment.

  2. Graf Nugent says:

    We have performed commissioned operas in our house – abject dross for the most part, for which we have also had to pay. I’m sure Getty’s work can’t be any worse than the rubbish we’ve paid through the nose for on a few occasions, so I find his proposition more appealing by the day.

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