Despite what it says in the programme, this is not a visual performance!
Its all words (sorry Tonu Kaljuste), so you can close your eyes and you
won’t miss a thing as we are, in fact, in the dark and smoky Duke’s Palace club
in Islington and I am Brigita from Latvinia.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, I was in
Genoa at the European Cultural Parliament. They seemed to be saying
Entertainment – 2 legs – bad!
Culture – 4 legs – good!
There were some women there but quite a lot of middle aged men. I
wondered, why are they so suspicious of entertainment ? Its obvious
- it makes money
- young people like it!
We accuse entertainment of working on predictable,
repetitious formulas and praise art for being new and risky, but in its time
there was nothing more risky, radical and dangerous than jazz, rock and punk
music (and it asked some pretty interesting questions too) but we call
that entertainment – and young people like it!
Rather than comment on bad
examples of both extremes, there is a lot stuff moving in the middle. I
like this movement, and I call it transformation.
Culture at its best is
Entertainment at its best is culture.
Because I think that opera is one of the most complex
(and expensive) forms of communication we should be very demanding of
it. The Metropolitan Opera is neither culture nor entertainment and
in 10 years time it will be dead. Its not transforming. Bayreuth on
the other hand has transformed from culture to entertainment and what happens on
stage is secondary to the rich and strange phenomena that happens around it –
the soap opera of intrigue that surrounds the transfer of family power,
scandalous choices of directors, the behavior of the audience.
Schlingenzief himself tells a story of a poor woman who got sick in the middle
of a performance and vomited all over the audience as she struggled to run out –
do they think they moved? No! they had waited seven years for their
tickets and they were’t moving for no-one!
Now, the Swedish Folkoperan and Transparant created a new
kind of opera, risky, clever and exciting. They attracted the same
audience that goes to the cinema. Pina Bausch keeps re-inventing herself
but Robert Wilson has done more or less the same thing for 20 years. Now
its predictable (and still very beautiful of course) but I call it
entertainment. Cirque du Soleil is classified as entertainment but its
poetic celebration of human endeavor pushes it into the culture camp for
me. Is the Mostar Sevdah Reunion just the European version of ther Buena
Vista Social Club ?
Museums are popular, does that make them entertainment
What about Winnie the Pooh ?
Stomp is an interesting
transformation. It started out as street culture, it became high demand
festival fodder, and ended up as entertainment when it started to reproduce
itself with 5 parallel touring companies.
What about Sister Wendy – wow!, a bucktoothed nun talking
about art on television in 10 minute segments! Having mentioned the
Hollywood animal with the ears, television, what are we going to do about it
? We can’t ignore it, its too powerful – for the most elementary reason –
we are not asking people to get dressed and come to a threatening opera house or
a small obscure gallery, it comes into the very intimate space of our
homes! Which brings we to my favorite case of transformation :
- it was
incredibly brave and risky,
- it was completely original and nothing to do
with previous models (expect perhaps the Goon Show),
- like jazz, it
changed forever our existing patterns and formulas,
- even if you didn’t
understand English or the context, there was enough philosophical depth for it
to pass as a new absurdist treatise,
- it was funny,
- it was Monty
- and it was on television!
I haven’t heard the word Eurovision mentioned in this
session but it came up pretty early in the first session in Bruges where the
group that I was in actually decided that we at the ECP wouldn’t exclude popular
culture. Halgrimur Helgasson, a writer from Iceland made an eloquent plea
- please leave Eurovision alone, its the only time in the year that Iceland ever
gets mentioned! There’s something to be said for extremes! – Iceland the
land of ice and fire has given us a benchmark for risk taking. The Nordic
Music Prize this year was won by an Icelandic composer for an opera that was
only ever performed once, at the Copenhagen European Cultural Capital in
1996. The performance ended with the venue being flooded and the audience
fleeing for their lives screaming! It was not an accident, it was drama,
the way the composer had intended it.
Less dramatic are transformations where
whole artforms die out!
- Troubadors. Bob Dylan was the last.
letter writing. You know, all that stuff with the pen and the envelope and
Do we agree ?
Do we care ?
I was ready to complain about how culture unfairly
discriminates against the sense of smell in art, but last night Guy told
me that he’s on the Board of a Belgian theatre company, and does precisely this
Do we agree that we are suspicious of, and tend to classify cross-overs as
entertainment rather than culture because here is usually some ulterior
motive - to sell more records
- raise money for a charity.
One of the
first was the Moody Blues. When Justin Haywood was accused of wanting to
fuse rock music with opera, he said – no, I’ m just a really good
musician! Today my favorite is Alexander Balanescu who plays Kraftwerk on
So, entertainment makes its own money, but culture needs
money from other sources to survive.
What does culture really need money for
To take risks.
Sponsorship has too many tricky demands, serious donors
live in America so that leaves government.
Lets consider for a moment the
difficulty of the task facing Karl-Erik.
He has to find politicians, but not
just any politicians, really brave ones, we’re talking serious risk here!
Well, that cuts out most of the EU!
I would suggest he start with Irish and Jewish politicians,
at least they’re likely to have the best developed sense of humor! If we
are committed to “long duree” and understand that sometimes masterpieces take a
lifetime to create, lets remember that the average length of tenure for a
politician is 4 years!
Opera is not a bad tool to use – there are lots of
opera houses being built all over Europe – the edifice complex is still very
powerful! Of course its a lot harder to get them to fund the contemporary
opera to put inside them! Children and animals work well in show
business. My compliments to the new Wales Millennium Centre that opened
last week who got their funding by putting a children’s camp in the middle of
the opera house! well done! We can’t use democracy as an argument as
there is nothing intrinsically democratic about art – its the best and the rest,
even cruel. No inspired imagination, no art! I am leaving the access
and community art that Peter and Paul talk about out of my picture as that is a
different, cultural policy, issue.
So what is Karl-Erik going to offer these
politicians in return ? Business is used to the idea of risk but there is
the potential of huge profit at the other end. We, on the other hand are
offering things like :
- something intangible,
- you can’t control
- conceptual art that actually doesn’t even exist in material form,
an installation you can’t buy, own or even display,
- a feeling of love and
tenderness for something precisely because it doesn’t last beyond the fleeting
- perhaps some smelly theatre,
- in the tradition of Brecht,
Dario Fo, Vaclav Havel, severe criticism of the government of the politician in
- a symphony without notes, or for the Austrain emperor – too many
So, in order to be convincing, Karl-Erik is going to need
some very powerful tools. He’s going to have to have a strategic mission
statement composed by marketing experts, it will then be reduced to a sound bite
by spin doctors, have a powerful and recognizable brand identity and some nice
merchandising to leave behind!
Guess what ? These are the tools of
Good luck !