The political economy of opera: a study of the relationship between artistic value and financial value in the current era
Garden, Sally L.K.
This study has been made necessary by the lack of an adequate political economy of opera, and related philosophical constructs, to take opera successfully into the twentyfirst century. Despite a history of crises and failure within the UK subsidized opera sector, scant attention has been paid to the theory of value in opera: a situation not aided by the scarcity and inconsistency of available data pertaining to the financial performance of opera companies and the sector as a whole. The study provides a fresh theoretical approach which will allow those parties with an interest in the artistic value and financial value issues posed by opera to find a common forum. The influence of relevant factors in the environment are discussed, including the trend towards accountability, and the emergence of communitarianist thought in the political agenda. The concept of the transformation of value as the characteristic process of opera is introduced. It is also shown that artistic value is the outcome of transactions between buyers and sellers; that it is irrevocably a market concept. In the context of a democratic market economy there is need, therefore, to widen participation in the artistic value agenda by incorporating the general public within an inclusive artistic value franchise. The history and theory of value is examined with reference to current aesthetic thought (Adorno's version of commodity fetishism, and postmodernism), the economic writings of Marx and Smith, and current explicit and implicit models of value (including the Baumol and Bowen productivity lag model, the Keynesian powerhouse model, public service provision, and the merit good theory). A methodology to gather consistent and reliable data from the mandatory annual financial reports of individual opera companies was developed. The difficulties associated with construction of the resultant data set revealed a lack of accountability within the sector. A long-run parametric study of the UK subsidized opera sector (1976-95) was then conducted. Results reveal an inexorable rise in the real cost of opera, and demonstrate, for the first time, the poor long-run performance of the UK subsidized opera sector. Results also confirm the existence of inequities (distributive injustices) in current subsidy policy, the presence of a controlling partial interest within the artistic value franchise (an artocracy), and treatment of artistic value as an exogenous given. It is concluded that these results are an inevitable outcome of the current opera infrastructure, and that there has been inadequate examination and consideration of alternative operational and infrastructural models, some of which are discussed here. Overall, it is concluded that the current, static, opera infrastructure precludes substantive artistic innovation, and that the museum element in the artform resides not in its repertoire, but in its infrastructure.