Why the hell shouldn’t Angela Rayner go to the opera? | Opera

IIt wouldn’t happen in Germany, and certainly not in Italy. It wouldn’t cause as much as a raised eyebrow in the US or even Russia. Only in Britain does a political leader going to the opera spark controversy.

The fact that the opera took place in a country house in the Sussex countryside, with a black tie dress code, is of course part of the story. That the politician in question is a Labor figure, a woman and probably more working class.

But the truly pathetic thing about this week’s whole row over Angela Rayner’s visit to Glyndebourne is what it says about us Britons – and our still class-dominated society and our approach to culture – not from her. None of this is good.

It is indisputable that the operas have always been the privileged playgrounds of the powerful and the wealthy. They always are. But none of this means that those who aren’t powerful or wealthy shouldn’t go to the opera either. The arts should be for everyone. Many musicians and politicians made huge efforts in the 20th century to make opera more open to everyone.

Falling public funding for the arts has put this at risk, especially in the UK (things are very different in Germany, for example). Yet what is particularly ironic about Rayner’s visit to Glyndebourne is not that she had to pay dearly. In fact, she didn’t. His ticket cost him £62, which is less than the price of admission to many Premier League games and a West End theater performance, not to mention the £280 price of a Glastonbury Festival ticket This year.

Radical: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at the Glyndebourne Festival. Photography: Alastair Muir

Nor is it that the opera she attended, The Marriage of Figaro, is a musical masterpiece for the ages – although it unquestionably is. It is that Mozart’s opera glories in the complete and repeated humiliation of an aristocrat by his servants, and in particular by the good Susanna, one of the most convincing female roles ever written. Politically, it’s a really radical play.

It should be entirely up to Rayner to decide whether to go to the opera, whether at Glyndebourne or elsewhere. Unfortunately, this is not the case in this country. This is partly because the reduction in music education in schools and colleges and the marginalization of classical music on television has kept many people from discovering the powers and pleasures of opera.

But it’s also because modern politicians, brought up in fear of the tabloid press, more often than not steer clear of the arts in general – for fear of being branded “elitists” – and of art houses. opera in particular. The contrast with Germany, where I have seen politicians on several occasions since Angela Merkel, is again enormous and entirely to our detriment.

I write a lot about politics. I also go to the opera a lot. I pay for my tickets except when I’m there as a journalist, columnist. But in all my trips to the opera, I have rarely encountered British politicians. There are a few exceptions, and they may not thank me for mentioning them – people like Michael Gove, George Osborne and David Young among the Tories, Tessa Jowell, Harriet Harman and Nick Brown in Labour, as well as David Trimble the former Ulster Unionist Leader (who is particularly fond of the operas of Richard Strauss). I even interviewed Margaret Thatcher once about Handel’s operas – oddly, that was in Kyiv.

Dominic Raab’s cheap sneer at Rayner in the Commons yesterday is a reminder that Tories are likely to feel more empowered and relaxed at the opera than Labor politicians. But there are more skilled musicians on the Labor benches than you might think. David Lammy was a backing vocalist in his youth. Thangam Debbonaire is a cellist.

Perhaps British politics – and the British press – will one day lose their stupid, hostile complexes about the arts. On this, Rayner deserves the last word. His tweet this week about going to Glyndebourne at the invitation of an old band friend ended with “Never let anyone tell you you’re not good enough. [Violin emoji]”. Not just the last word, but also the best.

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