Covent Garden, the Untold Story: Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945-2000

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9781555534882: Covent Garden, the Untold Story: Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945-2000
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From 1732 until World War II, London's privately owned and operated Royal Opera House (ROH) at Covent Garden was reflective of the country it served -- the rich and noble enjoyed performances in the luxury of the theater and concert hall while the rest of the classes viewed the shows from the dimly-lit top gallery. In 1945, with Britain in financial crisis, its cities in ruins, and its citizens living on strict food and fuel rations, Covent Garden was reborn as a public company after economist Maynard Keynes called for state money to support an Arts Council and Royal Opera House, under his own chairmanship, that would resurrect the nation's fortunes and spirit through the preservation of English culture and performing arts. From that point on, says Norman Lebrecht, ROH, with its Royal Opera and Royal Ballet companies, purported to conduct this postwar national mission while attaching itself to the social elite, creating a recipe for disaster that finally exploded half a century later when the world-class Covent Garden was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.

In this comprehensive and unvarnished history, Lebrecht explains the astonishing failure of an institution that was designed to define a nation. Four chief executives came and went in eighteen months, and the off-stage dramas, catastrophes, misadventures, and infighting became comic fodder for the press and Parliament. Lebrecht's illuminating account of the rise, decline, and fall of the ROH during the second half of the twentieth century is situated within the broader context of upheavals and changes in English cultural life that have eroded the very notion of "Englishness" and transformed the country from heroic poverty to heartless wealth.

With unprecedented access to private archives and key players, Lebrecht recounts an intriguing tale of special relationships between internal management and successive governments and arts councils, hidden public cash, corruption, anti-semitism, and campaigns against homosexuals. He also provides colorful details about the many celebrated performers and personalities, including Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Georg Solti, and Kiri te Kanawa, who helped shape Covent Garden's storied traditions.

Lebrecht concludes by offering thoughts on what the future holds for this notable institution, arguing that Covent Garden should be privatized along the same lines as the Metropolitan Opera.

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About the Author:

Norman Lebrecht is a weekly music columnist for the Daily Telegraph and the author of The Maestro Myth and When the Music Stops, as well as critical studies on Gustav Mahler and twentieth-century music. He is the host of "Lebrecht Live," a talk show on BBC Radio 3. He lives in London.

From Publishers Weekly:

Lebrecht (The Maestro Myth and Who Killed Classical Music?), music critic for the Daily Telegraph in London, is one of the liveliest writers on music today, although occasionally he seems to enjoy whipping up a controversy or a scandal for its own sake, and cannot resist a wittily salacious line (a male ballet dancer is said to have "his privates on parade"). What he has accomplished in this account of the past 50-odd years in the life of the Royal Opera House (and its companion the Royal Ballet) is extraordinarily valuable. It is no less than a detailed scrutiny of the relationship between politics and the arts, between private patronage and state support, and of the drastically altered notions of class and taste created by a developing British social landscape. Lebrecht has been admirably thorough in digging up obscure documents, interviewing survivors from the ROH's early postwar years, and accomplishing a fly-on-the-wall act at dozens of key meetings that embroiled the successive embattled directors of the establishment (four in the past couple of years alone). The modern ROH was essentially the creation of the late George Maynard Keynes, who supported its ballet branch for the sake of his dancer wife, and who set in motion the remarkable tightrope walk between state funding and commercial enterprise on which it has teetered ever since. Lebrecht has applied a similar scrutiny to the entire postwar era and not neglected to add plenty of spicy detail about conductors, composers and divas ranging from Callas to Solti to Sutherland, from Fonteyn to Ashton, Britten to Tippet. This is a triumph of social and musical history. Pictures not seen by PW. (Oct. 26).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780671018177: Covent Garden: The Untold Story - Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945-2000

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ISBN 10:  0671018175 ISBN 13:  9780671018177
Publisher: Pocket Books, 2001
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9780684851433: Covent Garden: The Untold Story - Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945-2000

Simon ..., 2000
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