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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Top Opera Critic Says Holland Park Opera Output Is Tosh-not Tosca

Cllrs Nick Paget-Brown and his friend, Cllr 'Boys' Moylan love to whistle along with some light operatic tunes. Thus, it comes as no surprise they are frightfully keen to let Mike Volpe and his partner, James Cullen continue to have millions of our dosh to keep Holland Park Opera struggling along. 
What did surprise the Dame was the view of one eminent opera critic on the repetoire of HPO. 

Daily Telegraph critic, Rupert Christiansen described many of the rarities being revived by our little opera company in the Park as "unmitigated tosh"
Nice to know our millions are going on Tosh, not Tosca!
And even better to know that our hardworking councillor chums can pop along for a 'singalong' with their 'free tickets'


  1. Have to admit that Holland Park Opera is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Guilty because a council shouldn't really be dabbling in this, but I do admire the results. There are more deserving uses of the money, but of all the fripperies listed elsewhere, I'm most forgiving of this, and in proportion to the likes of Exhibitionist Road, Holland Park School etc, this is a lesser indulgence.

    I'm not sure about the "unmitigated tosh", but that comment is a few years old and I think standards have improved, and (pace Mr Christiansen) it is the rare repertoire that I appreciate most there, and so that is the stuff that you don't get to see elsewhere.

    I am a huge admirer of the Dame and all her works, but I just want to put a different view to the pretty much universally negative comments elsewhere. If it WAS just a toff's night out in the Royal Borough or a bargain basement Glyndebourne I'd readily admit it and stay well away, but I do think it is a lot better than that.

  2. The Dame thanks you for esteeming her as you did.
    Of course, Christiansen's comments were doubtless pertinent to a past point in time and maybe, there was a tongue in cheek element.
    The point is that the Council could, if so allowed, indulge itself in all sorts of financial splurges. When it has, disaster usually strikes...vide Chelsea Care. So much better if our money is spent on priorities-not fripperies. HPO is a frippery. Were there a referendum residents would throw out this financing

  3. Holland Park Opera is a fairy story in many ways. It is run by an ex Travel Agent (Volpe) who joined the council and saw the opportunity to build an opera company using council tax. And out - of - work theater producer (Clutton) joined him and together they drove the development of HPO funded by the tax payer.

    It is the only example of such an aberration in the United Kingdom

    OK if you can get away with it!

  4. The whole organization is a piece of piano wire. Two hustlers use tax payers money to direct operas in a lovely setting and the council bows and scrapes to their demands to provide staff, money, back office, accommodation and administration.

    The Friends of Holland Park chip in with £250k per year to supplement the £1.5 million a year that tax payers cough up.

    Now the Council wants to spin the whole thing off into a separate company in order to limit financial exposure and recruit leading Friends to by Directors of the company.

    This is a joke. Fund raisers have a different skill set from opera administrators. Volpe and Clutton do not have a clue about admin and back office - it is not their thing. And if one of them falls under a bus or goes off in a huff, then we are all stuffed.

    Its another Chelsea Care.

  5. Lord Kensington7 March 2012 at 22:33

    What, no succession planning?

  6. It was good to hear Cllr Blakeman at last night's Council meeting ask Cllr. Palmer - a.k.a. Inspector Clouseau or Up Yours - to scrutinise this latest folly.

  7. OHP was named Best UK Opera Company by The Sunday Times in 2010. Yesterday it was announced that its production of Rigoletto won Best Production in the whatsonstage awards...a public vote. Beating productions at ROH and ENO. You may consider opera in any guise to be a frippery, but in terms of value, it seems to me that OHP is offering better miles...than houses funded to the tune of tens of millions. It is my understanding that OHP is visited by over 20,000 local residents every season. I have just recieved their recent newsletter (as a Friend) and it includes a report of the amazing work they do in the community as well as setting out the details of the free ticket schemes.

    OHP is one of the most critcally acclaimed companies in the UK and that is a remarkable achievement. That review you refer to was actually a four star review! Christiansen is a huge fan of the company.

    All of us Friends know the two people (Volpe and Clutton) who have built this company. They are there, every night, speaking to patrons. Their dedication is immense and they are brilliant at what they do. Volpe even admits in a piece he wrote after twenty years of service, that the job had cost his marriage.

    It is your right to say that you dont think the council should spend money on cultural enterprise but it is unfair to use wrong facts and abuse people who have given their all to provide something that many thousands of us love and support.

  8. A moving eulogy 8.48. You speak for is a small group (20k) of Friends, opera lovers and staff (Volpe/Clutton) who care passionately about HPO and are proud of its achievements.

    Operations like this more properly run on the basis of a local and wealthy Benefactor who chooses to spend HIS OWN MONEY on something that he/she feels passionate about and considers worth supporting. So far in K&C, which is the home of some of the wealthiest in the world, no Benefactor has come forward.

    £1.5 million per year of council tax for HPO means that this money is not spent on schools, the old and the infirm. Or all households are taxed for something that is of no interest to them and is outside the scope of what is normally expected from local Govt services (eg clearing the dustbins). Where do you draw the line? Should K&C spend £50 million, say, to save a painting for the Nation? Of course not.

    As an opera lover myself I have great admiration for the vision energy and achievement of HPO. But it exists because taxes have been plundered to pay for something that they are not supposed to pay for. Residents (I am one) have been short changed and the Council has compounded its abuse by continually understating the true scale of the subsidy.

    We also need to take the broader view and remember that there are two world class opera houses a stones throw away. I catch the tube frequently to Covent Garden. I have no problem with my taxes finding their way into my seat price, via the Arts Council. That is what the Arts Council was set up for. It is not what the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall is for.

  9. A Robin Hood operation. In reverse.

    Rob the poor to pay the rich

  10. Pooter Hood!

    I like it......

  11. 8:48
    Stick to the facts...this was a quote from Christiansen. The Dame just repeated it.

  12. Follower of Phelps8 March 2012 at 10:16

    Disgraced ex Cllr Phelps was also married

  13. There we have a real opportunity for Direct Democracy. If it is the will of the people (assuming they have spines) to choose one of the following:

    A) Stop wasting money, and shut the thing down
    B) Instigate a Board, with Residents , and manage to a reduced budget
    C) Opera is heaven; Spend, Spend, Spend!
    ... and run a Consult the People Campaign. Let's not come back with a vote saying 30,000 anonymous voters said....

    Mobile 07799647160

  14. Kerry Blue, yes indeed Cllr Blakeman was on top form, the Tories were totally outclassed last night.

    So funny to see them wrong-footed on so many issues, and Cockell just sitting there sulking.

  15. I am quite disgusted at the tone of some of these comments.

    The opera is not my taste - I prefer medieval costume drama - but its presence in the Royal Borough is a crowning glory we should all be proud of.

    Shame on these petty-minded snipers.

  16. Up Yours
    You are a Conservative councillor and yet you are allowed to continue to write this sort of stuff. Time one of the whips gave you a good whipping and told you to stop embarrassing colleagues

  17. Aha, but you don't know who I am, you just think you know who I am.

    And the Hornet is a labour lackey.

    Give my regards to peter Malman.

  18. You mean the regular patron of OHP Cllr Blakeman? Or is there another Cllr Blakeman?

  19. Opera lover..

    You mean the two world class opera houses that get a combined forty million per year subsidy and which OHP on its half a million a year regularly out performs? And which, despite protestations are several times more expensive to enjoy. Those two? Using them as comparisons merely highlights what an incredible achievement OHP is.

  20. 13.43 there are some facts to consider.

    The cheapest OHP tickets are £12. The cheapest Royal Opera tickets are £9. The cheapest ENO tickets are £22.

    The actual subsidy to OHP from K&C is £920,823 (Freedom of Information Data). The Council only reports "grant". It does not report the recharges for back office and admin support. And in addition there is much that is made available for "free" eg no rent for site or offices or storage.

    OHP is a great artistic achievement. It is just not what council tax should be spent on.

    The residents' protest is about council tax spending - not artistic achievement which is no doubt considerable.

  21. 13:43
    David Colver(for the Dame knows it is he!)
    You are naturally enough distracting us from the core argument. In times when the British economy is on the ropes and RBK&C taxpayers in financial despair is it right to be spending millions on high, low or any sort of opera. Were you to put this question to those who have had basic services taken away or depleted the answer would be a loud NO.
    If someone comes up with the crackpot notion that the Council spend millions sponsoring a theatre
    group you would doubtless think it a splendid idea...but then you are affluent enough not to need council services-one assumes

  22. Up Yours
    Peter reciprocates....

  23. Recharges would be reapplied to another department were OHP not to exist any longer so not a "saving". Controllable costs to the council are 450k looking at the reports I have seen. All costs of the festival are included in that figure including the build and all salaries. The council owns the land in front of Holland House. If you believe an artistic cultural contribution to the life of the borough is a good thing then OHP, in the realms of civic arts provision is probably the best in the country on quality, achievement and value for money. If you don't believe a council should spend on culture then that is a different matter all together but you should stick to the facts to make your point. OHP offered nearly 4000 seats at £12 last season and 1700 free. Combined, that is well over eleven percent of their entire capacity which far exceeds anything the two major houses offer. Fact. It has been nominated for several prestigious Royal Philharmonic awards. Fact. It generates, I believe, over £2.5 million in additional visitor spend for the local economy. Fact. It provides lots of employment. Fact. Its Fantatsic Mr Fox has played to thousands of kids at £2.50 including over 150 kids in the summer holiday clubs. Read their Inspire report. I have. As a taxpayer, I would say we are getting value for money where so many council arts events simply don't provide it.

    You do not approve, fine. But do not presume to speak for me using twisted facts and personal abuse of council officers who work hard doing what they are asked.

    And it is also a fact that tens of thousands of local people like me support it through buying tickets and contributing to the Friends. Do we not count at all?

    And since you are fond of quoting Christiansen; I just went on the OHP website and among many many quotes from him you will find this (about one of those "tosh" rarities....La Wally).....

    "The music is wonderful. OHP’s terrific new production solves the problems elegantly. Gweneth-Anne Jeffers incarnates the title role with tremendous bravado and vibrant Italianate tone. Stephen Gadd sings with crisp authority and Adrian Dwyer convinces. Peter Robinson conducts with a strong pulse and sensitivity to its multicoloured palette. This is OHP at its best – a genuine revival and not just the exhumation of a corpse. Covent garden should take it on now."
    Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph

    And here is another quote from him 2010 since you use him to criticise the company...

    "Using largely home-grown (and Aussie) singers, refusing to waste money on extravagant or pretentious productions and presenting a varied repertory which always includes a rarity, it could teach English National Opera a few back-to-basics lessons.
    I only hope that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea continues to invest in it. The wealthy of the neighbourhood are generous sponsors of the enterprise, but this is an asset of genuine value to the entire west London community, and an element of public funding should continue to be part of the mix."

  24. You only count if you are picking up the entire tab: but you are not.
    As for council officers being insulted...where and when.
    This is about taxpayers' money being used to support something of dubious value to the ENTIRE community; noy just a small segment

  25. Kensington Resident8 March 2012 at 14:55

    14.31 you sound like a spoilt child.

    Has HPO applied to the Arts Council for funding? This is where taxpayers money is channeled for artistic subsidy.

    HPO no doubt has a strong artistic case. But public policy also has other dimensions to consider. For example availability and scarce resources. The response form the Arts Council would be instructive. If it already exists, it is instructive.

    Plundering ratepayers council tax on any scale is cheating. In Britain we do not like cheating. And this is exactly what is going on.

    It has been found out and needs to stop

  26. Cllr Judith Blakeman8 March 2012 at 16:14

    Yes, it is the OHP fan Cllr. Blakeman and I usually say that it breaks my heart every year when I propose that as part of the Labour Group's alternative budget we cut the subsidy to OHP. But this subsidy is way over the top - and I always pay for my own tickets, even the complementary one to the opening night.

  27. Good for you girl. Leading by example.

  28. Judith Blakeman sure put that idiot in his/her place. Unlike others JB pays her way.


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