Orders of the Day — Welsh National Opera Company Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd April 1971.

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Photo of Mr Ernle Money Mr Ernle Money , Ipswich 12:00 am, 23rd April 1971

To turn from the exceptional performances of Glyndebourne to the bread and butter of opera, we are lucky enough to have the Welsh National Opera Company and the Scottish Opera, which is now performing with great success principally in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but we lack an English opera company as such. Although Sadlers Wells is in effect the English opera company, it has been called either "Sadlers Wells" or "Sadlers Wells at the Coliseum" and has been treated by the Arts Council and by local authorities as a major company which has somehow found itself in the middle of the Metropolis. I hope that the Paymaster-General will consider making Sadlers Wells either the British National Opera Company or at least the English National Opera Company. There is a temptation to take a cynical approach and to say that one reason successive Ministers have not taken that step is that it would be difficult, once Sadlers Wells were recognised as a national opera, to send it up the spout in an economic crisis.

Such a step would be a fit and proper recognition of the achievements of Sadlers Wells. There is the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and there is the Royal Ballet Company. There is no reason why Sadlers Wells should not be given the equally proud title of National Opera House. It is the only opera house that performs almost entirely in English in the Metropolis and almost entirely with Commonwealth singers. The taking of such a step is of the greatest importance from the point of view of the prestige it would give and which has been undoubtedly earned by Sadlers Wells.

Now that Sadlers Wells Theatre is used by visiting companies and Sadlers Wells itself plays at the Coliseum, the public experiences difficulty in knowing what is playing at Sadlers Wells Theatre. It is vitally important for foreign tourists to be shown how good Sadlers Wells is, just as they are shown how good the Welsh National Opera is.

If Sadlers Wells were established as the National Opera Company it would clearly fit into its position as the permanently-based British company through which our standards would be established irrespective of anything that happened at Covent Garden with its swallows which come for a month or two. It would solidify the position which Sadlers Wells has built up, just as the Welsh National Opera Company has solidified its position. We in England are unfortunate, perhaps, in that we do not have the same natural heritage of music that our colleagues from the Principality have.

There is the whole question of the absence of any operatic function in the hinterland of the English region. At one time Sadlers Wells divided itself so that there was always an A company playing in London and a B company on tour, or vice versa. This entailed two permanent companies, two secretariats, two orchestras, and a top-heavy organisation. Recently Sadlers Wells has been organised on the basis of one company only, which has caused considerable difficulties in casting and has given rise to the inevitable feeling that when Sadlers Wells tours it does so as a second team.

Long-term planning should be on the basis of there being three strong companies available to tour. One possibility is that Sadlers Wells should merge with the Glyndebourne Touring Company so as to have a touring company. Then there would be the Welsh National Opera Company, with its special responsibilities in Wales, increasingly touring the rest of the United Kingdom, as at present, and with suport not only from Welsh local authorities and the Welsh Arts Council, but also from the English Arts Council, as at present, and from English local authorities. The same would apply to Scottish Opera and to a touring opera, whether called the Midlands Opera or whether based in some other part of the country, and orgainsed by Sadlers Wells in conjunction with Glyndebourne.