13 December 2003
End of an era
Texaco has sponsored the Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera for sixty-four seasons, but this season will be the last: Texaco, now merged with Chevron, has decided to spend its money elsewhere.
Terry Teachout, writing in ArtsJournal, says that this may not be a tragedy after all:
I don't believe in sinking money into obsolete cultural ventures that have largely outlived their utility, and it occurs to me that the Met's radio broadcasts at least as presently constituted may well fall into that category.
The real miracle of modern technology is that it offers radically new means of bringing about profoundly traditional ends. You can use your iBook to download Dostoyevsky, or listen to vintage radio shows from the Thirties and Forties or read a blog like this. The Metropolitan Opera needs to keep that in mind as it figures out how to stay on the air.
Streaming audio? It could work. It would still cost some serious money, though, and while the Met has picked up a grant for about half the $7 million it costs to do the radio broadcasts, there's still presumably a need for some form of sponsorship or for direct payments by listeners. Mr Teachout, elsewhere in the article, suggests that satellite radio, which is paid for by subscribers to the tune of $150 or so a year, might be the most reasonable alternative.
Meanwhile, Greg Hlatky notes a certain silence by our ostensible cultural gatekeepers:
Where, in the discussions of funding for the arts, is the entertainment industry? Why is it wrong for an oil company to stop its sponsorship and not wrong for the movie, television and record companies not to step forward? To watch one of their innumerable self-congratulatory awards shows or listen to their horrified responses when someone ventures even the slightest pitty-pat criticism of their wares, you'd think that they were artists and would therefore appreciate the importance of the Met's work. And any industry that can afford to give Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts $20 million a film can surely afford $7 million a year for an institution deemed so valuable, right?
Impossible. The Met broadcasts seldom venture too far from the basic repertoire, and what Hollywood really wants for its money these days is something that represents its highest ideals: say, a rewrite of Faust with Karl Rove as Mephistopheles.
The last Chevron/Texaco broadcast, coming on the 24th of April, is Wagner's Götterdämmerung. At least they're going out with a bang.