Scottish Opera brings out begging bowl

Key points

• More problems for Scottish Opera as it is forced to seek money south of the border

• Company plans to abandon all full-scale productions in June

• Staging brand-new opera in Scotland could cost up 400,000

Key quote

"Scottish Opera has been exploring many ways of raising money in order to reduce the dark period. This has included the possibility of winning funds to tour south of the Border" - Scottish Opera spokesman

Story in full SCOTTISH Opera has been forced to go to England to ask for money to keep it alive as it struggles with a funding plan which will halt its full-scale productions for a season.

The company is desperate to keep productions going despite being told by the Scottish Executive that it must cease major performances for a year to help it out of financial crisis.

Senior figures in the company have spoken of the need to keep the opera’s public profile alive and are planning a tour in England which would see Scottish audiences miss out on any productions.

"They are going to be dark, they are trying to have the odd bit of light," said one observer.

The company is due to abandon all full-scale productions from June next year under the plan forced through by the Scottish Executive.

A Scottish Opera spokesman said: "Scottish Opera has been exploring many ways of raising money in order to reduce the dark period. This has included the possibility of winning funds to tour south of the Border."

The tough restructuring plan announced in June by the former culture minister, Frank McAveety, saw the opera’s full-time chorus cut in half and a string of further redundancies.

A key element was that the opera would cease all main-scale productions for the 2005-2006 season.

The plan followed a string of cash crises within the company as it ran up mounting debts against its 7.5 million annual Scottish Arts Council grant.

The company has gone public, however, with its efforts to raise enough cash to stage at least one extra opera.

Last month major opera stars performed free at a fund-raising gala for 1,700 opera lovers who paid up to 150 a seat.

The evening saw the opera’s music director, Sir Richard Armstrong, speak out passionately against the company going "dark" for an entire nine-month season. "It cannot be allowed to happen," he said.

The deal has kept the opera’s full-time orchestra and 20 full-time chorus members in place. But there is concern that if the opera drops out of sight, the road back will be even tougher.

Staging a brand-new opera in Scotland, however, could potentially cost up to 400,000. It makes the 20,000 raised in a recent raffle of opera supporters pale by comparison.

The opera has toured to England four times in the last three years, including taking its acclaimed Ring Cycle to the Lowry Centre in Manchester.

Tours are typically funded by a cross-Border touring fund managed by the Arts Council of England (ACE), though the Scottish Arts Council has also put cash in. The fund pays for theatre and opera companies to travel throughout Britain.

An ACE spokeswoman denied any knowledge that Scottish Opera had applied for funding and said no touring money had been allocated. But sources say the SAC has had talks with its English counterpart and it is thought the opera has been seeking another date at the Lowry.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "It’s an operational matter for the company. It’s up to them how they set their priorities in terms of setting up their programme of events."

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