BOTH musically and financially, it would seem that our Welsh cousins have more notes than they know what to do with. While cash-strapped Scottish Opera languishes in its 'dark period' with no absolute guarantee of ever seeing dawn break, Welsh National Opera goes from strength to strength.
The Principality is alive with the sound of music: the WNO is putting on nine major productions a year, is staying within budget and has a brand new opera house in which to perform, built at a cost of 85m.
And in a further embarrassing reminder of its cultural ascendancy, the WNO will this week perform a series of operas in Edinburgh, including Rossini's Barber of Seville and Verdi's Don Carlos. In comparison, Scottish Opera has no major productions at all this year.
Those looking for an opera fix will have to hum to themselves while waiting until Scottish Opera's next showing in May 2006.
Scotland's arts community admits it is envious of the Welsh and that the jealousy is turning to anger as countless expensive arts consultations and reviews produce numerous recommendations but nothing in the way of extra cash for opera north of the Border.
A long history of wrangling between ministers and Scottish Opera came to a head last year when the Executive refused to increase funding to make up for what it saw as a series of overspends by the company.
The company, which received 7.4m a year but was 2.5m in debt, insisted its annual cash requirement was closer to 9m, and asked ministers for a 5m advance to help its cash flow.
The company argued that its funding had been declining in real terms because the annual increases had not kept pace with inflation.
Ministers refused to bale it out and insisted instead on a round of cuts. As a result, many staff were paid off and the number of major productions restricted to just four a year, with none in 2005 as the company paid off debts instead of taking major works to the stage.
The key difference between Scotland and Wales is that WNO receives a greater proportion of all arts spending than does Scottish Opera. WNO also receives extra cash from England, getting 11m in all.
Meanwhile, the Welsh used lottery cash to build the impressive new 85m Wales Millennium Centre, which is a home for WNO as well as a centre for the arts in general.
A Scottish Opera insider said: "Are we jealous? You bet we are. They get more money, their funding keeps up with inflation, they have had a spanking new purpose-built opera house. And we have no major productions this year and just four next year.
"Now the Exec argue that we have been profligate. I would argue that in comparison with a lot of other bodies we have been pretty good at keeping a rein on things through the years.
"It is simply the fact that good-quality opera is not something that can be done cheaply and cannot be done with uncertainty over year-to-year financing, which is what we have had.
"In opera, we have to think at least three years ahead when we book people and organise our events. When we don't know from year to year how much money we are going to have, we can't plan properly. In Wales, they make it a priority."
Magnus Linklater, former chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, said: "The difference is that in Wales they have their heart in it, and in Scotland we simply don't. There is this argument that the culture of choral singing is something the Welsh are closer to than we are. I don't agree. Ministers have starved Scottish Opera of funds over the years, and that is the root of the problem."
Rosemary Butler, a Labour Welsh Assembly member who chairs the culture committee in Cardiff, said: "Our opera has a huge following here and you are in for a treat in Scotland.
"What happened here in Wales was that the opera was restructured three years ago and as a result of that they have become very efficient. They have full houses every night - in fact, I was there just last night and it was full."
Lord Davies of Llandinam, the former chairman of WNO, said: "At Welsh National Opera we managed to retain popular support and the support of politicians, which they seem not to have done in Scotland. The fact is that now, if ministers decided to make life difficult for WNO they would become very unpopular."
Brian Monteith, the Scottish Tory culture spokesman, added: "One of the major problems for Scottish Opera is that the Executive has had the desire for a high-profile opera company but has never had the will to finance it.
"Scottish Opera has been caught by the unrealistic plans of ministers who could not finance their visions."
But not everyone agrees that Scottish Opera is blameless. Mike Russell, the cultural commentator and former SNP arts spokesman, said: "I don't think it's as simple as some in Scottish Opera would put it. For many years, Scottish Opera did suffer with poor financial management and kept over-spending each year as if they thought that ministers would never dare to shut them down or say that enough was enough.
"Their artistic output has always been of a very high standard but their financial management has never been so good."
Richard Jarman, the interim general director of Scottish Opera, said: "The Welsh National Opera is a very fine company and we welcome them to Scotland. It's a pity that we, at Scottish Opera, have been through this crisis. The agreement with the Scottish Executive was to take nine months out from performing to reduce debts.
"It is obviously regrettable what has happened to Scottish Opera. But the most important people are the audiences and I'm very happy to see WNO perform opera in Scotland."
He added that he would be going to the WNO productions this coming week.
A spokesman for the Executive claimed that ministers enjoyed a good relationship with the current leadership of Scottish Opera.
He said: "Bill Taylor and his colleagues at Scottish Opera are working tirelessly to ensure that quality and access are maintained within the company.
"We will continue our positive work with Bill and his team in the future."