A vandalistic proposal
Sir: Igor Toronyi-Lalic (Farewell, ENO, 7 February) displays a lack of judgment in advocating ENO’s demise and in suggesting that opera needs no opera houses, companies or subsidy. That its new arts editor should plead for the closure of England’s great repertory opera company is unworthy of The Spectator.
Toronyi-Lalic is wrong to think that the hundreds of thousands of English opera-goers will be content with performances by itinerant ensembles only. Small-scale performances presented anywhere can be moving, but the public demand productions of a scale that befits the art form as it has grown over the last four centuries. An orchestrated ‘farewell’ to ENO would be an act of cultural vandalism on a company that is admired throughout the world and which (contrary to what Toronyi-Lalic says) gave the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, which it commissioned.
John Berry’s era has kept ENO at the cutting edge of interpretations of the classics and the new. There have been a few failures, as risk demands, but such risk must be supported. It is the successes that are in the majority, leading ENO productions to be seen in 42 countries and in operatic centres from New York to Munich.
As the former general director of the Opera Theatre of St Louis and the Santa Fe Opera, I fought battles for this art form for decades. The ENO was always a model for us, and it remains an inspiring example of what an opera company should be.
Sorry, wrong number
Sir: I was interested by Peter Robins’s article about the world’s most expensive typing errors (‘Dangerous characters’, 7 February). Here is one reported in the New York Review of Books (27 May 1993):
Unfortunately, Abrams didn’t know how to set up a secret account in which to deposit the expected $10 million from Brunei [to fund the Contras]. He went to Alan Fiers of the CIA and Oliver North of the NSC staff for tutoring, and chose to follow North’s advice. North gave him an index card with the number of a secret Swiss account, which North controlled; North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, accidentally transposed two digits in typing out the number on another card; Abrams gave the erroneous information to the Brunei foreign minister; and $10 million went into the account of a stranger from whom it took months to get it back.
This story gifted me a novel, Bleeding Hearts.
Trigger warning needed
Sir: The fatal flaw in Brendan O’Neill’s otherwise excellent article ‘The New PC from A to Z’ (7 February) was his framing of it within the structure of the hegemonic, hierarchical western alphabet, with its tacit assumptions of ‘order’ and cultural superiority. This offended me so much that I had to go and lie down in a darkened room for several hours, and I have banned The Spectator from my ‘safe space’.
The old political correctness
Sir: Damian Thompson is right to alert us to the groundswell of political correctness among the educated young (‘March of the new Political Correctness’, 7 February). He is, however, wrong in describing this as a new phenomenon. As an English undergraduate at Cambridge in the late 1980s, I recall the abrasive impact of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and its ‘anti-feminist’ values upon the tender sensibilities of my generation of embryonic Guardianistas. Luckily for us, the antidote was at hand. At the end of one supervision — Richardson’s sermonising, sentimental pornography having provoked essay after outraged essay, each more shrilly censorious than the last — our Don, the venerable Dr John Casey, was moved to exclaim: ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake. You modern undergraduates really are the most ghastly bunch of prigs.’
Charles’s good heart
Sir: Do let’s stop knocking Charles (‘The Charles problem’, 31 January)! What he needs in these challenging times is encouragement and support — not the drip of constant nagging. He has a heart that is in the right place, and a thoughtful mind which is full of ideas. His entourage, shambolic as it may be, surely requires a military-style chief-of-staff: a kind of Alanbrooke to his Winston Churchill, both as an organiser, and a wise check on more eccentric fancies.
Trouble at the printers
Sir: John Sutherland’s generous and amusing review of my memoir Quite a Good Time to Be Born (24 January) contains a serious error which must be corrected, if only to appease the outraged spirit of the late Tom Rosenthal. It was not his firm Secker & Warburg who published the appallingly printed first edition of my novel Out of the Shelter in 1970, but Macmillan, who were using a very early and imperfect method of computerised typesetting. Tom, as head of Secker, published my next novel Changing Places in 1975 after Macmillan and two other publishers passed on it, and its success transformed my career as a novelist, for which I remain eternally grateful to him.
Sir: Matthew Parris’s third explanation for bitchiness within charities is the real one (24 January). When people work for nothing, they expect to be able to operate however they choose. Furthermore, some feel able to give free rein to unreasonable behaviour in a manner they dare not in their day jobs. My limited and anecdotal exposure to charities, suggests that they can be among the most dysfunctional organisations in the free world. However, thank God for them anyway — and for those with the patience and restraint to work within them.