Wise, passionate and soul-stirringly withering: remembering the great Michael Tanner (1935-2024)

Michael Tanner, who died yesterday at the age of 88, lived two parallel lives. To many Spectator readers, he was the magazine’s peerless opera critic: wise, passionate, thrillingly disputatious, intensely funny, extremely generous with the Semtex. Essential reading. He wrote The Spectator’s weekly opera column from 1996 to 2014 and continued to review – and raze to the ground where necessary – concerts, books, albums and opera, whatever we flung at him, right up until 2022.  To countless others, however, he was one of the great philosophical scholars. A celebrated authority on Nietzsche, he was the author of the introductions to the Penguin editions of The Birth of Tragedy (1993) – which he also edited –

Why the coronation matters

At one level, asking why the coronation matters is to slightly miss the point. Living as we do in a constitutional monarchy, the coronation doesn’t need to make a case for itself. It is simply an indispensable part, primarily in symbolic terms, of the installation of our new head of state. But setting aside for a moment its constitutional and religious significance, the coronation is important for another reason. Unlike almost every other nation state, the UK does not have an official national day. The patron saint days of the respective countries of the UK, of course, are celebrated to varying degrees ­– though St George’s Day far less so

Why universities are bad for the arts

Members of the arts establishment have spent the past week outraged, following news that for the upcoming academic year funding for university courses in drama, dance, media studies and so on might have to be temporarily halved in order to better fund courses in medicine, nursing, pharmacology, the environment and the various sciences. Bearing in mind the state of the world, this shift in priorities might seem an unfortunate necessity. Nevertheless, toys are flying from prams. The arts education bubble is apparently livid that healthcare and the environment should be considered more deserving of funding than they are. Endless arts professional activists – who forever proclaim their undying commitment to

Most artistic careers end in failure. Why does no one talk about this?

It is a standard narrative in all showbiz reporting, and one that arts hacks seem to be duty-bound to abide by. It is the fairy tale of ‘Making It’; the story of a star whose career took time to get off the ground but, thanks to perseverance and self-belief, went stratospheric. It goes like this: ‘I was a nobody, and I was turned down from everything. And I nearly didn’t go to that final audition, but whaddya know? I turned up and… Shazam! Oscars raining down and a mini-series on Netflix.’ There is an encyclopaedia of stars who toughed it out before making it big. Type ‘stars who were failures’

Theatre closures are not necessarily a disaster – they offer a chance to remake culture

Theatre stands on the brink of ruin, says Sonia Friedman. And if you believe Twitter, so is my career. I’m apparently ‘a disgrace to my profession’. ‘Not fit to do my job’. I wear ‘grubby’ oversized T-shirts, dare to have ‘an anagram for a name‘ (sorry for being foreign) and possess the face of an ‘etiolated ferret’ and, naturally, for all this, I should be fired.  Leaving aside for a moment my funny name, ferrety face and baggy clothes (all criticisms not without some merit), what was my crime? To suggest that theatre being on the brink of ruin might not be such a disaster. That tongue was firmly lodged in cheek was of course

From Middlemarch to Mickey Mouse: a short history of The Spectator’s books and arts pages

The old masters: how well they understood. John Betjeman’s architecture column ran for just over three years in the mid-1950s. Yet during that short run he experienced the moment that comes, sooner or later, to every regular writer in The Spectator’s arts pages. ‘It is maddening the way people corner one and make one discuss politics at the moment,’ he wrote on 23 November 1956, clearly as bored of the Suez crisis as the rest of us were, until recently, by Brexit: Because I write in this paper, people assume that I share its Editor’s views about Suez… But I don’t know what the views of this paper about Suez