Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Will the French police let the fat lady sing?

asks Brian M Carney in the Wall Street Journal (grazie, grazie, GRAZIEEEEE... grazie para Fraaaa-aaaank Haaaaaaart).
Of all the unsavory aspects of French police going around the country busting orchestras and locking up their conductors or managers, it is the notion that it's being done to protect these innocent violin-playing lambs from Sofia that drips heaviest with irony. In common with price-fixing cartels the world 'round, France and Germany's high-priced musicians have only one interest in this affair, and that is keeping low-priced competition off the market. That this means smallish French towns get no opera, or get it only when heavy public subsidies are made available for it, concerns them not at all.

What's more, it's reasonable to assume, as Mr. Miller does, that productions such as the "Don Giovanni" he was conducting "make the French economy turn a little faster than it would otherwise." The musicians stay in hotels and spend money; stage crews are put to work on the shows, and others may find incremental work on the peripheries of tours such as these. But all that is as nothing, it seems, compared to the need to protect the privileged position of France's domestic musicians.

Whether it is the unions themselves that are responsible for the crackdown, as Messrs. Miller and Hartung suspect, or the impetus comes from elsewhere inside France's lumbering bureaucracy, the story is a microcosm of economic and cultural protectionism that is looking increasingly tenuous in an expanding Europe and globalizing world. When it comes to its language, its cinema, and now its music, France has long stood athwart history crying "Stop!" In two months' time, Mr. Miller is returning to France with a production of "La Traviata." Will the French police let the fat lady sing?

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