Welsh National Opera director defends arts spending

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Media captionLulu by Alban Berg opens WNO's spring season

The artistic director of Welsh National Opera (WNO) has defended the public funding given to the arts in Wales.

David Pountney said that without support for the cultural institutions, we risk "turning back into animals".

He was speaking as the WNO launches its spring season with Alban Berg's opera Lulu in Cardiff on Friday.

WNO received more than £10m in funding from the Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council England for the 2012-13 financial year.

Speaking to BBC Wales, Pountney said: "The arts are a signal of our civilisation, the arts are the school of the imagination in society, and a society without imagination is a really terrible thing.

"We are a surplus society, we are a society that generates a surplus, and part of that is expressed in the fact that we bring beauty, we bring cultural ideas, we bring philosophical ideas, we bring music into our being, into our existence as a society, and that's what makes us civilised.

"And if we don't do that then we are turning back into animals."

Pountney was appointed to the role of chief executive and artistic director of WNO in September 2011, after previously directing productions for Scottish Opera and English National Opera.

Many opera productions are planned several years in advance, so it is only now that WNO's audiences will experience Pountney's full influence on the company's operatic direction.

'Themed' operas

He has directed opera for 40 years, and is held in high regard by critics and audiences. One newspaper called him "an old radical with new ideas", and it is this ambitious nature that he hopes will be reflected in WNO's programme.

"I believe that the company needs a very strong artistic profile," he said.

"We have to be seen to be being ambitious about what we are, about the audience that we serve, and about what we can bring to our audience.

"That's the function of an artistic institution. Our justification for receiving public money is that we're out there doing things that you couldn't just do on a commercial basis."

Lulu is one of two operas to be performed as part of WNO's first themed season. Sung in German, it tells the story of an actress and dancer whose destructive lifestyle comes at a high personal cost.

The second opera in the season is the English-language The Cunning Little Vixen by Leos Janacek. Opening on 24 February, it is the colourful tale about a fox and her adventures on the path to romance.

The productions will also tour other venues in Wales and England.

While acknowledging the role of public funding in supporting the arts, Pountney argued that artistic organisations also contributed to the economy.

"The arts are a tremendous financial generator in the economy, the arts are one of the big economic success stories in British life. We export and we bring millions of pounds into the British economy through the fact that - as we saw at the Olympics - our arts are internationally respected," he said.

"This building, Wales Millennium Centre, this opera company, Welsh National Opera, generates money in Wales, generates income in Cardiff, and we should not neglect that fact."

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