Monday, February 21, 2011

Do Lavish Opera Productions Cause The Fall Of Empires?

"This is the story of how an over-extended empire sought to cope with an external debt crisis by selling off revenue streams to foreign investors. The empire that suffered these setbacks in the 1870s was the Ottoman empire. Today it is the United States. In the aftermath of the Crimean war, both the sultan in Constantinople and his Egyptian vassal, the khedive, had begun to accumulate huge domestic and foreign debts. Between 1855 and 1875, the Ottoman debt increased by a factor of
28. As a percentage of expenditure, interest payments and amortisation rose from 15 per cent in 1860 to 50 per cent in 1875. The Egyptian case was similar: between 1862 and 1876, the total public debt rose from E£3.3m to E£76m. The 1876 budget showed debt charges accounting for more than half of all expenditure. The loans had been made for both military and economic reasons: to support the Ottoman military position during and after the Crimean war and to finance railway and canal construction, including the building of the Suez canal, which had opened in 1869. But a dangerously high proportion of the proceeds had been squandered on conspicuous consumption, symbolised by Sultan Abdul Mejid’s luxurious Dolmabahçe palace and the spectacular world premiere of Aïda at the Cairo Opera House in 1871. In the wake of the financial crisis that struck the European and American stock markets in 1873, a Middle Eastern debt crisis was inevitable. In October 1875 the Ottoman government declared bankruptcy." [Source]

The Khedivial Opera House or Royal Opera House was the original opera house in Cairo, Egypt. It was dedicated on November 1, 1869 and burned down on October 28, 1971. The opera house was built on the orders of the Khedive Ismail to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. The architects Pietro Avoscani and Rossi designed the building. It seated approximately 850 people and was made mostly of wood. It was located between the districts of Azbakeya and Ismailyya in Egypt's capital city. Verdi's opera Rigoletto was chosen as the first opera to be performed at the opera house on November 1, 1869. But already Ismail was planning a far grander exhibition for his new theatre. After months of delay due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Verdi's new opera, Aida, received its world premiere at the Khedivial Opera House on December 24, 1871. In the early morning hours of October 28, 1971, the opera house burned to the ground. The all-wooden building was quickly consumed, and only two statues made by Mohammed Hassan survived. [Source]