Report by John Holmes, 6 June 2015

Convened by: Daphne

Notes by: John Holmes

Also in attendance: Linda Shanson, Imogen Burgess, Alison Porter, Antony Feeny, James Robert Carson, Pia Furtado, Jean Nicholson, Daniel Somerville, Andrew Higgins

The session started by asking 'why is opera perceived as elitist?'

One particularly strong strand of discussion concerned perceptions of ‘what is opera?’ The media and critics often see opera in opera houses as ‘proper’, and opera in regional theatres, pubs, cinema etc as somehow lesser. Also what the Arts Councils see as opera engagement is important - do cinema and digital count? It was concluded there should be a multiplicity of ideas about what is ‘good’ opera.

Other reasons given for why opera is perceived as elitist included:

1 The voices sound ‘posh’

2 Creatives and cast do not reflect the broader population

3 It is disproportionately concentrated in London

4 It is expensive to attend

5 There is often a language barrier

6 Media representations of opera-goers

7 Classical music only taught in private schools

We then looked at ways of challenging operas elitism.

One strong strand focused on the industry working together to ‘rebrand’ opera is the same way that food and wine have been rebranded to the UK population in the last 25 years. For example, a national campaign involving traditional marketing, social media and artists as ambassadors. This must look at all elements of the marketing mix - not just promotion, but also place, price and product.

Other ideas included:

1 Writing operas with local and/ or contemporary subject matter

2 Broadening resources so they aren't concentrated on major companies

3 Education/ opera in schools

4 Creating new access points

5 Establishing opera in other cultural contexts, like with the Italia 90 World Cup

6 Starting by targeting ‘urban arts eclectic’ young theatre-goers and building from there.

7 Removing jargon from conversations.

Other discussion points:

1 ‘Elitism’ isn't necessarily bad if it just means ‘very good’ (as in ‘elite athlete’). People can be attracted to elite experiences if there aren't barriers to them.

2 There isn't enough shared data about overall audiences. Do we even know whether audiences are growing or shrinking?

3 Emphasising the experience of opera is important, not what goes around it.