An invitation from Ross Ramgobin, opera singer:

Until I became a singer, when I was in my twenties, I'd never been someone who thought much about race. I grew up thinking I wasn't any different to any of my friends at school or university, and my philosophy was that it was better to keep my head down and fit in with everyone else - and keep my mouth shut when I got the odd comment about my name or my skin colour. It was only my parents that warned me of any prejudices against me, living in predominantly white, middle class Essex. But after some bad experiences, I posted on social media a few months ago about the lack of representation of ethnic minorities on the UK opera stage, and the response was hugely thought-provoking. Since then I've discussed the issue individually with singers, orchestral players, directors, conductors, agents and casting directors. Some people think there's not a problem at all, others accept there is, but don't have any idea of practical ways to do something about it. Many haven't even given the issue a second thought until now.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding myself often employed in outreach and education work, where one question always crops up: "When can I see you on stage?" It never fails to stop me in my tracks - because although I've worked alongside many BAME performers on these projects, very few of them have actually performed at the highest level with that company. It's like we're telling young people that they could be good enough to do outreach work, but never quite up to seeing their name in lights. We can't expect them to come and form the diverse opera makers and audiences of the future if there's no one on stage who represents them, their race or their background; you can't be what you can't see.

We're starting to see trickles of BAME singers performing in the major opera houses but it's not consistent. One day I'd love to see a clear thread running through all levels of the industry, from those working in schools and communities, to singing teachers, conservatoires, and in opera companies whether on stage or behind the scenes. Can we aim for every audition panel, every cast and every creative team to be representative of the roughly 14 per cent of the UK population who come from a minority background? Can we do more to make our venues and our processes inclusive and open to Deaf and disabled people too? Wouldn’t that help us get the diverse audiences that so many companies say they want to see filling the seats? What are the practical steps we need to take? What are the conversations we aren’t having yet? Whether you’re involved in training, outreach, casting, directing, writing, performing or opera creation of any kind - it’s time we got together and looked at the whole system with a critical eye. Let’s explore ways to match talented and creative people from a wide range of backgrounds with the companies that are producing opera at the highest levels in the UK, so everyone can benefit. It’s time to change.

See you there,

Ross

This event is fully wheelchair-accessible, with a wheelchair-accessible portaloo facility. Disabled parking spaces are available on request - information to follow shortly. BSL/SSE interpreters are available on request, with at least one weeks' notice. Support for blind & partially-sighted participants is also available on request. Neurodivergent participants are welcome to attend. Our events are always relaxed performances. For more details on access provision and how to contact us to discuss your needs, please see our access information page.