By Joe Attard, 7 June 2015

In this session, we explored the prospects for opera in the coming decades and discussed its sustainability as a form. We raised the following points:

  • It is essential that we ‘refresh’ the operatic repertoire if the form is to survive.

  • It is unclear whether it is possible NOT to be a populist form in the present day, particularly given the expense and technical challenges particular to opera.

  • Data from resources such as Opera Base can be misleading and must be referenced with caveats.

  • It is clear that opera enjoys a certain cultural cache that can be invoked by artists for more experimental works (e.g. ‘mime opera’). This is very different to those works that are intuitively identified as ‘opera’ by the public (e.g. Giovanni).

  • There is a discrepancy between public engagement with opera as indicated by attendance figures at major companies and the comparable (but less widely-measured) audiences for fringe works, when taken collectively.

  • There was some disagreement over the extent to which we can say opera's audiences are ‘aging.’

  • Government policy towards the arts (under the newly-elected Tory government) emphasises the necessity for arts companies to function as self-sufficient businesses. This is distinct from, say, the the ‘engagement’ based approach of the New Labour government.

  • It is imperative that the government invest in musical education in school if musical experiences (including opera) are to be demystified for a new generation.

  • It was felt that the past 15 years have been an exciting period for opera, with a surge of new commissions (particularly community works).

  • It was suggested that opera's apparent struggle to evolve aesthetically (compared to other musical forms) might be explained by the basis of the ‘operatic voice/style’ being a matter of technical necessity (i.e. emerging from a historical context wherein human voices needed to compete with instruments without amplification).

  • There are clearly a great many successful initiatives flying ‘under the RADAR,’ due to a lack of advertising. However, these events might well be silently investing in opera's future.

  • Opera suffers dually from the withering of its amateur tradition and its middle-market, problems compounded by the availability of ‘operatic spaces’ in which to stage new works.

  • The future of opera may lie in better communication/co-operation between ‘major’ companies and the fringe/community work that is driving audience development and the creation of new works.

  • Graham Devlin's report into opera attendance and its heartening findings was regarded as a source of optimism, although the contention that opera attendance exceeds football attendance in Britain was met with some scepticism.

  • It was suggested that we might be witnessing the return of the patronage model of opera funding (or something like it), with a greater burden expected of the ‘elite’ cross-section of the operatic audience in the form of donations, subsidies and sponsorship of new audiences.

  • It was generally felt that investment in accruing more reliable, nuanced data about opera attendance in all its forms might paint a very different picture from the bleak one to which much extant data attests.


    politics, music, Sustainability, Opera, Politics, Funding, funding, Music, Future, government, opera, future, sustainability