Report by Daniel Somerville, 7 June 2015

Underlying this session title is the question of the limited vocabulary we use when describing opera. This has an impact upon how people who are hearing the marketing therefore perceive the art form prior to encountering it (if we consider the issue of attracting new audiences).

Does it help to draw audiences by claiming this territory of the emotional at the expense of other territories.

Is this an attempt to align opera with cinema (and therefore compete with it).

Does this approach make us focus on stories over music or conversely does it make us focus only on the phenomenology of music over other qualities that opera embodies.

Are passionate and emotional different? Opera is an emotional experience. Pappano (who is perfectly capable of very detailed and technical descriptions of music and drama) is most likely talking about the heightened states of emotion - the visceral experience of opera - its primary colours. However - perhaps new audiences are put off by this - perhaps the thought of going to an event that will somehow stimulate emotions might actually intimidate people. This may happen as a result of going to the opera (or theatre or cinema) but is that what draws audiences in the first place?

Probably not.

There is a need to unpick the language of opera marketing.

The opera house as “an emotional fitness centre - you need to work on your emotions - engage” But this may not be what people look for even if that is the consequence.

The opera house as a liminal space in which emotions may be engaged - but it all gets left in the auditorium.

The opera house aspires to enrich, to transform people. But again - this may happen, but will new audiences volunteer for transformation? Perhaps new audiences are made to feel vulnerable by this approach - though they may be grateful for it after the event - will it draw them?

What perception of the audience does Pappano have? This over use of the term “passionate” is most evident in the broadcasts to cinema. So is he (the marketing language) assuming that these audiences need to be dumbed down to when the print in the ROH programmes available at the opera house are in fact very detailed and don't dumb down at all. Audiences at the live relays are not necessarily less well informed of less capable of understanding material that elaborates the opera. this has an effect on what the ROH choose to put on YouTube as trailers. Firstly the whole idea of a trailer is derived from cinema (again why is opera competing with another art form). Secondly, these trailer again preference the passion and emotion).

Finally, I made the point that, to attract new and perhaps younger audiences, marketers of opera might focus more on what it possesses in terms of subversion and challenges to the establishment. (Conventions and histories of gender representation, subversive plot content, anti-establishment figures such as Britten and Tippett). Rather than a set of phrases that limit opera to the realm of passion/emotion we might also consider opera's similarities to postmodern theatre and performance practice - those things that make alternative theatre so attractive and popular (separation of voice and body, manipulation of time, performer and performed existing as one, for example) have been happening in opera for centuries. It is time to tell a more rounded story about what opera is and what the experience of it might bring to newcomers. this may also help established audiences to re-address the terms by which they judge productions. Does this production do anything other than tell a story of passion? Does it help me question art/opera/the foundations of the society in which I live? Opera does so much more than present passionate tales - why are we not telling people about that?