Skip to main content

OBERTO conference

Throughout this summer, there have been many debates and flare-ups in the press and on social media surrounding opera. The controversies and resulting soul-searching and argument fluctuated wildly between those who felt a sense of doom and gloom and those eager to be optimistic - sometimes, in my view, with a touch of delusion - about the future and what was good about the developments occurring in the industry.

It was interesting, then, to attend the OBERTO conference at Oxford Brookes University yesterday, where an impressive collection of academics and opera professionals delivered papers on a variety of issues and subjects based around the issue of accessibility, access and the age old matter of opera's reputation. You can be sure that the word "elitism" came up quite a bit. Throughout the day, the well constructed programme tried to encapsulate and rationalise the varying pillars of the operatic firmament that occupy all of us ceaselessly. These included crossover artists, the concept of elitism (both of the art form itself and its accoutrements), the history of opera in this country, the modernism debate, marketing and social media. Even Britain's Got Talent and its habit of throwing up "opera acts" got a look in (and a very fascinating dissection it was too!) Education and reassessing audiences was there and it was in this section I gave a paper (which wasn't terribly optimistic, if I am honest). You can see the full programme here http://obertobrookes.com/conference-2014/

I'm not going to give a full summary of what everybody said in what was without exception a set of papers that gave much insight and revealed some extremely interesting facts and ideas for consideration. It was difficult not to reflect on my own educational shortcomings in a room full of such clever people but that's a purely personal impression. Discussion was lively and heartfelt and surprisingly didn't descend into the sort of whining we are all guilty of from time to time. Undeniably, there was a sense of an industry under attack, misunderstood, caricatured and overly scrutinised with delegates offering lots of stories that we could all identify with. It takes time to absorb and consider everything we heard but I have certainly come away with a few ideas to work with. But despite the unquestionable angst that exists within our industry, it wasn't in the least lacking in constructive dialogue or intelligent examination of the issues. I was also struck by how many capable and dedicated young people are working in both the industry and related academia.

Not everybody agreed at all times of course and I am sure we all came away with different impressions of where the business is and where it is going. Indeed, one strong theme for me was that in fact, we are not quite sure where we are going yet and that opera is in a form of transition. Reassuringly, it appears we are all at least aware of a) that fact b) what the unresolved issues are (digital, education, access) and that the talent exists to react as and when necessary.

I may publish my paper on these pages but of all the discussions, I probably delivered the most pessimistic but, paradoxically, what I think is the greatest problem is possibly the simplest concept of them all; exposure to the art form at a young age. It became evident that I am turning into a bit of a Luddite as well. One writes these papers before hearing those before yours and as mine was the very last paper, I was conscious of how I was essentially telling all before me that they were wasting their time! But I didn't mean it to sound that way, even though I feel there is something of the truth in it.

In the final open discussion session, when topics began to narrow down into how irritated we can get with the way in which the world sees us, it fell to Rupert Christiansen to issue a rallying call, to pull us up short on what was starting to feel like overpowering negativity. The opera world in the UK is in a pretty decent place, he proposed. Perhaps, he suggested, we are not on the edge of an abyss and we should celebrate how strong the art form is here. It was difficult to disagree, despite the various reservations and worries we may individually have; since Rupert has a powerful medium in which to express such a view (he probably has already) it may well be a good starting point.

Congratulations to Alexandra Wilson and her colleagues for pulling together such an interesting and constructive gathering.

Comments

  1. Wish I'd been there... IainOpScot

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Audiences will decide the future of opera

I have news: the audience will decide the future of opera.
When our season at Opera Holland Park comes to an end, I pore over spreadsheets trying to find reasons why our audience have behaved in the way that they have, and the most concentrated analysis tends to come after seasons during which our house has been full. The theory is this; if we have underperformed, we are programmed to find solutions, but if we have performed well, we are less likely to look for the gremlins that might lose us that ever-capricious audience in a trice – you are never more vulnerable than when you are successful.  Sometimes, though, one can miss the obvious, or perhaps ignore it.
In nearly three decades in opera, I have experienced one "boom" in the art form but an almost perpetual "crisis" of confidence, an alarmed perma-reflection on whether we remain relevant as an art form. This introspective brew is spiced by the occasional real crisis, like that recently at ENO, but we never reall…

XTC -This is Pop (Documentary, Sky 1)

The long awaited - and even longer overdue - documentary about the British band XTC felt to many of us who have considered them the best ever group to emerge from these shores, like a simultaneous roar of approval and a shocking great slap in the face, a sharp reminder of what we have lost now that they no longer record together. Apple Venus Vol.1 and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) were released in 1999 and 2000 respectively and together represented the almost perfect distillation of British popular music. I hesitate to just call it "pop" although there are almost unequalled examples of it on both these albums and right through the XTC canon. Andy Partridge's lavishly inventive songwriting, lyrical brilliance and at times almost extra-terrestrial knack for a breathtaking melody or crushingly beautiful harmony seemed to improve and grow throughout the band's 14 album career. It came to a mighty zenith on those final two records. 
Followers of XTC were often torn betwee…

Time for patience and cold-eyed politicking

I was furious about the calling of a referendum on our membership of the EU.
I was furious when Leave 'won'.
I was furious when Corbyn enabled A50 trigger.

Then I thought a little bit about it.

I had spent goodness knows how many hours arguing with anti-Corbyn Labour supporters who ridiculed his chances in a General election, listening to them crowing in derisory, mocking fashion about the distance between him and May in the polls. I simply held to the view that he deserved, on the back of two leadership election wins in the face of horrendous back-stabbing and collusion among Labour MPs and the media, an opportunity to present a manifesto. Then we could judge him. I even made a bet on the eve of the election with an arch, mocking conservative – the prize being lunch at Musso and Frank's in LA – that Labour would force a hung parliament. He still hasn't booked the flights.

The reason I thought that possible was not just the manifesto, but that Corbyn had not take…