Skip to main content

Reflections on a repellent week



It's always a relief when a show opens to popular and critical acclaim, especially when it is the first show in the season. This year, there were added pressures; it was our first show as an independent company, Investec had  just put pen to paper on a new three year sponsorship and we were opening with a rarity. Such operas are our staple of course, but Iris is the piece that put us on that road in the first place. Oh, and four members of the Mascagni family were in the house which is bound to elevate the anxiety a little.

What has been fascinating is  the depth of the reaction to Iris. I won't rehearse the arguments on the merits of the work - and its motivations - that I have been having with many people about it, but one thing is for sure, Iris has had a dramatic effect on most who have seen it: both good and bad (mostly bad, but in a good way.)

When we have talked about the opera in the office in recent months, the discussion has often centred on the current obsession with how operas are directed and the resultant controversies. Sex, violence, nudity, rape..... The interesting thing about Iris is that there are no overt acts of violence or sexual assault for a director to amplify or go over the top on – no unseen or seen murders, for example.  Iris is a child who is exploited, for sure, but even then, Osaka does not get his way with her. So it would be interesting, we thought, to see what reaction there would be to an opera and a production that merely followed the libretto, ripe with cruelty at its heart,  to the letter, with no embellishments. True to say that Olivia Fuchs has ensured we are under no illusion as to what Iris is going through, but you take my point. 

We now know that critics were deeply affected by the production, some in a negative way, and reviews have been full of powerful language to describe the graphic realities of the opera. If you read some of them, you would be forgiven for thinking that the production is full of sex, murder and debauchery (it is, but only in threat). Indeed, one patron wrote to us and said he wanted a refund because he understood from reviews that it was "very graphic" and was concerned for his wife's sensibilities on what would be a birthday treat. The email was headed "Birthday disaster". When I wrote back and explained there would be no nudity, no rape, no murder or blood, but that it was an uncomfortable and difficult subject, he was becalmed. "Oh, OK, she can handle difficult subjects."

All of which raises interesting  thoughts about audience outrage at recent operas, the debate about modern productions and the disgust with directors who some audiences feel are doing a disservice to the work. It is often pointed out that the operas they believe are so sacrosanct are chock full of hideous acts, but it would seem some audiences just don't  want it threaped down their throats. Perhaps the issue is merely "offence"? Maybe (and this is not an opinion, just a genuine question) they are being less puritanical than we sometimes believe them to be?




Comments

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…

Panic! Culture and the working class

A new report on the working class relationship with culture has been doing the rounds recently.
Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries (which you can find here (http://createlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Panic-Social-Class-Taste-and-Inequalities-in-the-Creative-Industries1.pdf) comes at the issue from the point of view of the working class and their opportunities to find careers in the cultural sector. I usually concern myself most with the audience aspects of this debate but this report does touch on matters that relate to that, too. The general issue was also recently making waves with respect to entrants into Oxbridge and with Owen Jones's huge Twitter spat about the class of those in the media. 
The Panic! report takes data from various sources and draws conclusions from it. Some of the conclusions are based on what appear to me to be oddly skewed impressions and some of the report sounds like an argument looking for a validation, rather t…

Emma Dent Coad - putting the record straight

Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad has again used OHP as a tool in her battles against RBKC. This piece https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/cleaners-strike-living-wage_uk_5b6867a8e4b0de86f4a3b509 once again quotes figures that are manifestly untrue.

The first time she quoted these figures was in her 'After Grenfell' paper on poverty. A great deal of misinformation has been circulated regarding OHP's costs over the years and the amount of money the council spent. Inflating, misreporting and dramatising the cost of supporting public arts only adds to the sense of outrage, increasing the climate of fear around local authority support for culture. When these arguments appear, little reference is made to expenditure on other services the council provides. We are an easy target.

Emma Dent-Coad's "After Grenfell" paper tied OHP to the disaster and quoted a FOI report from RBKC that purportedly revealed the council had spent "£30 million over 15 years" on the…