Saturday 16 October, 2.00pm until 3.30pm, Folkoperan, Hornsgatan 72, 118 21 Stockholm, Sweden
Venue: Folkoperan, Hornsgatan 72, 118 21 Stockholm, Sweden
Tickets: Free, available from the venue
Though once hailed as the music of the future, few today might share Wagner’s dream of a progressive unity of all the arts in opera. Although a night at the opera can be cheaper than a day at the races or rock concert, it is still often decried as a slightly curious indulgence of the rich and elitist. Many people are not quite sure just what opera actually is: a peculiarly camp form of classical music, stylised musical for the posh, or just something that allows people to feel superior by listening to something in a language they (or we) can’t even understand? Opera today has a question to answer in terms of just what it is that makes it valuable. Against a backdrop of deep cuts across arts funding, has opera a particularly strong case for the defence in comparison to, say, fine art or indeed street dance or rap?
Some defenders of opera make an appeal based on its continuing relevance to contemporary society and even its value in educating and integrating the young through various forms of outreach projects. In the UK, TV is credited with popularising opera as a singing style. The success of tenor Paul Potts on Britain’s Got Talent, or of the other reality TV show From pop star to opera star, reveal a potential for crossover, while various ‘street opera’ or ‘flash opera’ initiatives have helped overcome opera’s stuffy reputation. Few, however, are really comfortable with explaining just what the value would be in giving up the fame and riches of pop stardom for the arduous training and – for most – relatively impecunious life of an opera singer. The obvious appeal of being a musical star on TV is rather different from a self-sacrificing dedication to one’s art. And as for the audience, why would anyone want to sit and watch an opera all the way through rather just than listen to ‘Nessun Dorma’ on a greatest hits CD? After all, one can thrill to the beauty of the music yet be blind to the (often silly) storylines or stylised spectacle.
But does opera really have to be ‘relevant’? With music, singing, the libretto, the drama and spectacle, opera is a unique synthesis of artforms meant to give voice to what is inexpressible in our existence. That makes it hard, at first sight remote and certainly not easy to digest at first sitting. But not necessarily unworthy of the attempt, even without sugaring the pill. So, is opera worthwhile in its own terms, or should it be forced better to justify its existence? Is it unpopular precisely because it seems so hard to make a case for its relevance? Should we make room for an artform seemingly marked by pretentiousness precisely because art is supposed to take us beyond the everyday?
The discussion will be introduced by Pia Kronqvist, managing director, Folkoperan.
Listen to the session audio:
general artistic director, Folkoperan; professor of musical drama, Opera Academy, Gothenburg
associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; editor, Culture Wars; editor, Debating Humanism; co-founder, Manifesto Club
cultural journalist, Kulturnyheterna, SVT; opera reviewer, Nummer; broadcaster; singer; former head, Opera Agile
opera singer, tenor; founder, Operalabb Sweden; op-ed cultural writer; consultant on operatic culture
co-director, NY Salon; co-founder, London's Truman Brewery; partner, Argosy Pictures Film Company
composer, stage, orchestral, chamber, choral and vocal works; organisational manager, Swedish Musicians' union; composer, opera, Shit också!
general manager, Vadstena Academy; commissioner and librettist, contemporary opera
head of external relations, Institute of Ideas; convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination (forthcoming)
Where is the audience? It’s a question that eats at every art institution in this age of austerity. Maybe opera houses feel it even more keenly than others: acutely sensitive to accusations of elitism and snobbery.Angus Kennedy, Independent Blogs, 11 October 2010
The average seat at the Met costs $138, which is almost exactly what people pay to see the Rolling Stones. Yet no matter how much the Met talks up its $20 rush tickets or its movie-theater simulcast series, which reaches millions of people a year, it can’t seem to shake its pince-nez image.Alex Ross, New York Times, 25 September 2010
Britain is to get an unconventional new opera house – the first to open in London for 40 years – when the King's Head, the capital's first and most famous fringe venue, turns permanently to musical theatre next month.Vanessa Thorpe, Observer, 20 September 2010
Professor of music pushes 'blasphemous' idea of concerts where people can talk or walk out in middle of a movement.Vanessa Thorpe, Observer, 5 September 2010
Immersive and site-specific theatre is all the rage at the moment, but what about scrambled-up opera? That sings a different tune.Emma Pomfret, The Times, 7 August 2010
In this production you don't go to the opera, it comes to you. The action takes place inside a characterless disused grey office block situated in a desolate urban landscape at the far easterly end of London City Airport.Will Gompertz, BBC News gomp/arts blog, 15 July 2010
The Pearl Fishers isn't the most PC of operas but that doesn't mean we should dismiss itPenny Woolcock, Independent, 1 June 2010
The gap between the culturally enriched and impoverished is as wide as ever – and right now, we couldn't even cater to the former if we tried.Tom Service, Guardian, 2 March 2010
As celebrities are taught the basics in ITV's latest reality show, devotees say the programme cheapens and exploits the genreAndrew Johnson, Independent, 18 January 2010
The performing arts are moving out of their quirky corner of social policy and being taken seriously as a method to improve the self-esteem of young offendersRowenna Davis, Community Care, 16 December 2008
As Man stands to Nature, so stands Art to Man. When Nature had developed in herself those attributes which included the conditions for the existence of Man, then Man spontaneously evolved. In like manner, as soon as human life had engendered from itself the conditions for the manifestment of Art-work, this too stepped self-begotten into life. Link downloads a .pdfRichard Wagner, translated by William Ashton Ellis, The Wagner Library