In recent times, voices have emerged to challenge the appearance of elitism in opera and to clear the way for new audiences and new ways of relating to classical music.
Comedian and columnist Chris Addison argues that far from being exclusive, opera evokes feelings that are universal, and contains “something visceral […] something capable of catching all of us”. Companies such as Silent Opera stand at the cutting edge of this traditional art form, reimagining productions in new and exciting ways. Such innovation in classical music comes partly as a response to dwindling audience numbers and concerns about the future of the industry.
Opera Holland Park has recently undertaken a project to introduce inner city teens to opera, documented in the short film Hip Hop to Opera. Director Michael Volpe points out that “we often look suspiciously at young, working-class people and consequently set extremely limited aspirations for them”. Throughout the process he aimed not to convert the sixth-formers to classical music or to present it as a superior art form, but to help them challenge their own view of themselves and their preconceived notions of what they are capable of enjoying.
In fact, despite its reputation, opera has a long history of appealing to the working class. The most famous patrons of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan are the loggionisti, less wealthy yet highly discerning opera fans who for centuries have crowded into the standing galleries to loudly cheer or boo performances; they are feared and respected by even the most talented singers.
Applicants for Music should consider different models of performance and the impact of those models on how music is received and perceived by an audience, as well as the future of classical music in general. Students interested in art may wish to think about elitism in the arts, and how categories such as class, race, and gender have affected the definition of ‘art’ and the perceived value of different art forms.
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