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Opera, a celebration of European Cultural Heritage

Where the past meets the future.

European Opera Days in 2018, a celebration of European Cultural Heritage 

Where the past meets the future.

It is the European Commission’s Year of European Cultural Heritage. For the EC, cultural heritage is the place ‘where the pasts meets the future’. Cultural organisations across the continent are taking up the challenge to celebrate how their art contributes to European identity. 

Opera Europa, the association of opera companies and festival in Europe, has taken up this challenge through the European Opera Days, an opportunity each year around 9 May (Europe Day), for its members to open their opera house doors with free events and fun activities.

What does Cultural Heritage mean for opera?  At the first ever global gathering of opera professionals – the World Opera Forum at Teatro Real in Madrid in April 2018 – a diverse group of artists, composers, opera managers and public administrators met to address this and other key issues for opera globally.

This article looks at how best opera should celebrate the past and look for meaningful breaks with tradition.

Is opera heritage a burden?

Unlike theatre and cinema, opera is not so often associated with what is topical and new. Its detractors talk of a ‘museum art’, in the sense of something safely conserved and protected from tampering behind thick glass. Those involved with opera – from those who make it, who fund it, sometimes even those who watch it – wrestle with this question: will the richness and weight of its heritage kill opera?

 

A few participants at the World Opera Forum here offer their take on this key issue. Should the sector be following Michel Mori’s advice to focus a little more on opera and a little less on opera houses?

Can new work be vital to opera again?

Closely linked to the issue of ‘reinventing the old’ is the question of ‘making the new’. With some happy exceptions, new opera is rarely a box office hit or anticipated by audiences like a new film or a new play. But even with the most refreshing new approach, can some works of the past ever appeal to diverse communities in a globalised society? What can even the most inspired director do to make a masterpiece like Madama Butterfly appeal to modern Asian audiences; it’s a story reflects another society and time. Is it enough to rely on the universal power of good music – and Puccini could write that – to keep the beating heart of opera pumping?

 

Here artists and administrators consider ways to bring new work in the fore of the opera landscape. For many, opera’s power to tell stories is the key; to tell stories that reflect the concerns of people today. 

Closely linked to the issue of ‘reinventing the old’ is the question of ‘making the new’. With some happy exceptions, new opera is rarely a box office hit or anticipated by audiences like a new film or a new play. But even with the most refreshing new approach, can some works of the past ever appeal to diverse communities in a globalised society? What can even the most inspired director do to make a masterpiece like Madama Butterfly appeal to modern Asian audiences; it’s a story reflects another society and time. Is it enough to rely on the universal power of good music – and Puccini could write that – to keep the beating heart of opera pumping?

 

Here artists and administrators consider ways to bring new work in the fore of the opera landscape. For many, opera’s power to tell stories is the key; to tell stories that reflect the concerns of people today. 

Can opera reflect 21st century society?

The process of making sure that opera celebrates ‘the old and new’ in relevant ways is inextricably linked with questions of diversity.  How can opera reflect the communities it serves, if only a narrow cross section of those performing and watching it are represented?

Here below are some ‘postcards’, or perhaps ‘prophecies’, from around the world for a more diverse opera sector. There are snapshots from: post-Apartheid South Africa, where companies like Cape Town Opera are just hiring the best singers that they can find; St Louis USA, where new work is proving the key to engaging audiences; Birmingham England, where a well-known stage director understands the fundamental impact of diversity on opera making.

Will people in 2080 say that the world opera community in 2018 seemed to be waking up and shaking up to tackle diversity?

How should we make the case for opera’s value?

In a noisy world, how can opera make its voice heard? Is it opera’s power to touch people’s emotions that is most valuable or should we make the case that opera is a unique synthesis of different the arts?

 

What are the most effect means by which to make the case for opera? Technology surely has its part to play; sharing opera with more people via digital channels. Advocacy is also about a conversation; opera houses need to engage their local citizens in that conversation.

 

What advocacy initiative hasn’t been helped with the support of a high profile figure? Appropriately Dame Kiri Te Kawana, concludes with a challenge to the opera sector to work harder to reach out to local communities and young people.

Watch the full documentary below

World Opera Forum - Global Answers to Opera's Future