Archive for October 4th, 2012|Daily archive page

ENO’s New Clothes

In Classical Music, Opera on October 4, 2012 at 9:43 am

As I have said before I fully support and admire any artistic company – and especially opera companies – who do their utmost to attract new audiences. As audiences shrink and budgets are cut I welcome almost anything that will bring classical music and opera to a wider – and yes younger – audience. So it’s rather disappointing to read today about ENO’s latest idea to try and lure new audiences into the Coliseum. It is also a tad worrying off the back of John Berry’s rather strange remarks about broadcasting performances in cinemas. What is their artistic ethos evolving into if it isn’t embracing technology for example to reach wider audiences? I laud ROH’s deal with Apple – a nice little revenue earner that again has passed ENO by.

Recently, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment‘s campaign – Not All Audiences Are The Same – caught my eye. It very smartly points out the different audiences that make up any concert evening without – in my opinion – creating a new divide amongst the audience as the new ENO campaign does.

Undress For Opera – as ENO’s initiative is called – is misguided, patronising and more dangerously threatens to create a new clique in place of the perceived old one. By trying to appeal to a younger audience, ENO are slapping their loyal audience in the face somewhat.

I wonder which operas Gilliam and Albarn attended to refer to the art form as “for the rich and successful and almost dead”? Clearly those who attended Gilliam’s Faust – as I did – may have died of boredom from the wholly unoriginal and crass ideas he bombarded the audience with; and as for Albarn’s Dr Dee, which I sat through in Manchester, it’s quite clear that ‘formal opera education’ has never been a prerequisite for writing music of intelligence, emotion and wit. Albarn’s vanity project only succeeded in being empty and insignificant. And by the way there were many suited people in the audience when I was there.

John Berry should also beware of such throw away comments that opera is “too stuffy, too posh, (and) too expensive”. Never bite the hands of those who pour money into your coffers as donors or more importantly regularly attend your productions and pay the standard prices, never being offered any form of discount or reward for their loyalty.

Of all the opera companies that I attend, ENO has always had – and rightly celebrated – it’s informality. Opera ‘for the people’ I think they used to say. Now they seem to be saying they’ve been as elitist as they perceive other companies to be.

What a shame.

I wear jeans, trainers and – god forbid – even just a t-shirt to the Coliseum and sit in the stalls. As do countless other people. The majority of people who support ENO are the same I would add. They are there for the music and the – hit and miss – productions. People – on the whole – wear to the opera what makes them comfortable. I don’t deny that if you are a corporate donor – or a guest of a corporate donor – you might feel a suit is more appropriate but I have been the guest of many corporate donors and have attended – as I have said – in jeans and trainers.

So what is it all about?

Rather sadly, it’s about ENO’s desire not to so much attract a new, younger audience but rather to be perceived as being “hip”. Attracting a young audience doesn’t mean telling them to “dress down”, or creating a club like atmosphere or offering them cheaper tickets. Believe you me, ‘young people’ enjoy dressing up and don’t mind spending money on tickets – full price tickets – if they think what they are getting is high quality and intelligent. Just look at how much they are willing to spend on seeing their favourite pop artists or football teams for example.

Any attempt to woo a new audience should be about celebrating the art form, not cheapening it.

People who consider – even on a whim – coming to the opera aren’t put off by old preconceptions of who is in the audience or what to wear. They are attracted either by a genuine interest in seeing what it is all about, following a named director or choreographer whom they admire outside the opera house or, let’s face, a bloody clever marketing campaign.

Undress For Opera isn’t a bloody clever marketing campaign. As an idea it’s heart is in the right place in the sense of trying to appeal to a new audience, but its execution smacks of a cheap shot at grabbing a headline. It’s patronizing to any new audience and potentially alienating to its current one. And I do wonder at how sustainable it is as a campaign. I see they are offering La Traviata and Don Giovanni. What incentive are they providing for any of the new audience to come and sample something else?

Perhaps they should consider a loyalty card scheme that all attendees of ENO can benefit from?

I also see this morning that Kasper Holten has tweeted – clearly in response to ENO’s announcement – that forty per cent of Covent Garden’s audience were under the age of 45 last season. No jeans and trainers diktat was imposed there methinks. And I do wonder why John Berry hasn’t embraced social media. Perhaps he has but I couldn’t find him this morning. Although perhaps it is better for ENO that he isn’t expressing himself in 140 characters considering some of his comments recently.

Perhaps a little more thought could have gone into ENO’s idea before they all sat down cross-legged on the stage to announce it? Perhaps a little less condescension and a little more strategy would have made this sound not so desperately hip?


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