(Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)
Ashutosh Khandekar - Editor
From the current issue of Opera Now
The Battle of Ideas, held over a weekend at the Barbican Centre in London last month, was a sprawling event, a celebration of the power of human thought and freedom of speech. In a packed programme of panel discussions, topics ranged from geopolitics in the Middle East and whether the West has achieved gender equality to the pros and cons of e-cigarettes and the impact of Twitter on literature.
It was good that opera featured in the debate, and I was delighted to be invited as a panellist in a session entitled ‘A dying art? The future of opera’. There was much discussion of the sweeping changes that have occurred in opera over the past decade or so, ranging from cinema relays, open-air screenings and live streaming from major international opera houses to budget-conscious, scaled-down productions of opera in pubs and clubs. Although almost everyone in the audience agreed that opera was far from experiencing its death throes, there was a consensus that the traditional model of extravagant productions as the exclusive preserve of the very well heeled were outmoded and unsustainable.
‘Does opera deserve to survive?’ This was one of the questions from an audience member. Whether it deserves to or not, there is an appetite for opera that endures beyond economic realities and the sheer time and energy that is expended on the myriad complexities of the art form. If opera wasn’t in some sense a compulsion, then it would have died out long ago. As it is, human beings respond to the singing voice and to musical drama in a way that leaves us wanting more.
When it comes to the future of opera, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, particularly when you consider the young talent that is feeding into the profession. I recently attended a week of events celebrating the new intake of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House. Here was a tremendous array of talented young people, from Russia and Ukraine to South Korea and Australia, all transcending cultural differences and engaging together in a wholly positive endeavour. This series began on the same day as a presentation by the National Opera Studio of its new young hopefuls, presided over by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. One thing that was apparent from watching these young singers was the dedication and rigour that it takes to become a singer. It starts with poise, charm and stage presence – and that’s even before you get to the voice itself, a wilful creature at the best of times. Dame Kiri spoke candidly about the singing profession: the toll it takes on your personal life, the nerves that spring into action before every performance, the huge stresses of performing and the loneliness of long-distance travel. None of the young artists from the National Opera Studio seemed daunted by any of this. From where they stand, the future looks bright.
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