Yesterday saw the first part of Opera America’s webinar Managing the Inherited Repertoire. It consisted of a half hour talk by Bernard Foccroulle, formerly boss at La Monnaie and the Aix Festival and will be followed up by a panel discussion tomorrow at 3pm. I think you can still view the talk on Opera America’s Youtube channel.
I’ll just try and capture some of the points he made. It was a pretty dense talk and I won’t try to cover everything and I’m paraphrasing heavily:
- In the 20th century opera became disengaged. Less new work was performed. Dramaturgy was de-emphasised in favour of great singing with pretty sets and costumes. No effort was required of the audience. Opera became less engaged with changes and movements in the arts and society generally.
- This is not a good thing. “Art” as opposed to “entertainment” needs to engage at many levels.
- The backlash opera currently faces from movements like #metoo and BLM over misogyny, colonialism and racism is inevitable and must be listened to but that doesn’t mean throwing out the inherited rep in the name of “political correctness”. But it does mean recognising that the opera audience is not representative of society and if we want to engage that broader society/audience much has to change including how we tell stories that were created under very different circumstances to today.
- Critically we need to recognise that the significance of an opera is a dynamic process including the audience and it needs a “critical attitude” (in the constructive sense) from all participants including the audience.
- The inherited rep can’t tell all the stories that need to be told. We need more new opera.
- Above all, let’s take opera seriously, engage with our communities and our current and potential audiences, include women and BIPOC and develop new forms of active participation in the creative/critical sphere.
I have to say that while I have lots of questions; especially about “how”, I think he’s broadly on the right lines. I look forward to the panel discussion.