15 October 2014

Operatic stereotypes discussed at OBERTO conference

On Tuesday 9 September 2014, the OBERTO opera research unit (Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera) held its fourth annual conference: ‘Beyond Black Tie and Bubbly: Rescuing Opera from Stereotypes’.

The crude notion of operatic ‘elitism’ has been perpetuated relentlessly by the media in recent years. Such stereotypes are damaging, inhibiting potential new audiences from engaging with opera by telling people it is ‘not for them’. They also make life much harder for singers, musicians, opera directors, scholars and not least the average opera lover, who feel challenged to defend their engagement with and love for the art form.

The aim of this conference was to examine critically the cliché of opera as a socially exclusive and intellectually forbidding genre, and to consider ways in which it might be discussed in more imaginative and productive ways.

A mixture of academics, critics and opera house professionals presented during the day; some were contemporary in focus, whereas others placed the debate in historical perspective. Session themes included opera and class, the marketing of opera, the crossover phenomenon, and the role of education in creating audiences.

Plenty of discussion time was built into the conference and the conversation ranged widely. Delegates debated different ways of writing about opera (both in print and on social media), strategies for engaging new audiences, and the problem of crossover singers being sold as ‘the real deal’.

Overall, the conference, organised by Dr Alexandra Wilson, Dr Barbara Eichner and Dr Hugo Shirley, was a great success. More than 50 delegates attended and there was much enthusiasm to continue the discussion about operatic stereotypes through future events and publications.

For more information about OBERTO, including the conference, please visit the OBERTO website

For a report on the conference by speaker Michael Volpe (Opera Holland Park), please visit Michael Volpe's blog