Are opera and ballet elitist?


Today the Telegraph poses the “Big Question” are opera and ballet elitist?

The Daily Telegraph have a vote on the above question. At the time of writing this blog 40% of the vote said Yes and 60% of the voters said No, out of a total 441 votes.

Two of my favorite activities are singing operatic music and ballet, I only heard operatic music (other than on T.V. advertisements) when I met Jayne Wilson a singing teacher at my comprehensive school. I had been singing popular music and musical theater numbers which are more accessible through state schools and the radio stations my parents listened to.

My mum, was taken on a school trip to the ballet by her Secondary school and would have loved to be a ballerina, so when I was two and a half she enrolled me into mixed dance classes ballet and tap. In our home town the Civic Hall staged a ballet each year and Mum and I went around my birthday, I loved it. I took my grades up to grade 7 and unfortunately didn’t have time to continue when my music studies took precedence. I still adore ballet and hope to resume my dancing at some stage.

My first visit to an opera was for my 18th birthday, my parents took me to see “The Queen of Spades” at the Lowry Theater in Salford Quays, I love listening to Tchaikovsky’s music and he composed the score. It was fabulous and I have gone on to see several operas in Glasgow and saw Eugene Onegin (a lyric opera) a couple of weeks ago and drifted into a world where I was Tatiana. This opera was also composed by Tchaikovsky. I love how the opera made me feel, I came out of Eugene Onegin thoroughly uplifted.

I love that the opera is being featured in cinemas now to reach a wider audience. I don’t think it is any more elitist than watching live football, no one is blocked from buying a ticket and I have met opera lovers from a wide variety of jobs and backgrounds. My Nan didn’t think she’d like Opera but she loves the music from Carmen and more now that I’ve introduced them to her.

As a footnote I was pleased to read in Telegraph today ( 13th March ) about the new season on The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It is well worth a read.

13 thoughts on “Are opera and ballet elitist?

  1. Your right Charlotte, I didn’t contemplate listening to classical singing until I heard you singing in the musical festivals you entered. You have opened a whole new world for me, I especially loooooove you singing ‘I want to be a Prima Donna’ – MY FAVOURITE!

  2. Getting back to your blog post about opera being elitist, thinking about it, when I was younger listening to opera, attending operas was not as accessible as it is today. T.V. programmes such as pop star to opera star, Katherine Jenkins being given large amounts of T.V. exposure brings opera into the lives of more people who don’t think to go to theatre to watch it. Now it is getting more popular to more people, it is time for T.V. to promote more of the operas to broaden the audience even more. I would watch the classics now that I have been exposed to opera and I know I would enjoy it. I don’t believe I am alone with this.

    1. Thanks Gilly,
      I do think that when you are exposed to the music of opera in a relaxed sense, (like a cinema or live performance), people can love it.

      T.V have done a great job so far but i think they should delve into it more, i remember switching onto La Boheme, (A famous opera by Puccini – if you havn’t listened to the music you must, it is so dramatic and emotive) at christmas a couple of years ago and being swept away. It was performed in English so i completely understood the story and plot. It is just a shame there aren’t more opportunities to watch them.

  3. I’ve seen La Traviatia live at an open air stadium. Our stadiums are quite small here so maybe by UK standards it would only be a big stage. The only reason we could afford to go is because it was the final dress rehearsal before the opening show. As a final rehearsal, certain special effects were missing. I recall there should have been a fireworks display during one part and the voice of the director came over the PA system and told the crowd that it should be there, but instead he would be filling in. So we were entertained for a minute or so while his voice made popping explosion sounds. Even then, it was packed out, but not by the kind of people who the papers would photograph for the society pages. We were the working class nobodies, interested in the music, not in being seen at a music event and far too ugly for the papers.

    Opera as an art form isn’t elitist, but the way a culture picks it up can make it threatening towards those of certain classes. Then of course there is the question of how, when you think of it, the only way Opera could be made in the early days was because the rich paid to be entertained – just like classical music. It will naturally contain contexts specific to a certain class of patron. There is an inherent uneasy balance between the loves and tragedies of the art, a classless language that speaks to anyone, and the realities of the presentation of the artform which requires a lot of money and is firmly cemented into a certain level of society.

    I don’t resent the higher classes having their nights out. It’s as important that they have traditions as it is for the working class. As in one of your earlier posts, I also wonder what happened to Opera being an artform for the working classes. Things are what they are, no one need feel bad about it or responsible for neglect or intent. Maybe this generation it will swing one way or the other. Maybe it is up to the working classes to save up their pennies, turn up to opening night in their cheap sweaty clothes and stare back, saying yes, we’re here for the show, why are you here? That Opera survives at all in a world intent on replacing real passion with watered down commerical interests is a miracle. A live show is unlike anything else you can see. Rock concerts at stadiums, plays at private theatres, your own surround sound home theatre system, nothing comes close.

    Best of luck with your career.

    1. Hi Lee

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience here on my blog. I believe that music in all its forms should be accessible to everyone. Music should inspire you, evoke an emotion within you and leave you wanting more. I have a love of Opera but enjoy a wide and varied selection of music. I do hope that in the future by using the internet, and the personal connections that it allows, that a whole new audience for Opera will emerge allowing people from all backgrounds to experience the strong emotions that a live performance creates.

      I appreciate your good wishes and I hope to hear from you again soon.

      Kindest Regards

  4. I have always loved classical music, although it wasn’t until I was older that I started to enjoy opera. I think Wagner was a big problem for me (building and building and… never actually getting there), and still is in many ways, and Puccini’s music is beautiful but the orchestration annoys me; but Mozart, Verdi,… fantastic stuff. Tastes evolve.

    Anyway, we’re off to Buxton soon for a weekend of opera and walking. Great fun.

    1. Hi Frank, the Buxton festival is a fantastic event. I would love to get involved with one of the productions 🙂

      Enjoy the performances and I hope the weather stays good for you, will you stay in the town? The countryside around Buxton and the gardens in the town makes for some lovely picnics.

      Warmest wishes

      1. We’ll be staying in town, but going for long walks in the Peak District during the day.

        Thanks 🙂

  5. I think considered as elitist by people who lack what it takes to appreciate such arts for what they are, and they mean.
    Lacking talents myself I envy those few who can perform but would never despise them as ‘elitist’ — (only the occasional arrogant buffoon that deserves it).

    In one of our favourite coffee places they have a large screen TV showing (amongst other things) young folks doing impossible things on snowboards in the mountains, usually involving multiple flips and very great freefall distances. Brrrrr~! I could never do and could never done anything like that … are they elitist? They’d be the first to be shocked at such a suggestion, I imagine.

    The arts develop (they have to) their own languages and cultures, which we hoi polloi may see as elitist snobbism but ’tain’t so. Elitism comes when some oaf doesn’t realise that everyone has talents in some field or another (still looking for mine, sadly) and let’s his/her own success go to his or her head.

    And you do NOT come across as ‘elitist’ … talented yes, but human with it. I like that~!

  6. Let’s be clear about something:

    Sure there might be a few peras that one can appreciate and love at first, but in general opera requires a degree of focus and concentration and a willingness to subsume oneself in the art form. Opera will never, ever be a medium of wide popularity. Its appreciation and love will always be confined to a relatively narrow segment of the population. Why? Because listening to and assimilating the great masterpieces requires a level of commitment and patience that most people are not prepared to give (or, more likely, interested in giving).

    Furthermore, opera is a predominantly musical form. In other words, the ESSENTIAL argument is posed in musical language.

    It has always been obvious to me that contemplative listening of recordings in private (with amplification) represents the purest and deepest form of opera love. Those who recognize that one cannot truly know and love an opera unless one has devoted the many hours to assimilate and internalize every single note and sonic detail of the score to the best of one’s ability.

    Apparently there are some in the opera world today who need to be reminded of the fact that listening to music is a major cognitive task that requires very considerable processing resources. The simpler task of reading libretti or studying dramaturgy cannot be compared to the process of close, attentive listening. Let me also stress that this type of opera lover always experiences a thrill or sees aesthetic value in passages that many others often dismiss as “inferior, dull or mediocre”.

    1. Thank you for your in depth comment and I agree that to truly appreciate opera as an art form you need to be more than a transient visitor.

      I’m only just starting out and have many years of training in front of me. I listen intently and sing every day and my appreciation of all the components improves little by little every day but my love of this art form is what keeps me focused on the future as I’d love to make a career for myself in this world.
      Best wishes

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