Thursday, October 04, 2012

The naked opera-goer?

Undress for the Opera from English National Opera on Vimeo.

A lorralorra bitching this morning around social media re ENO's new Opera Undressed scheme. You guessed it: whaddya know, you don't have to dress up to go to the opera. You pay £25, you get the best seat, you wear what you like, you can download a synopsis beforehand (wow!) and you can go for drinks with some of the performers afterwards. They got Damon Albarn and Terry Gilliam to make the announcement yesterday.

OK, £25 is a very good price for a top seat. Otherwise...haven't we heard it all before? Only about 50000 times.

This business of opera being overdressed and stuffy and too pricey is outdated nuff and stonsense. You have to put it in context. And in the context of London theatre, pop concerts and sporting events, opera is mostly comparable in price, and often cheaper. Ditto for the bar prices - I bought drinks for some friends at a West End theatre during the Olympics and paid a scandalous £25 for three glasses of house white. Most ordinary theatre audiences seem to be over 44 as well; at Richmond last night for a spot of Alan Ayckbourn, I think I was the youngest person there. So what? We have an ageing population, and this will become more noticeable as the next years progress.

As for dress sense, I'd be terrified of turning up to a football match or a pop concert as a newbie in case I'm too old, being over 25, or am wearing the wrong thing. The pop/fashion crowd is a heck of a lot more censorious about the minutiae of one's dress sense than opera-goers, who, honest to goodness, don't give a damn as long as you don't actually smell.

I wasn't particularly aware that anyone does dress up much for ENO. I go to a lot of press nights there and people turn up in anything from smartish dresses to jeans. I usually wear black trousers and a reasonably nice top, which is what I wear most of the time in any case when venturing beyond the comfort zone of my study and pyjamas.

It's not ENO that needs to think of this. Covent Garden is much dressier and they are doing squeaksville. As for the Salzburg Festival...I wore my very best Glyndebourne gear and still felt as if I'd arrived in mountain boots, because there didn't seem to be an evening dress there that'd cost under £800, or a necklace that weighed less than 5kg. At Die Soldaten I chatted to the chap next to me. He was a car mechanic. He'd put on a DJ for the occasion. To him, it was part of the fun.

In the end, the dressing is in the windows. These measures are superficial. What needs to be addressed is the continuing existence of those preconceptions: how/why do people think all this in the first place?

It's a prejudice, and like all prejudices it springs from ignorance. They don't know because they don't go, and they don't go because in order to like music you have first to hear it. And hear it several times, and be familiar with it, and that happens via the radio and TV. Only it doesn't - not where classical music and opera are concerned, not in sunny old Great Britain. Unless the real thing is given regular, prominent air time on mainstream television, ie BBC1, nobody is going to know that these art forms are there, let alone wonder what to wear to attend them. And they're not - only those dumbed-down "reality" or "talent" shows and Apprentice-like contests. (But for possibly a very wonderful opera now and then on Christmas Eve.)

Result of this philistinism? Most people are missing out on some of the most wonderful things in the world. Everyone deserves good music in their lives, of any type they desire. Everybody, being human and having, presumably, a soul, deserves to have that soul nourished. Nobody should ever be fed the idea that they are "not good enough" to be able to appreciate great music. It's there for everyone, and today more plentifully than ever before, if you know which button to press. But if you never hear it, you won't know it's there. The problem isn't just snobbery - it's also inverted snobbery. I'm not convinced the second type isn't the worse one.

That's what needs to be addressed: music and opera in the media, in the environment and in education, as a proud and celebrated part of our own multifaceted culture. Which it is. Sod the dress sense.