Beyond black tie and bubbly: rescuing opera from stereotypes

Beyond black tie and bubbly: rescuing opera from stereotypes

A one-day conference organised by the Oxford Brookes University opera research unit (OBERTO), to be held on Tuesday 9 September 2014.

Discourse surrounding opera today is concerned with its apparently difficult position within society: journalists, the elusive ‘Mr Taxpayer’ and even some performers  are fond of presenting it as an ‘elitist’ pursuit for the snooty rich, who dress up to enjoy fat ladies singing loudly in opulent surroundings. Alternatively the cliché of the ‘opera buff’ is invoked, who flaunts a vocal score in the gallery and converses knowledgeably about performers and leitmotifs, in order to depict opera as a genre that excludes or positively repels the uninitiated.

While such stereotypes are arguably not new, the public image of opera as a publicly funded, but supposedly socially exclusive and intellectually demanding art form is more visible than ever. The media, in an online economy, are hungry for hits and comments and happily fan the flames of controversy; and the accessibility agenda in the arts creates an environment where, in the UK in particular, opera companies have to demonstrate their openness and their efforts to reach out to new audiences of ‘ordinary people’. Concerns about the squandering of public funds are never far from the surface of the debate. Britain, it would seem, has a particular opera ‘problem’, but it is one that has long and complex historical roots.

This conference aims to unpick and examine critically the idea of opera as a socially exclusive and intellectually forbidding genre. We aim to consider ways in which opera might be presented in more interesting ways to contemporary audiences and hope to bring together scholars, singers, directors, opera house personnel, journalists and opera goers in fruitful debate. We therefore invite papers addressing as wide a variety of topics and methodologies as possible, including (but by no means limited to):

  • The historical roots of operatic ‘elitism’: where, when, why and how did the concept of elite achievement become so freighted with negative connotations in an operatic context?
  • Attitudes to opera in continental Europe: performing opera without apologies
  • Accessibility and outreach: damned if you do, and damned if you don’t?
  • Not for ‘the likes of us’? Reassessing opera’s audiences
  • Opera journalism, social media and PR
  • The X-Factor factor: ‘authentic’ amateurism vs. professionalism
  • Crossover: hindrance or help?
  • Do attempts to address so-called ‘elitism’ serve only to perpetuate the idea?

We envisage that the conference will comprise a mixture of individual papers, panel discussions and open discussion. ‘Alternative format’ contributions are also welcomed.

Proposals of up to 250 words for individual papers of 20 minutes duration should be submitted by e-mail to Dr Alexandra Wilson ( no later than Friday 9th May.

Champagne will not be served.

Conference organisers: Dr Alexandra Wilson, Dr Barbara Eichner and Dr Hugo Shirley

OBERTO: Oxford Brookes – Exploring Research Trends in Opera