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Education view: Making opera inclusive and not elitist

PUBLISHED: 08:00 08 December 2018

Simon Saunders

Opera has an image of being only for the rich - something that upper class people go to in expensive venues whilst dressed in evening wear. I am on a mission to break that myth, as I think that opera can have an appeal to a much wider public.

Opera sits at a fascinating conjunction of art forms including acting, storytelling, movement, composition, vocalisation and visual art. Unfortunately, it is often associated with a hierarchical, centralised structure including the authority of the all-mighty composer, writer, director or conductor.

Though opera might be considered by some as an elitist art form, there is an increasing number of initiatives attempting to create or produce opera in a more inclusive way. Examples include Streetwise Opera which works with people who are or have been homeless; Opera Schmopera working with young people and involving them in the creation of new opera; and the community engagement and educational schemes of the large opera houses such as Royal Opera House, English National Opera and Opera North.

I myself run a series of workshops called Create An Opera! which have been taking place near Liverpool Street since 2017.

The workshops are free to the general public and provide a safe, inclusive environment for experimentation in writing, composition and collaborative performance. At the workshops, participants are involved in both creative and performance aspects, working individually and collaboratively. The workshops empower the participants, and in this way challenge traditional notions of opera-making, breaking boundaries of single roles, economic status, cultural capital, aesthetic conventions and institutional frameworks. The next one takes place Theatre Delicatessen, Deli Studios, 2 Finsbury Avenue, London, EC2M 2PA on Sunday, December 16 at 1pm. All are welcome to join in, but booking in advance is recommended through this link: eventbrite.co.uk/e/create-an-opera-open-level-a-devising-workshop-by-red-hat-opera-tickets-50827247666.

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