Could this be curtains for national opera?

Could this be curtains for national opera?


norman lebrecht

September 08, 2020

Professor Peter Tregear, former head of Australia’s National University’s school of music, wonders whether the country needs a permanent opera company in its landmark opera house – indeed, whether any country, after Covid-19, will need a national opera.

His core argument:
Opera is especially exposed because it is so closely connected to the places where pandemics have the greatest impact — large cities. Opera is an urban art form par excellence. By the mid-19th century, it had become a principal medium through which burgeoning urban populations might hear and see stylised representations of their lives (albeit filtered through the lens of historical or mythic subjects). It’s not for nothing, for instance, that so many operatic heroines die of “consumption”, a preeminently urban disease.

Now, however, under the shadow of COVID-19, the future of the city itself is under question; the rise of video platforms like Zoom seems to make the necessity of “being there” no longer a necessity. This idea has been refuted by others who highlight the human yearning for togetherness. The general manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, similarly has said that while it may be soothing to watch opera streamed at home, it is ultimately a “one dimensional experience”.

Nevertheless, with theatres unable to return to full capacity for the indefinite future, and public funding bodies becoming strapped for cash, a return to anything like our pre-COVID operatic culture is unlikely. The current crisis does, however, offer a chance to think afresh about opera’s place (literally as well as figuratively) in our society.

More here.


Your thoughts?


  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is easy to say that in a country where opera is not important yet claims a disproportionate share of the government arts funding. Add to that, the artistic results are mediocre at best with the worst opera auditorium in the world (in Sydney).

  • Theadore Unger says:

    Liberal governments haven’t been able to afford to keep up with their social causes for the last several decades as news agencies have consistently reported.

    Mass COVID-19 closures have decimated tax revenue they count on to support their communities and non-operating businesses can’t survive much longer if not already permanently closed.

    Time to cut orchestra and opera for the greater good.

  • Escamillo says:

    Opera began in court theatres for small, invited groups, which is why most baroque opera houses still cater for hundreds, not thousands. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when opera became a public art form, auditoriums grew to resemble arenas. Perhaps, the message from Covid-19 is that we should go back to smaller auditoriums in which spacing is deliberately part of the design. A ‘horseshoe’ layout and small-capacity private boxes again? Why not?

  • caranome says:

    How many ways can opera be “reimagined” and still be viable and great? We are all groping in the dark.

  • Michael James says:

    This is surely part of the general fearful overreaction to Covid-19, which seems to be settling down into something not much worse than the flu as we become largely immune to it.

  • Kevan Wightman says:

    Why single out Opera. In this persons view is any mass gathering necessary, whether it takes place in a theatre, concert hall, sports stadium etc. Having watched some the of the Proms televised from an empty Royal Albert Hall I can only surmise that this individual has never experienced the type of electricity that a full hall or stadium can generate. That is something that ZOOM or any such platform cannot replicate and it is the crumb of comfort for individuals like me clinging onto the hope that technology will not replace the sheer elan of ‘being there’.

    • Colin says:

      “Why single out Opera.”

      I think some people with axes to grind are using Covid as a cover for their own personal dislikes.

  • Karl says:

    No opera? No cities? Will there be anything left after covid? People are acting like this is going to cause the extinction of the human race. I think stupidity is more likely to cause the extinction of humanity.