Opera and Media Day

Opera Europa partnered the International Artist Managers’ Association in organising a preliminary day to IAMA’s annual conference in London during April. This Opera and Media Day, which was curated by Kasper Holten and Nicholas Payne, focused on two principal topics: The Next Generation of Artists; and Media and Opera – damnation or blessing? Panellists included Eva Kleinitz, John Berry, Ann Braathen, Brian Dickie and Annilese Miskimmon for the former session; and Kasper Holten, James Conway, Peter Maniura, Matthew Shilvock and Christopher Widauer for the latter. 

David Pountney gave the introductory keynote address, from which a short excerpt is found below.

WNO’s current slogan is ‘Keep culture live and local’ but could ‘new media’ save the situation – something else you are focussing on at this conference? Rather as with the tragic disappearance of the Malasian airline, it is embarrassing in this day of massive data collection on every topic to have to say ‘we don’t really know’ – but that is the truth.

The most prominent, but least interesting feature of new media are the opera broadcasts in cinemas, and the one thing we do probably know is that no-one apart from the Met is really making money with these, so it seems very unlikely that this will be an avenue of financial rescue for anyone else. Is it, however, actually doing active harm?

Aesthetically, in my view undoubtedly yes. The whole world is being given an entirely outdated, retrograde view of the nature and significance of opera: a lot of fatuous star posturing with lovie back-up interviews to go with it. I cannot imagine anything less appealing, but I realise not all of you will agree with this view.

Financially, I am much more guarded. We have all been here before: LPs were going to destroy live music, CDs were going to do the same. On the contrary: easy distribution of music made the appetite for live performance greater, not smaller. We don’t know that it won’t be the same with the cinema broadcasts. The big difference with previous technological advances is the element of geography.

The cinema visit offers at least the illusion of a night out, without requiring the logistical effort of, say, hiring a minibus from Malvern to Cardiff. Which makes it all the more regrettable that when Opera America foundthe money to do an exit survey on attendees at opera relays in American cinemas, the Met apparently blocked their research. What were they afraid we would all find out? I remain quite open to the idea that when we are allowedto see some proper research it will turn out that audiences don’t necessarily see the celluloid experience as a substitute rather than as an add-on, and they may even see it as a stimulus towards the live performance.

Actually there is a really interesting avenue for new media and opera, but it is going to cost us all money rather than making it. But right from Monteverdi to Sondheim artists have always been inspired to adapt their message to the medium. The whole range of technical possibilities opened up by mobile devices of all kinds, the internet, social media, and loads of things we haven’t even heard of yet are all opportunities to tell fascinating stories through music – which is fundamentally all that opera has ever done. This is the real opportunity and excitement of opera and new media, not looking at a close-up of Renee Fleming’s corsage. But unlike the latter, this new art form cannot be marketed for zillions of dollars.

This is the new frontier of art and creativity, but as with many aspects of the net it is not always easy to identify an income stream, and hence it is liable to be a lousy financial prospect. Or is it?