New research, Opera Voices, published by Norwich Theatre highlights a strong demand for opera as numerous cuts plague the sector. Norwich Theatre acknowledges Arts Council England’s (ACE) independently conducted analysis, but is calling for a clearer strategy and action plan that represents all voices for the future of opera in the regions, as touring productions have been disproportionally affected by the cuts.
ACE’s cuts to English National Opera (ENO) have dominated the news, but cuts to Welsh National Opera (WNO), and Glyndebourne have seen touring opera decimated. Norwich Theatre was one of the regular venues on Glyndebourne’s touring circuit for more than five decades.
The new research surveyed 1,144 audience members who attended any of Norwich Theatre’s programme. It highlights four key trends, they are:
- Audience levels in opera and demand for the genre have not dropped since Covid
- The perception of opera is the challenge – not the art form itself
- 25% of opera audiences, pre-Covid, were from Arts Council levelling up areas
- The decisions to cut funding have adversely been discriminatory towards those with access needs and disabled audiences
Since the pandemic the research shows that the demand for opera has largely remained the same with only one art form, musicals, performing better by average number of tickets sold. Importantly, despite the major changes to cuts opera has also remained stable against the largest shift in performance numbers. Post-Covid, Norwich Theatre maintained a 64% average capacity despite the selection of opera performances being reduced by 54%.
Another key finding is that the audience perception of opera is potentially more harmful to the art form, and not art itself. 39% of participants felt that it was not for them, referring to price, lack of ability to understand the story line, and feeling out of place at the performances. Much of this perception leads to the idea that opera is generating audiences from affluent areas, with people of high socioeconomic backgrounds. Whereas the study shows a quarter of the audiences of opera goers, came from places deemed priorities for levelling up.
There is a lack of general understanding about the diversity of opera as an art form, with varying languages and lengths, as well as topics and themes explored. Norwich Theatre’s work calls for action to be taken to rebrand the art form as an inclusive space fit-for-purpose for all audiences. In terms of the perceived price barrier, although the average price of opera pre-Covid was £36.64 rising to £41.39 post, musicals have had a larger increase in cost, with pre-Covid tickets averaging £39.26 and post-Covid averaging £43.40 at Norwich Theatre.
As part of their commitment to introducing audiences to opera, Norwich Theatre is collaborating with Buxton International Festival to bring Peter Brook’s La tragédie de Carmen to their audience in Norwich in July next year.
Chief Executive and Creative Director, Stephen Crocker said, “Our research shows that audiences crave opera and that they want to see it nearby. Whilst we welcome the independent analysis being conducted by ACE, it must be swiftly followed with an inclusive action plan that represents touring companies, venues and audiences alike. We are calling on ACE to re-consider and recognise the impact cuts to organisations like Glyndebourne have on access in the regions.”
Norwich Theatre’s Podcast, Norwich Theatre Talks, has recorded a special episode exploring opera available to listen to here. The podcast, hosted by Chief Executive and Creative Director, Stephen Crocker, was recorded live at Norwich Theatre Playhouse, featuring guests including: General Director of English Touring Opera Robin Norton-Hale, and audience member Marion Welham.
In the Norwich Theatre Talks podcast, General Director of English Touring Opera Robin Norton-Hale said, ‘‘This perception that opera’s expensive, I think is tied a little bit to the resentment about the amount of the funding pie that opera gets. And I think we possibly need to get better at telling the story about the breadth of the work we do […] If we don’t get funding then and we start charging hundreds of pounds a ticket…because that’s what it costs, then that very much does limit who is able to come to the opera.’’
When discussing the Glyndebourne change to touring, Norwich Theatre audience member, Marion Welham said, ‘‘I started to come here 20 years ago and then came to watch Glyndebourne every year. Opera in places like this are very important…it’s an intimate feeling and you get the full impact of the feelings on stage.’’