Magazine article The Spectator

Right to Roam

Magazine article The Spectator

Right to Roam

Article excerpt

ARTS R ight to roam

Opera is challenging established boundaries, as Frederic Wake-Walker explains:

'I t's an occult-mystery film opera.' This is how Michel van der Aa describes his new opera, which opened last Friday at the Barbican (and is reviewed on page 50). I had similar difficulties in describing the nature of many of the shows that I produced at Mica Moca, a performance and exhibition venue in Berlin. Over the course of five months, we produced more than 350 different shows of every genre you could think of and some I'd never heard of (check out Japanese free noise) and yet, by the end, I felt that what we'd actually produced was one huge opera.

We're living in very interesting and exciting times for the world of performance - when boundaries between art forms are breaking down and audience's expectations are shifting. And opera has the opportunity to benefit most. As the most multimedia of art forms, it has the right to roam across this changing cultural landscape, collecting from others and so continually reinventing itself.

Indeed, the way performance is going, and when taken to its logical conclusion, perhaps everything is opera.

Opera is becoming far harder to pigeonhole. Young classical composers are just as likely to quote Beyonce as they are Beethoven. You're more likely to see a young opera company perform in a warehouse or pub than in a theatre. Creators of opera are using their own surroundings and

experiences. After a long day with our heads in a computer, we don't want to sit in a warm, dark auditorium 30 feet away from the stage.

We want to be able to touch our performers, discover them in the next room, create the music ourselves. And yet the digital revolution has also made us able to absorb huge and varied amounts of information simultaneously. We expect our performances to be rich audiovisual experiences. Live performance has responded to this by engaging technology in many various and brilliant ways but also by making work that is unique. In other words, by making something that can't simply be replicated on a computer or by a West End show with a large budget. Audiences are experiences to create work that consequently feels more alive and engaging to audiences. And audiences are becoming more unpredictable, too, going to an increasing variety of events and places. Their tastes are dictated more by the nature of the performance or the particular artists involved than by loyalty to a venue or genre.

The digital revolution of the past ten years has given rise to the counterculture of immersive and site-specific theatre that caters for audiences craving more visceral drawn to something that they think is going to be a special experience and, as a result, they will take more risks with what they go to see. From my own perspective, I know that doing an opera by Harrison Birtwistle in a forest last year with The Opera Group brought in audiences that would never have come to see the same show in a theatre. They came to experience the 'opera in a forest'.

It is this mentality that Punchdrunk, Secret Cinema and You Me Bum Bum Train are tapping into so successfully.

Opera is by no means trailing behind in this field. There is an underground current of opera in the UK, and particularly in London at the moment, that is challenging established methods and expectations. Small, fleet-offoot companies are offering experiences that the bigger companies can't hope to replicate - though ENO tried with The Duchess of Malfi. …

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