Opera: are we all invited?

Tuesday 23 September, 19.30 until 21.00, Hellenic American Union, Massalias 22, 10680, Athens, Greece International Satellite Events 2014

Free and unticketed. For more information contact culture@hau.gr.

Despite the economic crisis, art in Greece is booming. By 2015, new museums and cultural organisations are scheduled to open their doors to the public, many of them privately funded rather than state-run as in the past. As Greek classical orchestras and opera companies find themselves in a bleak financial situation due to government spending cuts, private funding seems to have offered a way out. At the same time, non-traditional venues such as Syntagma Square’s metro station and airplane flights have been used as opera stages, in an effort to promote it to new audiences.

Yet the question of how opera, along with other elite art forms such as classical music and theatre, can and should be made more accessible to all is a fraught one. Some argue, for example, that the key lies in demystifying some of opera’s difficulty by incorporating elements from popular culture and emphasising its contemporary socio-political relevance. Yet others warn that such an approach risks alienating current and potential audiences who are attracted to art precisely because it is so strange and diverts us from everyday concerns. They argue that the opera world – especially critics - should certainly focus their energies on inspiring and explaining opera’s virtues for the curious, while accepting that The Ring Cycle isn’t for everyone.

Can such projects – whether privately or state funded - really be justified when they bring little obvious benefit to most Greeks, especially in a period of economic crisis? What emphasis should performers and critics place on making opera more accessible versus making judgments on purely artistic grounds? Does opera, or any other ‘difficult’ art form, by definition need to be held to different standards of accessibility than popular culture?

Dr Eugenia Arsenis
director; dramaturg, Center for Contemporary Opera, New York

Dolan Cummings
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

Dr Nikos Dontas
head, Dramaturgy Department, Greek National Opera; music critic, Kathimerini

Dimitrios Kiousopoulos
historian; columnist, Eleftherotypia

Ioannis Tselikas
assistant professor, Hellenic American University; music editor and performer

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Produced by
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
Ira Papadopoulou director of cultural affairs, Hellenic American Union
Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy
Recommended readings
Shouldn't You Be Fatter? (And Other Opera Singer Myths)

Nine times out of 10, the person I'm chatting with, when learning that I'm an opera singer replies with confusion,

Jennifer Rivera, Huffington Post, 5 March 2012

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