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#HardTalk with #ThomasHampson - comments on HARD TALK #BBC #Opera #Debate #FAQ #OperaFaq #OperaElite - Opera The most

expensive art form." Sometimes you just cant believe your ears, when you see a presumably serious programme inviting such an esteemed artist such as Thomas Hampson, and throwing out one ridiculous assuption and question after another, only revealing a complete lack of preparation, knowledge and understanding from the interviewer on the subject. So, therefore, here some comments on the interview, there are many good points made by T Hampson, especially towards the end, but also many points that were left hanging, I could feel his frustration - and I feel this can be adressed, because I have, myself, been in innumerable discussions similar to this one. Included are very valuable points taken from Alexander Robinsons personal letter to the BBC. First of all, we as artists and experts in the eld, must not accept this very basic and irritating level of questioning from uninformed and populistic entertainment channels. It is both degrading to them, indeed the BBC, and us, but most of all the audience. It destroys and disrupts the connection between our audience and the art they connect to. It is our obligation to confront these inanities with simple facts, logical conclusions and calm reasoning. That BBC chose to confront Mr Hampson with childish aggression and in fact an insulting level of ignorance, is beyond me. So, to the points of the art of Opera: - Is it worth it? Just like science has the CERN super collider, cold fusion plants, star observatories and the international space station that rack up unimaginable costs to very diffuse nancial or societal rewards, and the EU has farming and shing subsidies, dual offices in Strasbourgh and Brussels, and sports has huge arenas that are only fully booked a few days every year but otherwise more than half empty, with sports stars that earn ten to hundredfold more than all opera singers do, yes, the art of ...art likewise

involves costs that are not based on simple production value. Where is the reciprocity of reasoning? And why is production value the main thing in this reasoning? Pepsi or Macdonalds might be protable, but do the products themselves really improve the experience of human life? REALLY? Is the discussion of what its worth about what the product to the consumer is worth in commercial terms? - And what about costs? The state decides to spend money based on ideology. The reasoning is that we are getting something back that will make our country better. Sometimes people even use the word waste when talking about spending money on the arts. Lets talk about waste, and Im using Sweden as an example, and assume that other countries are at least similar in this respect. The total juridicial costs for the case surrounding the famous serial killer Thomas Quick in Sweden costed the tax payers aprox. fty million euro, and now it turns out he is totally innocent, result of a disastrous procedure. Somehow the cost is, in our culture, secondary to the fact that he was innocent! Why? This was a pure waste of money! We built a train tunnel through a hill in the Halland county that saves the trains 12 minutes of travel, to the cost of 1.2 billion euro, many times the initially estimated cost. Somehow the cost is secondary to the fact that the digging of the tunnel ruined the ground water aquifers of the hill, and that it took much longer than expected to nish. Why? This, too, was a huge waste of money! And how does this kind of waste mentioned before measure up to the hundreds of thousands that buy tickets to the opera houses in each country every year, on top of the almost always completely sold out and very successful live broadcast screenings of opera, again and again? Including the impact each single musician as a private person has on their surrounding society. - Isn't it elitist? Isnt it only the rich people that can afford the Opera? The point of Elitism is also ridiculous. Price issues rst: an average ticket to a Rolling Stones, Springsteen concert or Champions league game is several levels more costly - but both are considered blue-collar. A Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z concert in the US is priced at between US$57 and $280, Elton John in Stockholm is priced between US$ 89 and $141. UEFA / Champions League were criticised for their pricing policy for last year's nal at Wembley, where the cheapest general sale tickets cost 150 plus a

booking fee, and adult and child 'youth packages' cost 338. But nowhere is the term elitist used in connection with football or any of the pop stars, no, in fact, never! The thousands of top football players earn at least ten times more money than the top opera singers, the tickets are more expensive, the stadiums are more expensive, the hooligans of football cause more damage than hooligans of classical music ( on this I could be proven wrong! ). Compare that to the the top price for a premiere performance at the Royal Opera in Stockholm: Bottom price: $1,5 Top price: $133. A premiere performance! So, it cannot be the ticket price that makes Opera elitist. The Opera houses are used day after day, hour after hour, the stadiums often just sit there, empty - but still ticking away our tax money for construction, upkeep, marketing and electricity. What does a stadium do to the general surrounding city compared to an Opera House? - Opera is elitist, because it excludes ordinary people. Remember - the vocal instrument is the rst medium of most human beings, it is the instrument that communicates who you are and what you want. The Opera house is a celebration of this unity between voice and the human experience - how can that be elitist? On the other hand, we have to understand that we as human beings tend to celebrate natural beauty (models) and inherited wealth (nobility or just.. rich guys), something the owner of those traits have done nothing to earn. Opera on the other hand, just like science and athletics, represents the pushing of the limits of human endeavour, only sacrice, training and extreme discipline can achieve that which we witness on the opera stage. How can that be elitist? Or, if it is elitist, why is that bad? We want the best bridge for our islands, we want the best school for our kids, we want our team to win, we want to get a higher salary, we want to eat better food, we want everything to be better. That is elitist. To live with a vision. We celebrate the winners of all sorts of sports contests, and the idea that all things aside, the best physical specimen wins (or the person with the strongest mind). Surely this is elitist? But why is it the wrong elitism only when it comes to art?

Here is another answer, the UK angle, to the cost/price question by Alexander Robinson in his letter to the BBC as a direct response to the Hard Talk show:

Is opera expensive? If we are referring to running costs, inevitably so: opera companies require large casts, choruses and orchestras, performance and rehearsal facilities, and a host of skilled workers behind the scenes to ensure the set, costumes and lighting are correct. On the other hand, large overheads are a fact of life for any large employer requiring extensive premises and a wide range of skills. What about the costs of running the Royal Shakespeare Company? What about Wembley Stadium? What about the BBC, for that matter? Why single out opera in this regard? What of the cost to the public, though? To suggest that public subsidy is expensive is self-evidently absurd: taking the Royal Opera House as an example, a quick internet search reveals that in 2012/2013 the Arts Council grant was just over 25m or approximately 40p per person if averaged over the latest estimated UK population of 62m. Perhaps by expense, then, Ms. Montague was referring to the ticket price. Or was she? Again referring to the Royal Opera House, purely for consistency, tickets can be bought for as little as 3. 40% of tickets are below 40 and 30% below 30; I have been attending for around 10 years and have rarely paid more than 30, usually far less. To pick examples at random, I think these prices compare pretty favourably to minimum adult prices of 20 to see the highly-acclaimed Matilda on the West End; 26 to see Arsenal as a nonmember, or a whopping 42.75 to see Jay-Z at the Manchester Arena. I don't intend in any way to suggest that opera somehow stands on a higher plane of existence anyone who asserts that is an irredeemable snob but these are merely representative prices which it took me all of 5 minutes to check. It is quite simply untrue to suggest that opera is only open to the wealthy if anything, ticket prices are more favourable to those on a low income than for other activities which rarely attract such hostile scrutiny. This is without even mentioning the student standby schemes, or reduced ticket prices for under-30s which, for example, English National Opera and Glyndebourne offer. - Why do we need it?

I dont care much for riding, boating or cricket, I am also dont have a drivers license, or attend racing events, but I still accept that a lot of people love these kind of things, and that we should all support the people that want to develop their kind of endeavours. I can also understand their passion for whatever it is that they want to acheive. Indeed, there are incredible costs involved in all of this, much of it supported by society. So, Opera, how many would potentially be benetting from this art form? The human voice is the single unifying tonal instrument of all of humanity what worse than NOT to celebrate that instrument? On top of that singing is one of the most common hobbies, and one of the hardest and most complex art forms to master. In Sweden alone there are almost half a million choral singers of various levels and ambitions, out of a population of 9 million. How could there then not be an elite focus of singers, constantly trying to develop, strive and perfect this most central of human art forms? Imagine the constantly developing knowledge, experience and variation of competence inside this kind of house, and what the world of vocal training and development would be without it. Pedagogy, training, artistry and expertise is upheld and tested and improved in the Opera house because there are no other places even remotely capable of something similar. Teachers, journalists, enthusiasts, leaders, academies and schools use and need the Opera house as the ultimate testing ground and reference point. - I know I don't like it. First of all; everyone has an opinion about Opera, and many of those people have never seen or heard an opera. How can this be? How can an art form affect so many people that have never experienced it? Surely that says something about both society and the art form itself? Comments like: I don't understand what they're saying / they are all fat / it's too long / I thought they one day just decided to sound like that / they are just bourn with that kind of voice - are often followed by: I have never been to the opera. And, so, if you really dont like Opera, ne. You dont have to. Some of my family and friends dont either. - It's too complicated. Why do I have to study before I go to the opera?

Who would enjoy a football game without knowing the point of the game? Why are they running around on the eld? Why is there white lines everywhere? Oh, a round ball, they are kicking on it? Why? That guy with the whistle is just standing there!! How long does it take for you to learn the rules of a video game? - That kind of homework is required by anything you will enjoy. See, the art of Opera is an emotional art form, it isn't communicating via the intellect most of the time, and that is quite provocative for modern individuals that need to feel like an individual in control - to be responsible for understanding, analyzing and comprehend the details and ne mechanics of their experience. That's part of why some people don't like it. It's like playing with a cute dog or seeing someone crying - you just react! Alexander Robinson, again from the same letter, on the same topic: You need to do your homework to understand what's going on. Don't you get more out of it by understanding the context? Doesn't it only appeal to educated audiences? Surely this is the same for anything in life, depending on how one defines context and education? I thoroughly enjoyed Wimbledon, despite being no athelete and not having the foggiest idea of the rules of any sport at all. I can still appreciate a good performance on Centre Court when I see one. Of course, if I did know the rules of tennis inside out I might have enjoyed Murray's victory all the more, but it wasn't essential to being swept up by the drama and tension of it all. Can you imagine Andy Murray being hauled in front of a hostile interviewer and asked to justify why he continues to play tennis, and by the way, why are Centre Court tickets so pricey? To take another comparison, what about the cinema? I didn't fight for the French Resistance in North Africa, I'm not French, and was born decades too late to take part, so does this disqualify me from enjoying Casablanca? I don't think I know any time travellers, so clearly Doctor Who is right out. In any case, everyone's reaction to music is different, but for many people it's a visceral, emotional response. You don't need to be educated to have emotions, or to simply feel something when you hear music, whether it's Berlioz or Beyonce. For those really interested in knowing more about the cultural context, opera programmes usually include a plot synopsis and all manner of details about historical, social and philosophical background but to appreciate Don Carlo, nobody expects a PhD in the Spanish Inquisition. Why can't opera join the modern era on the internet, save money? First of all: the theatre room, the building itself is an instrument in itself. The auditorium is built to serve the listener, the spectator and the artists on stage. This is the whole point, acoustically, visually and socially, of a

theatre room. The physical meeting of the artist and the audience is the main point of any stage art/craft. Furthermore, on a more psychological note. Sitting in the auditorium, an instrument in itself, you as an audience are actually the instrument that the singer is playing on - your emotional, hormonal response to the sounds, the music from the orchestra and the rened human voice is the end result. You don't have to understand it, you just have to listen and see what happens. There are almost nobody going to the Opera, so what's the point? About who actually listens to and goes to Opera, yes a small percentage of people around the world go to the Opera, 2% was mentioned on the show of the US population. This is still a couple of million people each year! And that's the people that makes one visit per month. How many go just a few times, or even once, per year? That's just like the small percentage of individuals that actually go to museums, rock concerts, the theatre, read Dostoievsky and even less study experimental physics in costly laboratoriums. Still, a tremendous impact on society, and quite enough to ll the opera houses. Opera is just for the small inner group concerned. Remember that the business of the Opera house is not only the paying audience, it is also the complete collected and developed knowledge and interaction of it's members with the rest of society. On top of that each orchestral member has students, friends, family with whom the knowledge is shared and evolves. We also have the chorus, the soloists, the creative teams behind the stage, the daily visitors, the international cooperations, the academies around the country that look up to the Opera as a goal to strive for (and most never acheive this dream, and their lives, enrichened by this attempt, continue on to other things - how many doctors, engineers or lawyers haven't kept a serious passion for classical music alive in this way?). Remember: there are few other areas of expertise around training and perfecting a skill that are as documented, detailed and advanced as that of training a classical instrument. About the impossibility of understand the point of an art form - and here Thomas Hampson makes a good point, the arts are one of the best gateways to other cultures and other views of life. People that are afraid of

other languages, other sounds and other ways of thinking - and on top of that: not being able to pause, rewind or click on another link, the culture of listening, that is today exactly what society needs! We need an art form that ameliorates the understanding of other types of expression. What other art form is so great at combining the efforts of people across cultures? Essentially every single production involves a work of art by a foreign composer, composing in a foreign soundscape, in a foreign language, conducted by a person from yet another language, with an orchestra and chorus made up of a myriad of nationalities, and with soloists and creative team on stage, where everyone speaks different languages. This is an everyday situation inside the Opera house. What a great example to the rest of society! And to think that this has always been the case. So, yes: why are we not interested in other cultures? The irritating presumption from the journalist in this interview that we as musicians act as if classical music is "precious" has to do exactly with the unwillingness from some to simply interact with others on equal terms. The reluctant audience that imagine that Opera practitioners see the music as "precious" do not accept that someone has skill and expertise and rst of all: passion. It's the same as calling amateur joggers or karate students the same as or equal to Usain Bolt or Bruce Lee. Some people sacrice their lives to an art form, others just try it a bit. I wouldn't attempt to call a policeman "precious" about the law when stopping me for speeding. Alexander Robinson on the same topic: It's all set to classical music. And in foreign! I actually couldn't believe Sarah Montague Sarah Today Programme Montague! could in all honesty suggest that these are negative features. I particularly appreciated the scornful tone used to enunciate the words classical music, as though this is somehow on a par with terrorism, bankers' bonuses or standing on the left of the escalator. If classical music and foreign languages are such bad things perhaps we should recall all those Lord of the Rings and Star Wars soundtrack albums not only are they written in a late-Romantic orchestral style but they also feature choirs singing in completely made-up languages! Nothing good can possibly come of that. On a serious note, some operas are written in English; the ENO performs everything in English; and surtitles should pose no horrors for a population which can't get enough of The Killing and Borgen.

Regarding the thinness of singers: The art form is an art form in itself, not a movie, not sung theatre, nor a TV series. Opera requires extreme technical craft and a highly developed sense of artistry. Also, the industry and the development of artists today are less forgiving and the training is less preparing and more conforming than decades ago. Thus, the artistry often takes a back-seat to the industrial side. Whenever you strive for change in order to adapt to some other goal than to express the essence of the art form, you are diminishing it. Thinner singers that cannot express themselves musically, are lesser opera singers than overweight singers that are visionary artists through and through. Therefore, what we need is a stronger focus on developing artists for the long term, and an industry-wide public communication to their audience regarding this issue. Those are some points that could be included and developed in a future discussion.