Recommendations for Opera Europa's London Conference from the Young Delegates

Above: Young Delegate Camille Audouard presenting with Bernard Foccroulle 
for the closing presentations.  Photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Balogh.

        Following their involvement in the Opera Europa spring conference in Rotterdam, young delegates gathered as the Opera Think Tank to put forward ideas for the next European Opera Forum. The young delegate program is a new initiative by Opera Europa to involve young professionals in the crucial debates that take place within the conference. Below are some of the recommendations for the 2011 London conference.
        1. Conference format
The Young Delegates particularly enjoyed this conference and their involvement from the start in the debates. The fact that there was a significantly lower number of participants in total (less than 200) also helped in terms of more focused discussions and smaller groups of people interacting in a more intimate way throughout the weekend.
        The new format is in itself a strong improvement, as it allows the group to be involved at every stage. We thought it was important to get together before the start of the conference, to break the ice, get to know / reconnect with each other and make sure the briefing for the weekend is clear. The initial dinner on Friday is also a plus – it sort of forces everyone to get a jump on the following day’s sessions and it facilitates exchanges. Being distributed throughout the different sessions allows for deeper and more organic discussions on at least one topic, which is great. We also tremendously enjoyed being given the opportunity to be deputy moderators, even if it diverted the focus a bit from imagining more precise topics for the London forum.

        2. Relationships to senior participants
Although we understand the senior opera professionals have other obligations at conferences, we noticed they mostly kept together during breaks rather than network. This should be avoided in the future, as we believe that it is an ancillary, yet essential part of the Think Tank’s mission to foster knowledge transmission and mentoring. Of course, young delegates are free to circulate and introduce themselves to other participants, and a formal mentoring scheme is perhaps not ideal as it would pose a real practical challenge. Our only regret is that senior professionals didn’t approach us very much.
        3. European Opera Forum 2011
Nicholas Payne mentioned at the end of the conference that he wished to include our proposals for London in the official program before it goes out to the members of Opera Europa in the Fall. The meeting in Madrid with Gerard Mortier will be an important step, however, we must come up with the bulk of our topics before that in order for them to be successfully integrated (and to meet all deadlines!). Perhaps the only minor downside to the Rotterdam conference was that with many young delegates playing a key role in the weekend’s debates, energies were not generally directed towards the longer-term planning (i.e. LONDON!).
        Throughout the weekend’s debates, one word stuck out: EXPERIENCE. This should be understood both from a marketing/education and aesthetic*/artistic point of view. These are the two areas (globally considered) which our contribution to the London forum will cover. Our group being already strong in the marketing/education sphere, a small number of new participants (who could not make it to Rotterdam) will join us in Madrid and then in London, in order to maintain balance between the various professional backgrounds.
        On the aesthetic side, many important questions were raised, pertaining to both the physical space of performance (is the traditional opera house the right venue for opera? How does it affect the way the audience relates to the performance?) to the actual identity of the art form. The question of identity represents a much broader realm of reflection, which we must nonetheless explore intensively. Some key words/guidelines were the tensions between tradition and modernity, the challenges of composing and writing for the stage, the quality of productions, and the problems of interpreting works of the past in a modern way.
        On the marketing side, it was agreed in Rotterdam that the new opera-goer was going to be a more demanding customer than the traditional audience. Therefore, the potential ticket buyer’s experience must be fully satisfying - from the moment he/she originally becomes aware of a given performance through a company’s communication strategy, to the moment the final curtain falls down on that performance. This includes advertisement, press and PR, front of house (from the box office to the usher, from the cloakroom to the catering service), which must all address the imperatives of welcoming musical theatre audiences in our day and age.
        However, a very interesting idea came out during the Saturday sessions to the effect that the relationship with the “new audience” was perhaps not the one companies should most actively develop. Rather, it was suggested that audiences between 35 and 55 years of age proved a potentially more lucrative target in regards to disposable income and time, and the inclination and capacity to spend on sophisticated cultural entertainment. Perhaps the word “new”, as Nicholas Payne mentioned, should be dropped from our collective vocabulary for the London forum.
        4. Looking forward
Finally, the young delegates will be looking to publish a manifesto after the London conference in Spring/Summer of 2011. The manifesto should be released simultaneously in all the major European languages.

-Opera Europa's Opera Think Tank

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