About the old and the new

In this online publication, we try – not always successfully – to avoid a polarising duality between the old and the new. In this duality, the old would stand for traditional, conservative, repertoire etc., and the new would be contemporary, new creations, innovative etc. In the vital and extremely diverse opera practice in Europe, this duality just does not exist as a split screen. The bulk of the opera houses produce a wide variety of stagings of repertoire, sometimes referring to a traditional approach, and sometimes wildly innovative and most of the times something in between. Quite a lot of even the biggest houses have yearly world
creations of new operas.

In short, the art of opera is in reality a very fuzzy and diverse mixture of tradition and innovation. And that’s exactly why it remains a vivid art. In practice, nobody gains in a non-existent fight between the old and the new. All operas are (re)created differently, applying a wide variety of techniques and artistic approaches. Most of them are performed in opera houses ranging from historic to high-tech futuristic constructions, and everything in between. Some of them are performed in new spaces: outside on a lake, or inside industrial leftovers. New contemporary creations can involve dj’s and rappers and electronic instruments and amplified voices, and some of them are written for baroque instruments. Some of them involve the active participation of the public, and some are in their concept barely distinguishable from a classic tradition of centuries ago.

It would be weird and quite counterproductive if education would hang on to a split-screen approach towards the old and the new. Almost every future opera singer will have encounters with a wide range of practices ranging from the very old to the very new. Opera education should not try to protect future singers from the future. As today’s practice proves, the future will embrace both tradition and innovation, often within the same house and even the same production. It is – frankly – part of the job.

In our working group involving opera educators and artists from the conservatories of Porto (Portugal), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Maastricht (the Netherlands), we had – in the margin of our Intensive Study Programs – long and sometimes heated discussions about the old and the new. We all strived for the incorporation of ‘the New’ in education. And we discovered big geographic differences in how ‘mainstream’ opera was perceived. In the end, this working group tried to construct an educational path to incorporate ‘the new’ in the education of an
opera practice with a huge tradition.

Our Policy Recommendations are focused on 4 pillars: 

  • Approach innovation as part of long tradition of renewal within opera
  • Opera as a Collaborative and Intermedial Art Practice
  • Education as a safe context for artistic experimentation
  • Education as the incubator of future opera practices