Opera access is more about rip-off than strip-off

Don’t patronise us with trainers and beer. Just cut the ticket prices.


Damon Albarn has invited us all to “undress for the opera”, which is one way to make the Ring cycle go with a swing.

Before everyone starts flinging their bras at Bryn Terfel, though, it should be noted that this is just a slogan, aimed at enticing younger audiences to the English National Opera. “Come in shorts, armour, jeans, pumps, anything!”, expanded the ENO’s artistic director John Berry at the campaign launch, just missing the cool mark due to the fact that nobody except Brown Owls says “pumps” anymore.

The idea of “Undress for the Opera” is to unshackle the artform, again!, from its persistently stuffy image as “art for the rich, the successful and the almost dead”. Audiences are encouraged to turn up in jeans and trainers, drink beer in the interval and go to after-parties with the stars. In addition, 100 of the best seats in the house will be available for £25.

It’s a good idea, even if opera has been “undressing” itself for some time now. Glyndebourne may still be a glorious bastion of taffeta and Taittinger, but nobody thought you had to wear a tux to the Coliseum. And there are myriad scruffy younger companies performing La Boheme and Dido and Aeneas in pubs and warehouses.

I can’t remember what I wore last time I went to the opera. I do remember, though, what I saw. It was Dr Dee, Albarn’s new opera and the Coliseum was filled with young people wearing – who knows? – what they liked, to watch something original and exciting. Not that I have anything against traditional opera. It’s just that I’ve never seen one without a bird’s eye view of the singers’ bald spots. The only affordable tickets left after the cognoscenti have snaffled the best and cheapest are up in the gods.

And that’s the real problem. Access. People aren’t staying away from the opera because they don’t know what to wear. It’s patronising to assume that the youth will only leave their PlayStations for Puccini if they can keep their hoodies on. Besides, most people would probably agree that if the performers have made an effort, it’s a mark of respect to make one too.

The real stumbling block is ticket prices. If you wanted to see the Ring cycle at the Royal Opera this month, you had to buy a ticket to each of the four operas, to the tune of hundreds of pounds. Even the most curious wannabe fan would balk at that. Forget trainers and beer, it’s the ENO selling the best seats in the house for less than the price of a pair of Topshop jeans that deserves the loudest bravo and, one hopes, a wider encore.

The new chocolate bar "for ladies"

What do women want? It’s the eternal question but the clever clogs at Cadbury have cracked it. What women want is an ersatz “treat” with a fancy pidgin Italian name (Nigella has a lot to answer for) that comes in a purple wrapper specifically designed to make them feel guilty.

This is Crispello, a new chocolate bar for ladies, which hits shelves next week. The newly health-conscious 21st-century woman isn’t buying as much confectionery, apparently, so Cadbury have created a lighter bar, with fewer calories and a name which may induce vomiting. It comes in three separate pieces, so there’s no risk of breaking a nail while breaking it up, and a resealable packet, so women don’t wolf it all down at once like slavering dogs but rather savour it, over three weeks, say, like serene princesses of self-control.

A preview Crispello arrived at the i yesterday and, having shared the pieces with my bestest gal pals on the desk while we took a break from counting calories and loathing ourselves, the verdicts ranged from “meh” to “tastes like whipped fat”’, to “can I have a Yorkie now?” Yorkie, of course, is a Man’s Chocolate Bar, which markets itself with the slogan “It’s not for girls”. And that’s the really irritating thing; at least that marketing slogan showed a bit of tongue-of-cheek wit. Why must women always swallow the lame end of gender stereotyping?



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