Leading article: Same old song

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The Independent Online

If most lay people were asked to describe the opera world, few would reach for the word "savage". But that is the description John Berry, the artistic director of the English National Opera, has chosen to describe the scene in the capital. Another is "conservative". And here many more people – including regular opera-goers – will concede that Mr Berry has half a point.

Of course, it is not hard to see why London's two opera houses – ENO and the Royal Opera – often err towards the conservative. Opera is increasingly reliant on commercial sponsors. Corporate bigwigs do not tend to want untested, modern commissions. They want something traditional, with top singers; something to which they can take their clients. They want Carmen and The Marriage of Figaro, not obscure modern productions. There are certain physical restraints too. The main stages of the ROH and the Coliseum were built for grand performances, rather than experimental, or avant-garde, work.

The solution is innovation and diversification. Directors need to concentrate on attracting a wider audience to their traditional productions. If opera houses can increase their revenues in this way, they will have more money to spend on commissioning and staging new, less bankable, work. Directors also need to use smaller spaces, which are more suited to modern productions, to stage new, or neglected work. Ironically, the ROH is already doing this with its Linbury Studio Theatre, and the ENO through its collaboration with the Young Vic.

Mr Berry has identified the problem. Happily, the solution lies in his hands.