A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

Selling opera



I’ve started so many blogs commenting on how opera is faring in Australia. Here’s the start of yet another…

Last Friday Mumbrella published a post covering a presentation on Opera Australia’s rebrand, given by its head of marketing and tourism, John Quertermous. According to Quertermous, he knows what we want. We want experiences.  We want to feel that delicious shiver down our spine as the leading man clasps the leading lady in his arms, as we see the price of the Champagne Methodoise. That quickening of the pulse as we realise the drink is poisoned, or when we spot another person across the foyer wearing the same dress as us. That warm glow of delight as the violins soar and the hero wins the prize. Or when our instagram photo of arriving at the Opera House registers 73 likes.

I never finish them because I’m worried a) it’ll come out all bitter and twisted or b) I won’t say anything new or c) it’ll be boring or d) all of the above.

The bottom line, for me, is that I hate the creeping reductionism of this kind of thinking. It’s the same kind of thinking that makes pop groups like Flight Facilities hire Melbourne Symphony Orchestra then enter their record in the Classical section of the Aria Awards. (It worked). Looking for the buttons to push, being driven by a desired reaction, rather than an internal vision. Call me romantic, call me wibbly lefty dreamer, but surely art is about being brave, not cynical?

The other thing that worries me about the ‘entertainment’ tactic is that OA have been trying it for a number of years, and I’m not sure I can see much success. Ticket sales are down, productions are down, and the Opera Review expressed clear frustration with the company’s lurch towards a narrower, more populist bill of fare.  And doing this while other sections of the music community are seeking success by finding a lesser-spotted niche…

Not sure whether this is a), b), c) or d. But I do hope Opera Australia is not thinking of entering the Arias Awards in the entertainment category. It’s already quite crowded.

In the mean time, good luck to all for the Melbourne Ring Cycle. Good old fashioned entertainment. Or something like that.

If you’ve read this far, pop over to see my book project. There’s more of my writing and you can pledge lots and lots of money pretty please.



  1. Romantic? Probably. Anyone dreaming of writing a history of Dartington must surely be a romantic .Wibbly lefty? Again, probably. It goes with the territory, doesn’t it? But art can be both brave and/or cynical. Marketing, however, is nearly always cynical, the end clearly justifying the means. Marketeers love awards and prizes because they can influence the outcomes and then claim benefits, real or unreal, on behalf of their charges. It is better to ignore their ilk and all of their writings. Production houses should not, however, ignore the importance of the overall experience. Enjoying art has always been an inherently social activity. For some the social outweighs the art. But that does not matter. A happy patron will surely return.

  2. Well said, John. I’ve been on both sides of the debate – marketing and creating — as you know. In fact, I found writing marketing material highly creative at times, and I don’t mean that sarcastically! (Well, not entirely). But marketing and creating have different drivers and, as you say, production houses need to look after both. I love the experience of going to see live performances. I love the chat and seeing friends and being out and drinking champagne. Occasionally I even enjoy that aspect more than the actual show! I’ll also enjoy a spectacular performance in spite of a grisly venue or miserable audience. But when the company AND the art is good, that is truly living!

  3. The narrowing and cheapening of the program had been frustrating enough, but that it has achieved few, if any, of its goals and yet is held up still as the standard is galling.

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