Why more and more people are getting in tune with the opera

NI Opera artistic director Walter Sutcliffe
NI Opera artistic director Walter Sutcliffe

The number of people going to the opera in Northern Ireland is on the increase evidenced by audience figures for a local opera company.

NI Opera’s artistic director Walter Sutcliffe explained why opera is something that is not just for the upper echelons of society.

He said: “In Italy people from all parts of society would go to the opera. They still do. In Germany it’s also the same.

“We make ourselves think that it’s complicated and difficult, actually it’s people singing some stories that we love. We all love music, we all love singing, we like going to musicals, people like watching The Voice, the Eurovision Song Contest. There’s not that big a difference, it’s more a question of perception.”

Asked what his opera company were doing to break down barriers of perception in opera Walter said: “At NI Opera we’re not really changing opera or dressing it up.

“From my point of view I’m just trying to reveal what is naturally there.

“I think an opera company should present a really broad range of material because opera isn’t just one thing, it covers material that was written in Venice in the 1600s, all the way up to Broadway. An opera company should not just be presenting big romantic operas, it’s presenting Stephen Sondheim too.

“What I find is that when we present a broad programme people are really interested and they say, ‘hang on, opera can be these different things’, by trying one thing you sometimes try another. People say they don’t like seafood, they don’t necessarily have to eat an oyster straight away but they can eat a prawn. In the end this is all stuff that’s to be consumed, to be enjoyed.”

Discussing attendance at NI Opera’s recent productions, which include Rigoletto and Sweeney Todd, he said: “In this last season we got about 11,000 visitors coming to our shows.

“Going back a couple of years we’re up 400%. That’s a big increase. It’s to do with the atmosphere but also we’re putting on more performances to bigger capacities. It shows me people want to come. They want to have this type of entertainment.”

Asked how he fell in love with opera, Walter said: “I used to go a lot with my parents as a child – to the theatre, to the opera. I saw some things that I loved, and some things that I didn’t really like. The more I was doing it the more I thought I wanted to be involved in sharing this fantastic gift. Opera doesn’t save the world but it makes it a great place.”

NI Opera’s next production of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss will be in the Grand Opera House from September 15 to 21.