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A London gallery is trying to change the way we think about opera

Written by
Katie McCabe

Think opera is formal and stuffy? A new event series inside the galleries of Zabludowicz Collection might change your mind 

Opera has a hard time shaking off its image of elitism. It’s still spoken about as though it’s some grand singular entity; people ask each other if they’ve been to ‘the’ opera, as though anything outside a Covent Garden concert hall doesn’t really count. 

Opera is no longer the reserve of those with triple-barrelled surnames – you can get a ticket to a Royal Opera House performance for £11 (granted, in the nosebleed seats) – but it can still feel very formal. Go for an emergency toilet trip, and you could be stuck watching the TV monitors in the foyer for 90 minutes while you wait for the next break in the performance when you can slip back in. And inside the auditorium, some still behave as though it’s a kind of religious experience. Whether you’re glared at for offering your applause during the wrong bit of ‘La Bohème’, or for standing at an inopportune moment in a Catholic mass, the shame you feel is the same. 

Taking all these conflicting feelings about the artform into account, London gallery Zabludowicz Collection is launching a new event series that hopes to challenge what it means to stage an opera, and who gets to be a part of one. The programme is still in the works, but the idea is to ‘commandeer’ this cultural tradition and turn it into unpredictable, fragmented and politically charged performance-art pieces. 

At Hot with Excess: A Season of Contemporary Artists’ Opera there will be no familiar pattern of overtures and arias, or the ‘da dum dum dum’ of Carmen’s ‘Habanera’. Instead, you’ll have artists like Trulee Hall delivering a psychosexual production exploring fetishes through song, described by Hall as a ‘mental, spiritual and physical on-stage orgy’. 

Photograph: Trulee Hall

For the final show, artist Richard Kennedy will restage ‘Black Rage: Negro Songs from a New Age of Depression’, an opera that blends field interviews, the hymns of enslaved people, and the music of Rashonda Reeves, which was composed over a six-year period. And for the format of Marijke de Roover’s piece, she’ll mock the three-act structure of a romcom: ‘set-up, crisis, resolution’, in an opera that deals with her experience of unrequited crushes. 

The idea of an extreme, operatic performance-art piece that defies all easy definitions might, to some, feel even more intimidating than watching ‘La Traviata’ from the stalls. But we’re keeping an open mind. The upside is every event will take place inside the gallery, away from the usual concert hall formalities. At this night at ‘the opera you can go to the toilet any time you want. Still, try and go beforehand. You won’t want to miss a second of that psychosexual opera orgy...

Hot with Excess: A Season of Contemporary Artists’ Opera will take place at Zabludowicz Collection from Mar 12-27. Find out more here

Can’t wait until March? Find the best theatre and opera shows on in London right now

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