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Interview of opera critic Shirley Apthorp

"The work of the professional cultural commentator is that of record-keeper and observer."


Journalist and opera critic Shirley Apthorp (Financial Times, Opera Magazine, Opera Now...) will lead, together with dramaturge Willem Bruls, an exceptional workshop on Opera & Cultural Journalism at the Académie du Festival d'Aix 2019. 

> What is the role of cultural journalism in opera?

Opera does not occur in a vacuum. Ideally, opera brings together a wide range of genres together in order to create art which makes people think about what it makes to be human. The work of the professional cultural commentator is that of record-keeper and observer. The expert opera critic reports upon what happened, how it happened, and whether or not this worked - and why. Informed cultural journalism sheds light upon the process, informs the audience, provokes reflection, and provides context. 
As publication platforms change in format and style from newspaper to web site to blog to social media posting, the need for expert professional commentary remains unchanged. In-house marketing teams continue to expand and develop, with opera companies and festivals producing increasing volumes of promotional “content”, but this can never be a substitute for informed objective journalism.

> Why is it essential to keep the training of experts in this field? 

Like singing or playing an instrument, writing about music is a craft which must be learned. Sound is often experienced subjectively, on a non-verbal, emotional level. How can this experience be explained in words? In addition to understanding the parameters of expression sufficiently well to be able to view their execution critically (was it in tune? Together? How was the balance? Did the tenor sing well?), the writer needs to understand what has worked, what has not worked, and why (if it was not together, was it the fault of the conductor? The singers? The orchestra? The acoustic? The stage design? The director?), and place this within its regional and international context. When do we praise, when do we express concern, where do we plead for understanding? How do we hear and see, and how do we express our subjective conclusions? Makers of opera, most of whom have spent a lifetime developing their craft, deserve a commensurate level of expertise from those who comment professionally upon their work.

> What is the purpose of the workshop and what can be expected by the participants?

The Opera & Cultural Journalism Workshop introduces participants to a wide range of tools for perceiving, assessing, and writing/ broadcasting about music theatre. Through hands-on interactive activities linked to the productions of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, participants will produce a wide range of creative work about performances and performers, indulge in collective critical reflection, and expand their own cultural and communicative horizons. Participants will work hard, think together about the future, learn from one another, share information, enjoy personal expert guidance, and express themselves in a range of different media.