By Sister C
All my life I have gone to see live music. When I was very young my parents took me to concerts and as I got older I spent years exploring the local music scene, spending most of my spare time and money in The Sugarmill, The Underground, The Glebe and hanging out on the pre-Tesco waste land with my friends. Once I hit 16 I travelled to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, often sleeping in train stations afterwards to get the first train home.
I was always struck by how friendly people were at these events, how everyone in the room was there to enjoy the band. I almost always left with 15 more myspace friends and a phone full of new numbers. In the station I would sit and talk to others that had saved to go to concerts but couldn’t afford a hotel for the night as we would all try to find a warm room or some cardboard to curl up on.
Last Saturday I decided that it was time for a change. I thought I'd have a go at broadening my horizons. So I took the opportunity to see Glyndebournes Don Giovanni. It was amazing - but my whole experience of the evening was less than comfortable.
This was nothing like I had been to before. The ticket price for one night was as much as a full weekend ticket for the Give It A Name Festival. But most striking was the class difference.
As we turned up slightly late, but a full five minutes before the performance started I tried to make my way to my seat, apologising for disturbing people only to be told rudely that "I shouldn’t have turned up late". Once I got to my seat, surrounded by older middle and upper class couples I was then asked "are you sure you're in the right seat?" - as if I couldn’t afford good seats. At this point I knew that I was a million miles away from the convivial atmosphere of my usual haunts.
When the interval came I went to the ladies only to be told I was very under-dressed for an opera and should have worn something more appropriate. Not having been to an opera before I knew nothing about the (unspoken) dress code. But it was as if the lady concerned enjoyed lording it over me.
There was no talking in the queue: no laughing, no smiling, nothing.
When the Labour Party introduced its policy for free/cheap tickets to under 27s, it was meant to encourage people to go to the theatre more often. If Saturday's audience are typical I can't say this policy will do much to build a bigger, less elitist opera following. Once bitten, twice shy as they say.
I guess this leads to one question. Is the opera really something just for cultured elites? Because the disdain that greeted me suggests this wonderful experience isn't for the lower orders.