Public Attitudes to Opera – Laidlaw Opera Trust

Today, we release a preliminary report on some of the most interesting findings from our research into public attitudes to Opera, which we have been working on with the Laidlaw Opera Trust. What makes this research unique is that we surveyed a representative sample of the public: not just those who would consider going to the opera, but everyone. While a predictably large part of the population has no real touchpoint with opera, that does not mean they do not have views on it.

Notably throughout the research, we find that younger people in the UK are (at least, according to themselves) more open to attending an opera. Naturally this expression of interest does not always translate into attendance, but the fact that many under-35s do not reject going to the opera off-hand does indicate a route through for the sector in increasing attendance among the audience of the future.

We found that younger adults were more interested in a wide variety of hypothetical opera performances we presented them with. While for much of the public, a traditional opera performance was of most interest, those under-35 were as open to modern adaptations and stories. In fact, as many under-35s would be interested in an opera based on modern fiction like Harry Potter, as one set up to be as similar to a traditional 19th Century performance as possible.

Interestingly, with this line of questioning we also found a high level of interest in a small-scale, intimate opera performance. We might expect the scale of an opera to be important to its appeal, but instead we tend to find that the skills of the vocalists and performers is what drives positivity towards opera. When asked what makes opera “unique” – something which the vast majority of even those who have never been to the opera say it is – many cite the sound of the vocalists.

While interest in the opera is surprisingly high, the barriers preventing interest from turning into attendance are strong. Of course, the main barrier was cost. A majority of the public expect an opera ticket in London to set them back at least £75, but only 1 in 10 people would be willing to pay over £75 for an opera ticket. When asked what changes could be made to opera to encourage them to go, around half of the public said reducing the cost, followed by bringing performances closer to them, and having friends who enjoyed going.

Nevertheless, the number of people who do not immediately write-off Opera will be heartening to the sector. In fact, very nearly half of those who have never seen an opera before say they would like to go at least once in their life. Furthermore, in our research we had the opportunity to present participants with clips from actual opera performances. We found that this tended to make people more, rather than less, positive about going.

The sector has a way to go in increasing its cut-through and relevance, but our research shows that with the right approach – reducing prices (or better communicating low-cost options), bringing performances local, experimenting with the style for younger audiences and maintaining traditional performances for older audiences – there may be a bright future for UK opera yet.

The full report will be published in October 2024, and presented at the Business of Opera summit

The research is covered in the Times here

The report is available on the Business of Opera website

Data tables of the research are available here