Critics who demand opera sung in original language want to ‘keep the riff-raff away’, director suggests

Critics who demand opera sung in original language want to ‘keep the riff-raff away', director suggests

It is one of the key and most controversial cornerstones of English National Opera, dividing performers, critics and audience members alike over its policy to sing the operas of Europe only in the English language.

But some of those who argue for change are perpetuating “cultural elitism” by hoping to “keep the riff-raff away”, the company’s former music director has said.

Mark Wigglesworth, who left ENO in 2016, warned of the “unspoken view” of some of those hoping to see opera in Italian or German, claiming they take a “certain pleasure” in making it inaccessible.

“The rumours whispering through the cracks of the London Coliseum are alarming for those who believe English National Opera has a vital role to play in making opera accessible to all,” he said.

“If the language policy that forms such a pillar of its identity is abandoned, it would be a betrayal of the company’s most valuable mission to perform opera in a way that can be understood by the largest number of people.”

Writing for classical music website Bachtrack in response to a debate over ENO’s English language-only policy, Wigglesworth argued that accessibility was “not really about the price of a ticket”, but performances that “reward people’s decision to come” by being understood.

“A more unspoken view is one that thinks singing in a foreign language ‘keeps the riff-raff away’,” he said.

“An accusation of vanity is unfair to the majority of original language devotees but I do believe a certain pleasure in cultural elitism exists, even if only by a few.”

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