The English National Opera, in cahoots with trendy pop musicians and eccentric filmmakers, has launched a campaign to encourage folk to turn up to watch the opera wearing pantaloons de nimes and plimsolls.
Damon Albarn’s recent production Dr Dee was a huge success at the ENO and responsible for attracting younger crowds to the opera experience. “Personally I like the ritual of dressing up, but I think people need to know that you don’t have to,” said Albarn, flicking a large speck of dust on to his hoodie and glancing down to ensure that his plimsolls were correctly unlaced. The other voice behind the campaign is Terry Gilliam, who wants to discredit opera’s reputation as being “for a bunch of old farts – the bourgeoisie in dinner jackets.”
The aim of the campaign is to draw younger audiences to the opera, who may have been alienated by its stuffy image of older audiences in formal dress. Currently, 30 per cent of the ENO’s audience is aged under 44 but the ENO wants that figure to reach 40 per cent or above. So rather than anybody trying to encourage youngsters to dress well, the general tactic is to accommodate their scruffy clothing styles.
Neither the ENO nor the Royal Opera House operate a dress code; it simply used to be fashionable to wear white or black tie to the opera. The ENO is giving the appearance of relaxing a dress code it never had in the first place, purely to encourage younger audiences to attend the opera. The latter is a good thing; it is a pity that the biggest carrot they can think of offering youngsters is that they do not have to get changed out of their jeans, hoodies and trainers in order to enjoy a bit of culture.