Less jeering, more cheering: New Royal Opera House director says performers deserve respect

Anita Singh
Oliver Mears has politely requested audiences do not boo his performers - Royal Opera House

The new director at the Royal Opera House has a polite request for audiences: please don’t boo.

Oliver Mears said ticketholders should applaud even if a performance is not to their liking. It is simply a question of manners.

Loud boos greeted several productions staged by his predecessor, Kasper Holten. The Dane, who left Covent Garden last month, said in an exit interview that he had no problem with booing: “What an incredible thing that people care that much!”

But Mears, at 38 the youngest director of opera in the company’s history, takes the opposite view.

“No matter what people have seen on stage, the performers 99.999 per cent of the time have absolutely given their all, and I think that is deserving of respect and applause,” he said at the launch of the Royal Opera’s new season.

“Other people are entitled to their opinions, and I would never say you can’t boo, but personally it’s not something I would do myself.”

Mears also insisted he would not be looking for controversy. “I want all the productions to be really loved by audiences. If people have a very visceral, negative reaction to those productions, that’s not what I would prefer.”

Holten’s divisive productions included a bloodthirsty Lucia di Lammermoor and a staging of William Tell that included a shocking rape scene.

The 2017/18 season will feature at least one production that may raise eyebrows: a “far from traditional version” of Bizet’s Carmen, directed by Barrie Kosky, in which the spoken dialogue is replaced by the voice of a female narrator.

“This Carmen bins all of the tired cliches often associated with this show,” Mears said.

“I think it’s always good to go to the opera with an open mind. What Barrie does is draw people in even though it’s not necessarily what they might have expected. It’s a show, and what people want is to be entertained.”

Holten claimed at the end of his tenure that the British are prejudiced against opera, perceiving it as elitist and not for them.

Mears agreed that the perception exists “and we have to challenge that perception at every turn by convincing people whenever we can that opera actually is in some ways the most accessible art form there is, because it’s about emotion, about feeling things very strongly, about passion and fire and desperate love - all things that people can relate to.”

Many people declare that they don’t like opera without ever having seen one, he said. “So the big step is to get people into the theatre to see something live, because that can be the transformative experience that opens people’s minds.”

The forthcoming Royal Ballet season, also announced yesterday, will include a new production of Swan Lake, with additional choreography by artist-in-residence Liam Scarlett. It is billed as a “fresh interpretation” of a timeless classic.

Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, said: “I thought it was time that the company had a version for this century.”

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