Here At ACE We Avoid Excellence Entirely

Some of you may have heard about a new report about the state of opera in the UK, and some of you have concerns. We made some claims in the report which seem to have been misunderstood by the artistic community at large, and so we would like to recapture that community.

Here at ACE we have a long-standing commitment to avoid excellence at all costs. It’s part of our mission to avoid even using words that encourage that sort of hierarchical thinking, like “good”, “quality”, or “funding”. In fact, my staff and I are keen to move on from the concept of a hierarchy entirely.

This is very important to us, but seems to have shocked the sort of people who like to go to concerts, or films, or any performances involving trained humans. We received an intense amount of criticism from such people, who told us that to avoid the very notion of “excellence” was somehow a “bad” thing.

Let us be clear: there’s little in this world that can be more dangerous than a pursuit of quality. Firstly, who gets to decide what quality is? The artists who stand to gain from being marketed as excellent? Talk about a conflict of interest!

Second, even if you can assess what is good how would you know if that was a good thing to do that? It seems preposterous to set up some sort of hierarchical institution which arbitrarily issues edicts about what is good and what isn’t, especially if that institution isn’t subject to the competitive forces of the market.

Which brings us, of course, to opera. What could be more loaded with old divisive notions of hierarchy and “excellence” than opera? Sport?

And what is the big deal about “excellence” anyway? For example, my daughter is a huge fan of Taylor Swift. I asked her why she loved Taylor so much and she gave a long list of reasons, and not once did she say “because she is excellent”.* What Taylor has done is make her fans love her for who she is, not what she does. Why can’t opera singers do the same?

We’ve really studied this, I assure you. We found that the most performed operas are the ones that the opera companies think will sell enough tickets to cover the costs of doing the operas. The problem with this is that reflects a strategy which does not engage with audiences or pursue new and bold creative ideas. Opera is an art form which is unusually expensive to produce, so to help opera companies step outside their comfort zone and take more bold risks to engage with new audiences, we have decided to cut a large amount of their funding. This will hopefully make the companies more competitive and innovative, like a street urchin using cunning skills to survive. They wouldn’t have called him The Artful Dodger if he wasn’t full of art, would they?

So it is up to us to steer opera companies in a new direction, but helpfully, as a friend, not hierarchically, as something which steers. So to that end we have some questions for the opera world:

Why don’t opera companies do more modern works that engage with modern concerns, rather than old standard favourites about love? Even when new work is performed, it often does not get a second run. What does that say about opera companies and their commitment to “excellence”?

Why don’t opera companies focus on things other than the music? In our research we found that the people who work for opera companies and the audiences who go to see operas are unhealthily focused on the music, at the expense of other areas of interest. Just think, Shakespeare did all of his work without needing any music at all!

Why don’t opera companies commission more works by women? Women are so under-represented on the opera stage we think they would probably be willing to write new operas for free, which would really save on costs.

And why don’t opera companies do operas in more radical ways that might substantially deviate from the composer’s original vision and score? Our research says that audiences generally don’t want this, but here at ACE, we believe that if something isn’t working, the answer is to do more of it. Tomorrow is another day!

So you see, it is really very simple. It is our job to change opera and make it palatable to modern audiences, and to do that, we have to stop it from being “excellent.” If you only give us time, you will see what we can achieve.

*After this article was published, my daughter informed me that she did in fact think Taylor Swift was excellent, but I think my point still stands.

3 thoughts on “Here At ACE We Avoid Excellence Entirely

  • March 19, 2024 at 2:38 pm

    I have seldom read such idiotic and misleading nonsense. My wife is a librettist amd our son runs a German opera company. I made my opera debut in Germany in 1970. No wonder opera in the British Isles is currently a neglected and under-funded disaster area! Time for the Arts Councils in the British Isles to be totally reformed – with most of those working for them fired.

    • March 19, 2024 at 4:46 pm

      To reassure you Tom, I believe this article is meant to be a satirical exaggeration. Things might be bad, but not QUITE so bad! Nonetheless, I agree with you we need a total reform.

  • March 19, 2024 at 10:48 pm

    Shakespeare used music in many of his plays. The Tempest is a fine example. Many great composers have set the texts intended for songs in the plays over the centuries: Purcell, Britten, Morley, Chausson etc. And many works, orchestral and operatic, have been inspired by the plays.
    I agree with Tom Sutcliffe’s comment above.

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