Under the surface, though, there have been many shifts. Some are structural; others are aesthetic, or presentational. Let us examine the principal ones.


When I was introduced to opera nearly sixty years ago, the standard repertory covered less than two hundred years, from Gluck’s Orfeo of 1762 to the (then) new operas of Britten and Henze. Today, it encompasses more than four hundred years, from Monteverdi’s Orfeo of 1607 to Birtwistle’s, still classically derived, Minotaur. The breadth of this much richer heritage is demonstrated by a recent edition of Opera Europa’s Future Production Plans database, in which a crosssection of 84 companies lists 730 productions of 377 operas by 211 composers.2 The downside of this gain is that it can leave less space for new creations, which may be marginalized by the sheer bulk of opera’s magnificent legacy. The tenor Jonas Kaufmann, in a radio interview in 2014, confessed to a conviction that ‘we are the preservers of an art form whose peak was in the past’.3 That same Opera Europa database included 73 new operas in its total, representing a not unhealthy share of 10 per cent of the productions and 20 per cent of the opera titles. Yet, that proportion falls well short of the 50:50 balance between old and new to which Nicholas Hytner has aspired as Director of the UK’s National Theatre.4