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Elitism, Opera, and Flip Flops: Looking into the La Scala Incident


by Emily Cox

This past summer reached record high temperatures in Italy, soaring to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or more on a regular basis. In response to this, the general population has started donning flip flops, shorts and linen clothing as their everyday uniform to combat the oppressive heat.

This extended to the opera audiences attending a mid-July performance at La Scala, Milan’s famous opera house.

An article in The Telegraph claims that ‘the worst culprits’ are ‘normally foreign tourists’, but even the ‘normally-fashionable’ Italians on that particular evening were found arriving in scandalous shorts, unappealing mini-skirts and sandals.

La Scala’s dress code is clearly spelled out on its website, in both Italian and English.

“[Operagoers are] kindly requested to dress in keeping with the decorum of the Theatre, out of respect for the Theatre and for other viewers,” the site reads. “People wearing shorts or sleeveless t-shirts will not be allowed inside the auditorium; in this case, tickets will not be reimbursed.”

This relies on the ideal of the perfect audience member, the one who has disposable income and plenteous time to burn, and who would choose a night at the opera as a means of spending both. 

“One should treat going to the opera the same as going to a nice restaurant, and make an effort to look nice” one local singer said.

There are trends, however, that this ideal audience member exists as a dying breed. Spending trends and demographics have wildly changed with the emerging of the young professional as the leading spender in the global economy.

“There has been added pressure now to say what kind of opera do we do, what are our production values, what’s our repertory, what is it about our performance that will compel people to come to our dates frequently at night at full price,” Head of Opera America Marc Scorca said. “Because there are so many alternatives including the Met Opera’s fantastic HD transmissions. Just doing inexpensive grand opera in a somewhat imitative style is no longer [enough].”

In other words, the donors of past generations are dying off, and their places are not necessarily being filled. The new million-dollar question of artistic directors across the nation has become how do you manage to attract new, younger audiences and encourage them to leave the comfort of their own homes, let alone convince them to pay hefty ticket prices to sit in the dark and be sung at for several hours?  

As reflected in the Forrester brief I previously cited, the key demographic/audience that businesses are targeting these days are a completely different animal than past generations. They are less interested in tradition and more interested in innovation, less concerned with spectacle and more concerned with content. They are more technologically-savvy and have very little patience with engaging in things that they do not connect with personally on some level.

We are allowed to love something and simultaneously recognize that it has faults, and that it needs to adapt, evolve and change in order to continue thriving in today’s world.

This is an abbreviated and objective version of a piece on Emily Cox’s blog you can read here.

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