Since the 1980s, Opera Houses across Europe have started education programmes; some encouraged by national governments, others on their own initiative, emphasizing that the artform should be accessible to everyone. But although Opera Education is now a widely practised activity in most Opera Companies the field is almost unresearched. Only recently, from the late 1990s onwards, has Opera Education been treated as a separate practice in research on education in arts organisations. Studies, writings and reports started to focus on Opera Education in order to give an overview of ‘best practice’ within the field and concentrate on concrete educational activities looked at from the students’, teachers’ or artists’ point of view. This is the first piece of qualitative research that compares Opera Education practitioners’ thinking on Opera Education in an in-depth investigation. The study has explored, through a representative sample of Opera Education practitioners in Europe, the complex interaction of personal, social and cultural factors that give rise to their answers to the question Why Opera Education?
To reveal views, ideas and beliefs a methodology was developed offering enough space to the participants in the research to express their thoughts as freely as possible within the context of their professional work. The overall question, Why Opera Education?, was explored via four sub-questions focusing on what opera education practitioners in an opera house/company understand opera education to be, why they are engaged in it, how they see it within the opera house/company and the wider cultural setting and what the possible influences are to their perspectives. Through the case study approach, using the narrative as a semi-structured interview technique, it has been possible to address these questions and to set the stories of the practitioners in a comparative framework. The results are valuable not only to opera education professionals but also to other arts education professionals, arts marketing professionals, policy makers and people working in opera, because they offer a unique way of exploring the audience – institution relationship in today’s society.