The UK Operatic Ecosystem: Attitudes to Risk and Innovation

Elizabeth Etches Jones

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the ways in which attitudes to risk and innovation in the UK opera industry affect the final product seen on stage. Considering the social, cultural, and economic factors which steer these attitudes, this thesis presents a snapshot of operatic activity and approaches to challenges from 2018 to 2021 through a primarily ethnographic methodology. Drawing on existing analytical approaches to organisational ecosystems, this thesis develops a conceptual framework to analyse the operatic ecosystem. It explores crucial contemporary scholarly debates around audience experiences and expectations, music and health, the value of the arts and the role of the institution in UK classical music.

The thesis argues that the opera industry is teeming with varied and often contradictory attitudes to risk and innovation at all levels, from individual freelance artists to CEOs and government funding bodies. This myriad of approaches results in a predominantly risk-averse and therefore less future-proof and less competitive industry on both administrative and creative levels. It also argues that the current ‘ecosystem’ of UK opera relies on maintenance of the status quo; when broader social movements or significant shifts in audience expectations take place, opera’s institutional structures render it slower than other industries to adapt and thrive. It posits that a healthier, more sustainable operatic ‘ecosystem’ would require significant economic, cultural and structural change.

To illustrate this argument, this thesis directly addresses key events which took place within the data collection period, as well as broader topics which have historically affected the industry and continue to shape its current and future activity. The thesis contains chapters and case studies concerning the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and important technological innovations. This thesis ultimately seeks to highlight the voices of those working in and experiencing opera at the present time, serving as a window into the roles that both tradition and transformational change play in shaping attitudes to – and subsequently practices of – risk and innovation in opera in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ramnarine, Tina K., Supervisor
  • Chong, Derrick, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 May 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023

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