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Leave opera for us fogies;Opinion

CAN YOU imagine the management of some third division soccer team getting together and deciding that they've got to mailshot the folk who don't like football?

"We got to bring in all the posh gits who can't stand footie, Kev. We got to feed 'em canapes and get that Jonathan Miller to do a pre-match talk so they feel at home. We gotta demystify the game, see?" It couldn't happen, thank goodness. And yet this is exactly what is going on in the world of opera all the time. Last week in Cardiff, Welsh National Opera kept the curtain up during scene changes so that a specially targeted audience of non-opera-goers could see how unelitist the whole business of performing Puccini really is.

These days every opera company has an education wing whose job is to go into schools and try to popularise Mozart by singing Don Giovanni in denim. Radio 4 is no better, having kicked out old-fogey favourites such as 4th Column, Stop The Week and Heritage Quiz in favour of late-night laddish comedy.

What these nervous experiments forget is that both opera and Radio 4 are unique art forms designed for grown-ups. When I was of school age, I wouldn't have touched either with a bargepole, not even if Captain Scarlet himself had come into school and told me La Boheme was written by the Mysterons. I used to groan inwardly when three men and a piano staged interactive Aidas in the school hall.

As for Radio 4, I was in my mid- 20s before I dumped Radio 2 in favour of Brian Redhead and the Sexiest Woman On Radio (it's Sue MacGregor, by the way). Some things just take time. Somewhere between the ages of 25 and 30 those of us who are going to like opera stop sniggering and realise that it doesn't matter if people are singing when they should be talking. Some things we discover when we're ready for them.

Which is why I don't like the news that the Royal Opera House is turning itself into an espresso bar with a little bit of singing in the back room. Anyone who tries to persuade people to like opera is wasting time and taking money from where it's needed: on stage. As we football managers say: put all your energies into the game itself.

And never take your eye off the ball, Kev.

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