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Tell Us: Are Ballet And Opera Elitist?

It's a question virtually as old as the art forms themselves: Are ballet and opera elitist?

The topic was tackled in a live debate hosted Monday by one of the temples of opera, London's Covent Garden, and streamed live on web site of the British newspaper The Telegraph. A panel of artists, including Anna Nicole composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and Royal Ballet dancer Gary Avis, was on hand to discuss the topic and answer questions from a studio audience.

TheTelegraph posted this video of man-on-the-street interviews around Covent Garden asking the same question. Reactions vary, from an elderly woman believing the elitism is "just in people's minds" to a shop worker thinking performances should be more affordable.

A Twitter conversation, started last night by the Telegraph at #bigquestion, also revealed divergent opinions, including those who sought a definition for "elitism." One tweet said opera "has always been a hobby of the upper class. Those who have posh enough clothes." Followed by, "Having worked on a large community opera, it's easy to see that opera is not elitist, it just needs to be better understood." And another put it simply: "It isn't opera that's elitist. It's just some of the people who go!"

What do you think? Are there still cultural and socioeconomic barriers between opera and ballet and the masses? Let us know in the comments section and join in the continuing Twitter conversation.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.
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