The National Opera Studio (NOS) has launched Diverse Voices, a new programme which will provide support and guidance to singers from under-represented ethnic backgrounds across the UK, the music training college has revealed.
The initiative forms part of NOS’s response to the recent Black Lives Matter movement and protests. The organisation said in a statement that the movement “resonated deeply with our staff, artists and Board, and we felt that it was important to take a hard look at ourselves”.
The aim of the new programme is to establish a supportive, challenging and creative network which will tackle barriers to diversity in opera and improve inclusivity. It will find, encourage, advise, support and help young people who have a desire to sing and who come from communities with little connection to the world of opera.
Soprano Nadine Benjamin and countertenor Michael Harper are patrons for Diverse Voices. They will lead a team of ambassadors. Both artists have extensive experience and knowledge of opera training and working professionally.
Benjamin previously set up Everybody Can! Opera, a company and programme offering opportunities in the industry for those who might not usually receive such help. Harper has taught and run workshops and masterclasses throughout Europe, as well as running his own arts organisation, the Lodge Farm Project in Norfolk.
An audit revealed that over the last three years, 21% of NOS’s Young Artists identify as being from under-represented ethnic backgrounds. However, over the same time period, only six (0.79%) of 764 applicants to the programme identified as Black or Black British, with none identifying as Black Caribbean or Black British Caribbean. NOS commented: “We consider this a failure on our part and we have to do better. We must listen and learn from those around us and improve our engagement with these groups in particular.”
The organisation has identified a number of areas in which it sees a need for improvement and will be taking steps in order to do better. These include the creation of a new Inclusivity Action Group, made up of representatives from staff, artists, coaches, board and audiences and diversity, equality and inclusion training to all staff and regular coaches.
A Diverse Voices gathering took place at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.