July 20, 2007

THE LAST BASTION OF WESTERN CULTURE:

America’s Opera Boom (Jonathan Leaf, July/August 2007, American)

Lakmé is one of five operas that the Minnesota Opera will present this year, and the success of the production illustrates one of the most unexpected developments in American life today: the burgeoning popularity of live opera. Even as symphony attendance declines and movie-theater admissions stagnate, opera-going has blossomed. The U.S., believe it or not, is one of the global leaders.

The U.S. now has 125 professional opera companies, 60 percent of them launched since 1970, according to the trade group OPERA America. The U.S. has more opera companies than Germany and nearly twice as many as Italy. In the most comprehensive recent study, the National Endowment for the Arts found that between 1982 and 2002, total attendance at live opera performances grew 46 percent.

Annual admissions are now estimated at 20 million, roughly the same attendance as NFL football games (22 million, including playoffs, in 2006–07). In part, this reflects a shift toward seeing opera domestically. “Foreign opera destinations like Salzburg and Glyndebourne are more expensive, and more Americans are staying home—and probably feeling safer for it,” says Richard Gaddes, general director of the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico.

Consequently, opera travel within the U.S.—even by foreigners—is booming. The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis drew attendees last year from 42 U.S. states, in addition to France, Germany, Britain, and Canada. Likewise, the Seattle Opera gets loads of Germans eager to see its highly regarded productions of Wagner’s operas. Gaddes says his company is “the major economic engine of tourism in Santa Fe.”

And the number of American opera productions continues to increase. As of 2005, OPERA America included companies under its aegis in 44 states. They put on 3,012 performances (up by one-third in just four years) of 420 different opera productions. Opera companies, moreover, are raising large amounts of money: $387 million in private contributions in 2005 alone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 20, 2007 12:00 AM
Comments

Annual admissions are now estimated at 20 million, roughly the same attendance as NFL football games (22 million, including playoffs, in 2006–07).

Once they introduce tailgating at the opera, sign me up.

Posted by: Mike Earl at July 20, 2007 2:13 PM
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