I went to a performance of Opera Colorado last week, which performs in the same Caulkins Opera House as the Colorado Ballet, and was struck at the different look and feel of the audiences. The Ballet always attracts lots and lots of little girls with their parents and friends, even at the evening performances. I saw barely a handful of children at the Opera. Are there scads of kids who dream of being opera stars? I'm not seeing them. Only a few of those little girls will take classes with serious professional ambitions, but in the meantime their parents are being introduced to ballet and that should help future audiences.
Both attract a substantial older audience, but the Opera audience seemed to be dressed much more formally (big night at a classy restaurant first, perhaps?). The Opera is only doing two programs a year (Rigoletto this month and Carmen in May), four performances each. The Ballet is doing four programs this year, typically for two weekends, although Nutcracker is solid programming for a month and they're adding a fifth program next year (a weekend of Dracula).
The Opera performance did start with a before-the-curtain announcement that they will do two programs each of the next two years, including Don Giovanni, Magic Flute, Aida, and the Scarlet Letter. Opera has never cultivated anything comparable to the Nutcracker as a money machine, which is yet another difference. (Do we have Balanchine to thank for pushing that in the 50s?)
I see plenty of efforts at both the ballet and opera to cultivate "young patrons" groups here and elsewhere. I have no idea if it's working, but it seems essential to long-term survival. Even art museums are nervous about the declining interest among younger patrons, as a NY Times article discussed recently:http://www.nytimes.c...tml?src=me&_r=0