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Is opera now more popular than ballet?


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#1 Farrell Fan

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Posted 20 September 2002 - 04:20 PM

I have absolutely no facts or statistics to cite, just my impressions. When I first started attending opera and ballet performances half a century ago, it seemed to me that the opera audience was older and conservative, the ballet audience younger and adventurous. Now the opposite appears to be the case. I'm thinking in particular of New York City Opera vs. New York City Ballet. Whenever I go to the former, the New York State Theater is filled and there's an air of excitement. (Despite all the NYCO complaints about the theater.) Too often at the ballet there are empty seats, and many of the people who are there seem to be attending out of duty or habit. Am I imagining this?

#2 Calliope

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Posted 20 September 2002 - 04:36 PM

I've noticed it to. I can only comment on NY, but it seems that opera is "in" and ballet is "out"
I think NYCO had a great marketing campaign to get younger people in, they did heavy promotions on college campus in and around NY, they also did a heavy phone/mailing campaign. And in an odd way, I always wonder if opera is better off not being reviewed as often. On a related thread, I can't recall who brought it up (apologies) but the lack of decent review(er)s is IMO hurting the ballet. To see a half of a half of a column in the NY Times for a ballet review, that doesn't name dancers, just says that they performed it and the orchestra sounded good, seems to be happening more and more. If the paper doesn't even want to go into it, why should I (an example of I think not printing it would've served better)

I for one, went to a few operas, just because friends went, I'm not an opera fan, but they had "new" programs that at least I could say I went (and not liked, as opposed to just saying I didn't like it)
Even now, they have a production of "Dead Man Walking" going on. I can't imagine that being an opera, which is the very reason I'd go see it. As opposed to Dracula on pointe!

#3 ronny

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Posted 21 September 2002 - 02:21 AM

Thanks for bringing up this topic Farrell Fan. Ballet is deserving of promotion. The time is right for such a thing since the trend these days is moving in a more spiritual direction with Yoga and Self Improvement and all the rest of it.

I don't know about the New York scene, but Classical ballet has a very strong spiritual side that is being overlooked... in fact I will venture to say that ballet is the most spiritual of all the arts. Beauty, Innocence, Orderliness, Vitality and Joy... these are all spiritual qualities, and classical ballet has them all in abundance. These things deserve promotion.

#4 ronny

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Posted 21 September 2002 - 03:16 AM

Now, I am just assuming that the trend you speak of is taking place and I am wondering WHY it is taking place. Could it be that the excitement is due to the fact that when there is an opera, there is a PERSONALITY that is performing there? People get excited about a personality. I remember looking at the diamond project on PBS and I was wondering... just where are the personalities? Where are the people I am supposed to connect with? There are all those dancers, but who are they??

Personalities can be created in a ballet story, but there was no story and no pesonalities performing in the diamond project that I could see... just moving bodies and music. Where is Giselle, where is Clara, where is Odette, where is Juliet, where is Aurora? Where are the poeple we can love and get excited about? Is this the reason for the boredom?

I don't know much about opera, but I know that the opera singer has a personality. People know them and they talk about them. How can I get to know ballet performers in an abstract ballet? Who am I coming to see?

#5 Ed Waffle

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Posted 21 September 2002 - 12:23 PM

A few years ago, Opera America, the service organization for opera companies in the U.S. ran the result of a study that showed opera was increasing its audience at a faster rate than any other of the "fine" performing arts. Also, opera had a larger subscriber base than all but one or two serious arts--symphonic music, with more performances was still in the lead there.

There are a lot of reasons for this--

ronny gives one, that opera singers are stars. They have to be, since they are generally free-lancers, singing for their supper at different houses in different roles. Fans buy CDs and line up to hear their favorite singer's interpretation of their best roles.

The introduction of sur-titles has also helped. It takes away one reason for NOT going--even if you don't know the language in which the work is performed, generally the case, you can still follow the story. There is still a lot wrong with sur-titles. I don't think they work well for Mozart, but are acceptable for much of the nineteenth century Italian rep, for example. But they do make the experience less "estranging" if you will.

Along with sur-titles is the question of story or narrative. While The plots can be simple ("Tosca", "Jenufa") complex ("Marriage of Figaro", "Aida") fanciful "The Magic Flute") incomprehesible ("Trovatore") or just over the top ("The Ring of the Niebelung"), but they are narratives which are based on familiar stories or at least stories with familiar elements and are told in both words and music.

And the words are important, especially to the casual opera-goer, because they make it much more understandable.

While much of ballet is based on familiar stories, especially fairy tales, the method of transmitting these stories--music and movement--is not something many people are comfortable with.

It is why dreck like "Dracula on pointe" sells out--or at least one reason. People know the story, have seen it in a number of media and can more easily follow it.

#6 bobbi

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Posted 21 September 2002 - 01:16 PM

I definitely agree with Farrell Fan that there seems to be more interest in opera than ballet right now. But I chalk this up to a dearth of greats in the ballet world. We have been going through a very fallow period in ballet for a number of years. (But, by law of averages, we are due for some great stars (I hope!!).) I don't think it's just because Balanchine is gone.

I think it was Arlene Croce who said that something like "ballet is only good when it is great." What made ballet so exciting in the 70's was the sheer amount of great talent: at NYCB (Verdy, Martins, Anderson, Tomasson, McBride, Farrell, Ashley, Kirkland, etc., etc.), at ABT (Makarova, Gregory, etc. ) Every night you went, you saw a great performance!! How many people can really say that today in the ballet world? Please, this is not to say that we have not had some outstanding performances recently. Just that the world larger than the insular ballet world has not "heard" how good a Wendy Whelen (or name your favorite today) performance can be.

In the opera world today, there is a lot of up and coming and genuine talent. The public who follows the performing arts sort of learns what's really good by word of mouth. I was at the New York State Theater on Thursday night for NYCO's Il Trittico, and it was so nice to see a sold-out house. People were really "into" the performance because it was a good one. They will be looking to see what, when and where Mark Delavan (as well as Maria Kanyova) will be singing next; they will come back for more opera. However, there hasn't been a sold-out house for NYCB in quite a while. The audience will start to come back as soon as word gets out that "you can't miss so-and-so in X ballet. He/she is fabulous."

#7 Old Fashioned

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Posted 22 September 2002 - 06:37 AM

I don't know about New York, but that's certainly not the case here in Houston. I even get odd stares from passersby in the school library when I'm watching opera videos.

#8 Farrell Fan

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Posted 22 September 2002 - 07:55 AM

I'm surprised to hear that. Here in New York, I've always thought of Houston Grand Opera as an innovative and successful company. Is this not the case?

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 22 September 2002 - 07:58 AM

Interesting questions and interesting responses -- Old Fashioned, I'm unfamiliar with the opera scene in Houston. Is there one? This may be a local variant on the general trend, because you have a strong ballet company, strongly supported by the community. Or it just may be that people would stare at you or back away at the very thought of either opera or ballet.

I've been taught since my first dance history classes that there's a correlation between opera and ballet through history. When one is up, the other is down. Opera is more exciting now -- more stars, as has been noted -- and also more television coverage, which feeds off the stars. But in the 1960s, when there certainly were great opera singers, ballet was more popular.

In Washington, the ballet audience from the early days of the Kennedy Center, when we had New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet with some regularity -- and when both companies were in better shape than they are now -- there was a very different ballet audience here than there is today: older, more or a fine arts audience. They stopped subscribing -- this is anecdotal, by my eye, watching the audience, and by friends of mine who were in that audience -- and many have switched to opera, whether or not they were opera fans before, because they want serious art (see the news clip from the Miami Herald about audience age and the arts).

#10 Old Fashioned

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Posted 22 September 2002 - 06:05 PM

Well, yes, HGO is a wonderful company, but come on- it's Texas we're talking about. The teeny-boppers aren't going to spend their Saturday nights at the opera. Only a few I know of my age even recognize the name Josh Groban; not that he's an opera star yet (more in the pop genre currently), but he's training to become one and should be well known among people somewhat familiar with opera.

Ballet, on the other hand, is pretty popular among the plentiful number of dancers here. Even then, the majority of the teen scene isn't so interested in the fine arts. Alexandra, you're right. They do back away from me at the thought of both.

#11 casloan

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Posted 27 September 2002 - 02:12 PM

Here in Chicago, the Lyric Opera has been more than sold out for many years (they re-sell tickets that subscribers turn back). The opera audience is now very diverse in age and dress, compared to the way it was 20 years ago or more. There is often a real excitement in the house as a new work is offered or a standard is given a new staging (such as the current, intriguing "Pagliacci").

The same cannot be said for ballet audiences here. Compared to the opera, I've noticed a decided greying (although no audience is as elderly as the symphony's). And, I am sad to say, there are often too many empty seats.

Of course, until the past few years, Chicago has never had a resident ballet company that was really worthy of the name. The Joffrey certainly has been a wonderful and sorely needed addition to Chicago's cultural life. I hope to see its audience increase (and my husband and I do our part by bringing a large group of students to a Joffrey performance each year).

#12 vagansmom

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 02:05 PM

I think we have "The Three Tenors" concerts and CD's to thank. They really piqued an interest in opera.

Maybe "The Company" will do it for ballet?

My fingers are crossed.

#13 Old Fashioned

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 04:10 PM

I don't know about that. Center Stage (which was bound to attract the teen crowd) was supposed to spark more interest, but it doesn't seem as if it did all that great. Maybe because it kind of gave ballet a negative image...

The Three Tenors? Ha. I can't think of two people that can actually name them.

#14 vagansmom

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 04:28 PM

Wow, just about everybody in this neck of the woods owns one of their CD's. People raved about them when the first concert hit TV. I know a number of folks who then went out and bought opera music. I'd imagine they'd be the ones who'd also be attending performances. (Some of them also go to the ballet already :)

"Centerstage" was a lousy movie though. Couldn't see it inspiring anyone to go to the ballet.

#15 Ed Waffle

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 05:07 PM

Originally posted by Old Fashioned


The Three Tenors?  Ha.  I can't think of two people that can actually name them.


Well, I can. Pavarotti, Domingo and that other guy. :)



Unfortunately I can't think of very many people (actually none) who bought a ticket and went to the opera based on a concert or CD. There was a concert here in Motown at Tiger Stadium in 1998 that the Michigan Opera Theater used to raise a ton of money by convincing the Tenors to do a dress rehearsal at the Detroit Opera House in front of invited guests. People were invited based on contributions to the MOT, so they did well.

Which is a fine thing--opera is a ridiculously expensive art form.


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