Opera Is Dying

Olivia Giovetti’s Washington Post op-ed urging the de-emphasis of the present common repertory which consists largely of 19th century Italian opera in favor something more relevant to modern audiences is one of the dumbest I have read recently. There is a reason that 19th century Italian operas are performed again and again and again. People like them. Meanwhile, 21st century operas largely play to empty houses. Do you know who in particular doesn’t attend modern operas? Young people.

I don’t know what Met productions are like and I don’t much care. Chicago’s Lyric Opera has produced some great re-imaginings of old operas. It has also produced some awful ones. The reason that it has produced Harold Prince’s production of Madama Butterfly year after year after year is that it’s an interesting and effective way of telling the story blending traditional production with modern technology.

Here’s the reality. It’s not just opera that’s dying. Live performance is dying. Jazz is dying. Broadway musicals are dying. Live theater is dying. Pop music concerts are dying. They’re all dying. Attendance at pop music concerts is increasing far more slowly than the population. There are many reasons for that but they include a lot of people who would rather sit in their living rooms watching something pre-recorded streaming than get up, go out, and attend a live performance.

12 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    Ticket prices sure aren’t decreasing. I love live music but it’s hard to justify at $100+ a person plus the monopolist ticket agent fees. It has to be something special for us to consider going.

  • steve Link

    Pretty much limit our theater to our yearly trip to Canada now. Prices in NYC are ridiculous. Wife had season tickets to the Met for many years and I went a couple of times. They do wonderful productions, but it is hard to justify the time and expense anymore. Totally agree on modern opera. I am not that much of an opera fan, but if I am going to go it better be something I like.


  • As I’ve mentioned before we live a pretty frugal lifestyle but we do have a very few major extravagances. Season tickets to Lyric Opera are one of them. The dogs are another.

    One of these days I’ll get around to posting about the third.

    One more thing. The way my mom told the story, her family was EXTREMELY poor. Out on the streets, not knowing where your next meal is coming from poor but they were never too poor that they couldn’t afford theater tickets every once in a while. Show biz people.

    I don’t believe that people think that way any more—spending your last dime on theater tickets. Even theater people. Especially theater people. I know professional opera singers who’ve never seen a professionally staged opera.

  • steve Link

    Have a choice between Rusalka and Turandot this year. Dont know Czech operas at all. Which should I try to talk the wife into seeing? I always just let her choose so if I expressed an actual opinion will shock the H out of her.


  • Pluses and minuses in each. Turandot is more familiar but it is defective. I presume you know the story (“and here the Maestro died”). Rusalka, like most Dvořák is through-composed (continuous melody like Wagner), but quite melodic, Czech folk tunes, etc.

    Turandot has some of the most famous music in opera. Nessun dorma, Liu’s death scene. If you’ve never seen it before, by all means see it.

    If you’ve seen Turandot three or four times, see Rusalka. They’re both long.

  • Guarneri Link

    “There is a reason that 19th century Italian operas are performed again and again and again. People like them.”

    WRT the performing arts, only opera can make you cry. The current situation is reflective of the video games, the internet and TV sports culture.

    I am lucky. Although nothing is like live, it sounds pretty damned good through fine electronic equipment, and my moniker – Guarneri Evolutions + REL sub speakers.

  • WRT the performing arts, only opera can make you cry.

    Possibly because I’m more engaged, I may cry during just about anything, live or recorded. I cried at the end of Saving Private Ryan. I tear up just thinking of it.

    And I don’t think it’s just the sound quality or the visuals. It’s the relationship, the give and take, between audience and performers and among the members of the audience. There’s a herd effect you don’t get when sitting in your living room listening or watching a recording.

  • steve Link

    “WRT the performing arts, only opera can make you cry. ”

    You arent seeing good theater. We saw Of Mice and Men in a small, intimate theater with first rate actors. We were probably with 30-40 feet when George shot Lenny. Nearly everyone shed a tear. My teenage son, he of the verbal diarrhea, was actually speechless for a couple hours. At the end of Cyrano I think every woman in the place, probably a couple of men too, were in tears. In an excellent West Side Story we saw there was no shortage of tears.

    Conversely, well sort of, I think I have laughed the hardest at theaters. Saw a brilliant Taming of the Shrew where we laughed so hard we were sore afterwards. Lots of others I can think of. I think the intimacy of the theater and the group thing really makes it so much better than a movie, when it is done well.


  • Guarneri Link

    Um, guys? It was an apothegm.

    “Ever find yourself moved to tears by music? Many types of music can move people to tears; blubbering in the balcony is iconic in opera. The phenomenon of crying sparked by music is an interesting, but little-studied behavior. According to a new study, whether music does or does not make you feel like crying reveals something about your fundamental personality, and the particular shade of emotion gripping you as you feel choked up is different for different personality types.” etc etc

  • Grey Shambler Link

    Never have seen an opera, I’m nearly deaf anyway. But music that brings me emotion

  • Stevie Goodman wrote that. Here’s his version:


    Here’s something from the popular repertoire that I find touching


  • TastyBits Link

    My next door neighbor is a conductor on The City of New Orleans.

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