Confessions Of An Operaholic

Is Opera Stuff (Only) Rich People Like?

An 1890 lithograph of banker and financier Reuben Sassoon. i i

An 1890 lithograph of banker and financier Reuben Sassoon.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Getty Images
An 1890 lithograph of banker and financier Reuben Sassoon.

An 1890 lithograph of banker and financier Reuben Sassoon.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Is opera the exclusive province of the 1%? Inadvertently (or not), two articles that have run this week in the New York Times pitch opera — or at least a performance at the Met — as entertainment strictly for the super-wealthy.

In his ebullient four-star review of Thomas Keller's restaurant Per Se, the paper's outgoing restaurant critic, Sam Sifton, pointed out that dinner there — which starts at $295 per person, excluding wine or gratuities — might be considered a bargain by some very rarefied standards. "By point of context, though," Sifton wrote, "an aisle orchestra seat at the Metropolitan Opera for Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore runs $330, also excluding wine." (Sifton follows this up with a series of tortured metaphors comparing Keller's exquisite cuisine to a night at the opera: "The restaurant's truffle-stuffed fat-chicken thigh — crisp, soft, juicy, deep in flavor, with Medjool dates made into marbles, a Nantes carrot mousseline and buttery truffle sauce — might be a tenor's great turn ...")

The day before, the Times reported that the Met has raised $182 million in contributions, "an astonishing amount in a tough economic climate and 50 percent more than it raised just the year before."

In the comments section, vitriol against the Met donors spewed hot and heavy. "At least some of those sickening Wall Street bonuses are going to good use," wrote one reader. "Sounds like at least a few folks can afford to pay more taxes," groused another. One more sample: "Just as drug money built the Miami skyline, the corrupt nature of New York's financial center will continue to fund the monuments of their success."

Despite the successes of audience outreach efforts, from discounted or free tickets to the Met's HD broadcasts, is opera — and classical music more broadly — perceived in pop culture as the bastion of the super-rich, a high-culture outpost only interesting to a tiny minority? If this is true, how do we, as classical music lovers, change that narrative? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

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