Confessions Of An Operaholic

Opera Is For The 99%: Here's What You Told Us

Opera lovers gather to watch the season opener, "Anna Bolena," for free outside the Metropolitan Opera on Sept. 26, 2011. i i

Opera lovers gather to watch the season opener, "Anna Bolena," for free outside the Metropolitan Opera on Sept. 26, 2011.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Opera lovers gather to watch the season opener, "Anna Bolena," for free outside the Metropolitan Opera on Sept. 26, 2011.

Opera lovers gather to watch the season opener, "Anna Bolena," for free outside the Metropolitan Opera on Sept. 26, 2011.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Yesterday's post about popular perceptions of opera as an entertainment for the rich definitely struck a nerve. We've been (happily) deluged with responses both on our site and on Facebook – and much of the conversation has contradicted a very tired stereotype. Here's just a small sampling of what you've told us.

Is price really a barrier to entry?

Plenty of people have pointed out that access to opera doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive. There are performances online for free via streams and YouTube, radio broadcasts, HD shows at movie theaters, student stagings, regional companies, standing room and balcony tickets at bigger venues – and the list goes on and on.

On Facebook, Mark Hatlestad told us, "I saw an opera at the Met a few months ago. Tickets were $25, which isn't terrible even for nosebleed seats. And there were several members of the audience wearing sweatpants and hoodies."

ZackBirk noted, "In Philadelphia, a simulcast of Carmen was run from the stage during opening night and shown on a big screen on Independence Mall. Students can get a flexpass at the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for $25. That is for the whole year. And the Philadelphia Orchestra sells their tickets for as little as $15 a seat."

Starbet wrote, "The Met's HD broadcasts for the price of a movie ticket, plus 'Great Performances' on TV, fly right in the face of the super-rich narrative. Just because the super-rich opt to consume art dressed in tiaras and tuxes rather than in jeans with a box of buttered popcorn is less a comment on the art itself than the very human desire for exclusivity."

Pricey — compared to what?

Other respondents pointed out that a night at the opera doesn't outpace the price of tickets for professional sports, rock shows or a trip to the local multiplex.

Charles Stanton wrote on Facebook, "It is more an issue of prioritization. No one, including the federal level of decision makers, puts the arts at top priority. Therefore, it does not seem of value to pay $30 to $50 for a ticket. Conversely, $200 for a sporting event seems like a bargain. Paying $10 each morning at Starbucks is no problem. If the arts are valued, people will go. Period."

CindyS told us, "As wonderful as the Met is, there's a LOT more out there all over the country, and most offer VERY affordable tickets! Texas alone has Houston Opera and Dallas Opera, both big international houses – but we also have a ton of excellent regional houses, including Austin Lyric Opera, Fort Worth Opera, El Paso Opera, San Antonio Opera, Amarillo Opera, Opera in the Heights (Houston), and other smaller companies. My own little troupe produces concerts and fully staged operas, and ticket prices top out at $10 for the general public. So it can hardly be said to be the exclusive province of the rich. :)"

Franklingreen wrote, "Opera is not for the rich, but it is for the elite group who appreciate singing. I've been to the Met a few times and never paid more than $100 for a seat and could have paid less. Could you go to Disney World and spend less? How about a 50 yard line ticket for an NFL game? Could you spend less than $300 for that? Are football fans rich? When I took my son to the World Series in 1995, I had to pay $250 per ticket (upper deck). We subscribe to the Atlanta Opera season, where the least expensive seats in the beautiful Cobb Energy Center are merely $25. We go crazy and pay twice that for our seats."

Spike666 wrote, "A while ago, a friend of mine whose tastes run more to heavy metal asked me about opera, what I would recommend and where to go. I cautioned him that good seats at the Met were very expensive, up to $300 a pop. He shrugged and said, 'No problem, I pay that for Metallica tickets these days.'"

And Operapreneur pointed out, "The price to see your first opera, almost anywhere in the country, is cheaper than a tank of gas."

But Any Price Is Too Pricey For Many Musicians

Some of our respondents – musicians and those with musicians in their families – pointed out that sometimes the people whose lives revolve around opera are the ones who can't afford tickets, even "cheap ones."

Mike Bielski reported via Facebook, "My wife is a professional full-time musician, and when she plays for operas and gets a 1/2-off ticket, it's still too expensive."

According to slbrannigan, "Singers themselves usually come from modest backgrounds, and many if not most are downright poor while pursuing their careers. I certainly ate my share of ramen noodles while finding special student tickets in order to see the operas I hoped one day to perform."

Ceppori agreed: "As a professional opera singer, I can say, most of the musicians in the opera world DO NOT come from wealthy backgrounds. We are certainly not in it for the money (not much to be had), especially given the amount of time (and expense) it takes to train a good classical voice (8-10 years, and 100,000s of $). Most of us are in it for the love of singing, for the joy of being on stage and communicating with our audiences, regardless of their background ... I feel as though I (part of the 99%) am being punished for the perception of my art form as 'for the rich.' I don't do this 'for the rich.' I do this for myself."

Rich Snobs: Blame Hollywood?

Others pointed out that the rich-snob stereotype is still a go-to shorthand in pop culture makers.

On Facebook, Donald Callahan Bryan mentioned this: "Hollywood perpetuates the myth: It's always some super-rich villain (another stereotype, but that's another thread entirely) that is either attending an opera, or has it playing in the background of his lair – although Moonstruck and A Room with a View were happy exceptions ... and long ago."

Wrote singingscholar, "I do think there is this problem in pop culture; I always sigh when I go to the movies and see [images of] opera houses full of middle-aged, wealthy, white audiences with the men in black-tie-and-tails and the women dripping with diamonds ... because I've NEVER seen an opera audience that looks like that or dresses like that. I'm a stereotypically impoverished grad student, and I drag friends to concerts/opera as often as possible. Usually their reaction is 'Hey, that was actually really fun!'"

Kaschries noted, "Movies and other popular forms of entertainment TELL the general public that opera is an art form for the old and the wealthy. In a culture so reliant on visual mediums and the media in general when it comes to understanding issues, the messages sent by movies etc. will be extremely shaping and influential of public mind set."

OperaNed wrote, "The biggest challenge is that for decades, directors of 30-second commercial spots have used opera as the punchline anytime they needed to say "Hey, isn't this boring?" They traffic in visual shorthand, and they worked hard to make opera effective shorthand for boring/elitist/fat people. And they have a decades-long head start."

Opera Fans Don't Fit The Stereotype

Many readers pointed out how they themselves are living refutations of the tuxedoed and diamond-dripping billionaire stereotype.

Velvund5 told us, "I am 28, work as a school teacher in a Title I school, had to eat out of garbage bags when I was in college, and lived in a shack that was paid by plasma donations and pet furniture making. Puccini's La Boheme resonated with me and my drunken dish-washing friend as we obliterated ourselves with cheap wine after hard days of work and school."

SandySanchez added, "My husband and I would not necessarily be cast in pop culture as opera lovers. Albeit we are both educated. We are in our 20s, Hispanic, and each make less than $21,000 a year (thanks, economy!). He wears flannel shirts, shoes with holes, and his forearms are covered in tattoos. I never brush my wild hair and I don't own any dressy shoes. Yet according to the NY Times and their depiction of opera-goers, my statement requires using a 'yet' interjection so ... yet, we often look forward to the next production visiting Los Angeles. I suppose communicating a nuanced worldview, without relying on stereotypes, is for the really few?"

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