The U.S. now has 125 professional opera companies, 60 percent of
them launched since 1970, according to the trade group OPERA America.
The U.S. has more opera companies than Germany and nearly twice as many
as Italy. In the most comprehensive recent study, the National
Endowment for the Arts found that between 1982 and 2002, total
attendance at live opera performances grew 46 percent.
Annual admissions are now estimated at 20 million, roughly the same
attendance as NFL football games (22 million, including playoffs, in
2006–07). In part, this reflects a shift toward seeing opera
domestically. “Foreign opera destinations like Salzburg and
Glyndebourne are more expensive, and more Americans are staying
home—and probably feeling safer for it,” says Richard Gaddes, general
director of the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico.
Consequently, opera travel within the U.S.—even by foreigners—is
booming. The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis drew attendees last year from
42 U.S. states, in addition to France, Germany, Britain, and Canada.
Likewise, the Seattle Opera gets loads of Germans eager to see its
highly regarded productions of Wagner’s operas. Gaddes says his company
is “the major economic engine of tourism in Santa Fe.”
And the number of American opera productions continues to increase.
As of 2005, OPERA America included companies under its aegis in 44
states. They put on 3,012 performances (up by one-third in just four
years) of 420 different opera productions. Opera companies, moreover,
are raising large amounts of money: $387 million in private
contributions in 2005 alone.
I wonder how much of those companies’ budgets come from the taxpayer vs. ticket sales and private contributions.
I also wonder if opera could outdraw the NFL if opera had playoffs.