The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music poll: Is opera for the rich? | October 16, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

The opera season will soon be upon Madison in full force.

In a way, it has already started.

Last month, the Madison-based Fresco Opera Theatre (below, in a photo by Max Wendt) gave three performances of its mix of circus and grand opera at the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall.

Then yesterday, Saturday, marked the opening of the sixth season of “The Met Live in HD” at the Point and Eastgate cinemas. The production was Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” with soprano Anna Netrebko (below) in the title role. (The US encore is Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m.)

Here is a link to the other 10 productions this season:

But the most reliable and well-known local opera productions are soon to come.

At the end of this month and the beginning of November (in Music Hall on Friday, Oct. 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 30, at 3 p.m.; and Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m.), the University Opera will present three performances of a new production of the opera that is probably the most popular and beloved opera ever written: Puccini’s “La Boheme” (below, with  Lindsay Sessing as Musetta (brown dress), Shannon Prickett as Mimi (lying down), and John Arnold as Schaunard).

Here is a link with more information:

Then in Overture Hall on Friday, Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2:30 p.m., the Madison Opera will present its first-ever production in 50 years of Tchaikovksy’s “Eugene Onegin” with sets and costumes from the beautiful Pittsburgh Opera production (below, in a photo by David Bachman).

Here is a link to the Madison Opera:

As a background piece to such promising productions, I bring up a question: Is opera for the rich?

That certainly is the perception, mistaken or not, of a lot of people, and NPR’s wonderful “Deceptive Cadence” blog recently posed that question and made some astute observations of its own and received some insightful comments from readers:

So tell The Ear and other readers what you think about the question and examples that support or contradict the perception hat opera is primarily for the rich.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. I happened on this today – and I should have said how some of Opera music is ethereal. So exquisite as to be worth the rest one doesn’t care for. Also, a lot is used in my favorite sport – figure skating, dance skating. if you want examples look on youtube for Virtue and Moir, or Charlie White and Meryl Davis.


    Comment by tagouti — September 21, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  2. These are great comments!


    Comment by Ron McCrea — October 17, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

  3. It is my belief that Opera is not for the rich but in fact, only the rich can access it. I think that music should be more accessible to the masses and I dislike that music (classical to be specific) has become more audience specific and exclusive (and also quite spendy). I do however advocate for paying concert artists a good some of money for their musicianship and hard effort, after all, I hope to someday too be a concert pianist!


    Comment by 3mlee — October 17, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

    • HI 3mlee,
      I agree with you about accessibility.
      About fees: I also think artists should be paid well for talent. But when some of them draw into $100,000 for a hour or two of work, well that puts them right up there with CEOs and celebrity athletes.
      It also puts them out of range of smaller cities like Madison.
      And then we wonder why there are smaller audiences!
      Today we couldn’t afford to present such older “superstars” as Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz, Marian Anderson, Rudolf Serkin and Vladimir Ashkenazy, all of whom did in fact perform here — some more than once.
      Still, the best of luck to you in to your career.
      But do try to stay affordable, which is best for you and best for audiences.


      Comment by welltemperedear — October 17, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

  4. I feel that opera has been stolen by the rich from the people — in general, only the wealthy can afford the “good” seats, and opera has generally been captured culturally as an entertainment for a small segment of the population. I don’t feel that the rest of our population has become more coarse and unable to enjoy the transporting power of opera, I feel there has developed a cachet about opera that discourages most people to develop it as a desired taste/recreation.

    In general, opera companies dare not put on anything political for fear of offending their donors. The archaic plots may have something to do the narrowing of the audiences. When operas addressed issues of the day (thank you, Verdi), they were widely embraced — although with the advent of TV opera is not the only live art form struggling for audiences. Audiences of recent European origin used to go both to baseball games and to the opera. What happened?

    I had the honor once of talking with the wife of the fellow who wrote the music?words? (I don’t recall) to Pajama Game – not opera, but musical theater which also doesn’t in general draw the baseball/football crowd. I asked her “How did you manage to get a musical about a union strike onto to the stage in the midst of the McCarthy period” and she replied “It was a miracle.”

    Opera as recreation for most of us would have to be re-learned, but it could be. Working people do deserve the best, and in my thinking, that is opera.


    Comment by Katleen McElroy — October 16, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    • Hi Kathy,
      I think you are right.
      Furthermore, I think a lot of classical music — symphony, chamber music, recitals — have become more the property of the “have’s” by virtue of expensive ticket prices, expensive venues and, let’s not forget, expensive artists fees that way outstrip advances in wages and inflation.
      Thanks for reading and replying at length.


      Comment by welltemperedear — October 16, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

  5. To feel the enveloping involvement of the show, one must sit close up where the most expensive seats are, although the song and the instruments can carry one into a listening ‘transport’ from elsewhere. Actually, one has to love the over-trained voice required for opera and that appreciation is just acquired by going to a lot of them, also expensive.

    The grandstanding, repetitions, obviousness, kitsch, all endemic to the overblown staging necessary for a production to be seen by the masses lack the subtlety and charm of a movie. No doubt operas were better for a smaller audience say in one of Ludwig II’s theaters, or Mozart’s smaller stages of the 18th Century. I just do not like the tone of many of the singers, stiffness of the acting, enough to pay to learn to like opera by going to more than the ten or so I have been to. The productions do try to make them accessible by standing room, late or student tickets, etc. If you really love it, you can go.


    Comment by tagouti — October 16, 2011 @ 10:35 am

    • Hi Tagouti,
      Thank you for reading and then replying in such detail and so perceptively.
      I agree with you on just about all counts.
      I would only add that I think most operas overstay their welcome by about two hours for my taste.
      I go for the music, not the usually unconvincing acting or silly plots.
      There are exceptions — but only a few.
      For the most part, I am happy with the “Best Of” compilations or even concert versions.
      I generally do not like words with my music or music with my words.
      Let literature be literature, and music music.
      That’s why I agree with Alex Ross who recently decried the use of narration in music — though I think he loves opera.
      Let’ s see what others say.
      Happy listening and attending.


      Comment by welltemperedear — October 16, 2011 @ 10:59 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,256 other subscribers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,403,686 hits
%d bloggers like this: