From its first recognized performance in Italy at a royal wedding in 1597, opera gained the reputation of being elite, the highest form of art. Walter B. Rudolph, program director of KBYU-FM radio in Utah and a renowned expert on opera and its history, gave a lecture at Utah State University in which he comically quoted from Armando Iannucci's book, Hear Me Out that opera is a "coming together of music, theatre, design, people, and coughing in the greatest synthesis of art." Opera has long been regarded as an art form of affluence, and because it is, quite frankly, the most expensive to produce. High ticket prices, compared to other arts events admissions, add expense that creates problems in the sustainability of this art form, though cost is not the only factor creating issues. Most think of opera, in its essence, as being very formal, including the traditional set, costuming, staging, and so on, so production prices stay high.
Traditionalist values create problems in capturing the interest of new generations of audiences, who, it seems, would rather be packed into a standing-room-only venue, sardine-like, against four hundred other sweaty individuals, jumping under a strobe light to catchy, upbeat songs that deaden eardrums from fifty yards away. In other words, the new consumer, with a shorter attention span, becomes easily distracted, while more mature audiences who enjoy watching singers in period costumes sing a story in a foreign language for three hours, age out from attending opera faster than they can be replaced. Opera companies then lose ticket sales, which drives ticket prices up even further. The obvious question begs to be answered: Why is this centuries-old art form worth saving? And if the answer proves that opera is worthy, what can be done to break the cycle that seems to drive opera further form the public?
Brunson, McKenna, "Reviving Passions: A Brief Examination of Opera, Past and Present in Utah" (2017). Arrington Student Writing Award Winners. Paper 18.