AN OPERATIC SURVEY
The following survey was performed one year ago. It was initially intended for French audiences, although its scope was by no means limited to this particular country. We thought it could be of interest to the readers of OperaGlass to have access to it and to compare it to other sources of statistics, if any. The information seen in 1995 does not seem to render these results obsolete. Comments are the sole responsibility of the author.
This survey might not fully satisfy American audiences, in terms of data relative to the United States. Hopefully, someone will give it a try.
Author : Alain P. Dornic,
Today, which are the most performed operas in the world?
La Bohème? Carmen? Il Barbiere di Siviglia? Don Giovanni?
Who is at the top : Wagner? Verdi? Mozart?
Are German operas more popular than Italian ones?
What about Baroque operas : are they really played?
Which cities are most interested in operas?
The way to answer these questions would be to obtain all the programs from a season for the greatest number of lyric theaters, from all corners of the world. That would be, even before sorting out the results, quite a considerable task.
The traditional approach, in case there are huge amounts of data, is to proceed by sampling. Obviously then, the results won't be perfect, since, in our particular domain, the criteria to establish the selection are anything but scientific. However, that is what we have tried to do.
Base for the research : the catalog of programs listed by the magazine "OPERA International", covering France (approximately 30%), Europe besides France (50%), rest of the world (20%). Therefore, the coverage goes from Avignon to Sydney, via Houston and Oslo. This sample already demonstrates the limits of our survey, for ex. :
- only operas in the "western" style are considered
- programs from the former USSR are not given, among others
- some entire sections of vanguard works, some performances of limited reach or created with meager means, remain outside of the major circles of national and international stages.
Consequently, the statistics and results shown hereunder only cover the western opera community, with a strong predominance for the traditional European heritage.
BUT, wouldn't it be what the reader is going to remember anyway?
We have selected the issue of February 1994 of Opera International, listing programs for February and March 94 (i.e. middle of a "season", stable conditions for theater life). We have added the operas reviewed in the same issue -performed over the 2-3 previous months- in order to widen the sample even more, without altering the criteria. Overall, we have here 180 different works, corresponding to 422 productions and performed approximately 1500 times over the period. After all, those numbers are large enough to give some credibility to the results.
The analysis of the raw material raises certain problems : what do we count? The number of actual performances or the individual productions (i.e. based on a specific staging)? Our choice was to count the productions; its specificity being the artistic and financial unity of a show, independently of the venue of a performance (ex. a tour of Porgy and Bess presented in several towns would still count for one production). Other decisions were difficult to make :
- we eliminated operettas and musicals (though Fledermaus and a few others made it with the arbitration of the Kobbe)
- voluntary elimination of a half dozen works, of which Opera International only quoted the title giving no clue as to their proper identification
- selection or not of works bordering what can be defined as an opera, etc...
All that being said, let us look at the results.
What are the Operas most often performed?
Opera Productions Performances
1 Tosca 12 48
2 La Bohème 11 52
3 Die Zauberflöte 11 37
4 Madama Butterfly 9 42
5 Don Giovanni 9 31
6 Otello 9 30
7 Il Barbiere di Siviglia 9 27
8 La Traviata 8 24
9 Un Ballo in Maschera 8 35
10 Les Contes d'Hoffmann 7 29
11 Lucia di Lammermoor 7 23
12 Così Fan Tutte 7 19
13 Der Fliegende Holländer 7 17
14 Salome 6 24
15 Carmen 6 23
16 Turandot 6 23
17 Le Nozze di Figaro 6 21
18 Fidelio 6 20
19 Die Fledermaus 6 13
20 Cavalleria Rusticana 5 21
21 Pagliacci 5 21
22 Rigoletto 5 19
23 Aida 5 16
24 Elektra 5 13
25 Nabucco 5 8
Note : There are 180 entries in the complete list.
Which are the Composers most often performed?
1 Verdi 14 Verdi 58
2 Wagner 10 Puccini 44
3 Rossini 9 Mozart 40
4 Donizetti 9 R. Strauss 23
5 Mozart 8 Rossini 23
6 Puccini 7 Wagner 22
7 R. Strauss 7 Donizetti 21
8 Händel 7 Janacek 10
9 Britten 7 Offenbach 10
10 Smetana 7 Bizet 9
11 Massenet 7 Smetana 8
12 Janacek 7 Massenet 8
13 Henze 7 Gluck 7
14 Britten 7
Note : a total of 73 composers appear at least one time in the complete list.
What are the main characteristics of the repertory?
180 different operas (as a matter of reference, Kobbe reviews 500 of them).
422 distinct productions.
- Over the period, 1 opera was produced 12 times (Tosca, see above), 100 operas were only produced once.
- About 2/3 of the productions run with only 50 operas
- About 75% of the operas produced were composed between 1835 and 1910. Yes, 75% for 75 years. Therefore, we can state that the staples of the great repertory range from Nabucco to Elektra. If Mozart had not existed, the percentage would be even higher.
- 14 out of the 180 operas would be classified as "Baroque", that is 8%.
- 16 out of the 180 are works of living composers (9%). It has not been possible, with the data supplied, to determine the number of premieres.
All that is quite marginal!
What is the distribution by Century?
(on the basis of the date of creation of the operas)
Number of Number of Number of
Composers Operas Productions
XVII 3 5 5
XVIII 8 24 60
XIX 31 89 239
XX 31 62 118
Total 73 180 422
What is the distribution by National Schools?
Composers Operas Productions
Germany 17 Italy 55 Italy 173
Italy 16 Germany 45 Germany 84
France 15 France 23 Austria 56
Austria 7 Austria 17 France 46
England 5 Czech Rep. 11 Czech Rep 21
Russia 4 England 10 Russia 14
Czech Rep. 3 Russia 9 England 11
Note : Händel asked for English citizenship and composed operas in the Italian style. That being said, we have included him among the German composers. Dilemmas...
What are the National preferences?
Are Italian opera houses mostly performing the Italian repertory, are German theaters enclined to concentrate on the German heritage, etc... to adapt to the public taste?
Percentage of Productions of
German* Operas Italian Operas French Operas Other Operas
World 33% 41% 11% 15%
Germany 50 35 6 9
Italy 12 71 10 6
France 30 32 21 19
(*) i.e. Germany & Austria, whose composers all belong to German culture.
The sample covers programs from 29 French cities, 26 German cities, 16 Italian cities. We can draw a few conclusions:
- yes, indeed, each country shows a preference for its own repertory. We have, as a matter of comparison, given the averages on all the listed 422 productions ("World").
- The Italians are the most nationalistic, they gorge themselves with Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti... But, owing to the international triumph of their composers, they can be forgiven!
- In Germany, one opera out of two is German. Curiously enough, they perform Mozart as often as Verdi, Puccini as often as Wagner.
- The French appreciate both German and Italian operas equally (and more than their own!)
- As for the other national schools, they are rarely performed, except in France. It sounds like it is the European country where the public goes toward unbeaten paths more readily.
Which are the cities most appreciative of operas?
Here, we made a quick side survey. The methodology did not apply any more; we have only used the information supplied by the magazine. We could just say that the following list gives an overall idea of the lyric activity of these cities. But there is nothing exhaustive or rigorous about the results.
Number of Operas
1 Vienna 32
2 Berlin 21
3 Prague 20
4 Paris 16
5 Hamburg 13
6 London 12
7 Zurich 12
8 New York 11
9 Munich 11
10 Hanover 10
The number of Operas counted above is relative to different performances over the 2 month period. It is obvious that cities which maintain the principle of a permanent troupe playing the house repertory display impressive figures. But, in this case, the number of performances for a specific opera is small.
Everyone can interpret the results at will. Obviously, they are not final, each new season bringing new and diverse contributions. Nonetheless, we believe this survey to be a rather accurate and coherent snapshot of the lyric scene today.
Some final comments :
- Triumph for Giacomo Puccini who manages to put 3 of his works in the top four. Efficiency and flair are indeed awarded the grand prize. This result could be debated at length; however, wouldn't it be the way to demonstrate that in order to succeed within the widest international repertory possible, the least common denominator is needed? The second prize goes to Giuseppe Verdi, who even passes his fellow countryman in terms of number of operas produced.
- Total victory - more or less - of Italian opera (even trimmed from its vast Baroque heritage). Pavarotti's success lies on solid foundations!
On the German front, Mozart allows an honorable defeat and Wagner barely saves face. Genuine German operas are still performed in the numerous cities constituting the most densely lyrical cloud of Europe (for example Lortzing or Henze, never performed elsewhere), but the winning duet Verdi-Puccini has already conquered the place.
- Russian opera is under-represented. Again, this is due to the lack of Eastern programs in the sample. As a consequence, we found no Prokofiev or Rimski-Korsakov opera in the 2-month period. Moreover, the Kirov was not touring Western countries at that time... This remark could also apply to other origins such as Poland and Hungary.
- Basically the great majority of famous operas have been produced over the period, even if for a small number of performances. Just a few exceptions were noticed, such as Norma, curiously absent.
Besides the Russian composers highlighted above, we could point out the total absence of the Spanish School and of Rameau. French composers are there, but they do miss a towering leader such as Verdi or Mozart.
To finish this quick geographical tour, the low penetration of American composers can probably be attributed to a corresponding small percentage of programs from North American cities (13 theaters) in the sample.
- Among the sad surprises, as previously mentioned, the poor showing from "marginal" periods stands out: that is, both Baroque and contemporary works. Creation is persona non grata in the Who's Who of the great opera houses of the world. Are we witnessing a fossilization?
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