The largest US city without orchestra or opera is now…

The largest US city without orchestra or opera is now…


norman lebrecht

August 05, 2014

… Sacramento.

Both the philharmonic and the opera have cancelled their fall seasons after mounting losses. No resumption is presently forecast.

Sacramento is the capital and sixth largest city of California. It has a popuation of 478,000, according to the 2011 census.

Culturally speaking, it has just gone mute. Or dumb.




  • Joshaw says:

    Let’s not get too smug. The largest county in the UK has no full time professional symphony orchestra.

    It didn’t even have Opera North when I was growing up there.

    • Anon says:

      Indeed. Pop. of Sacramento is smaller than Bradford or Sheffield in the UK, neither of which have a chamber orchestra to their name far less a symphony orchestra or opera. Sacramento isn’t much bigger than Bristol, which doesn’t have either, either.
      And a lack of symphony orchestra or opera doesn’t prevent all manner of other cultural events, from chamber concerts to jazz gigs, art installations, galleries, museums, theatrical performances and dance from taking place. Hardly the end of culture.
      Still a shame for those folks who would have wanted, or benefitted from, musical experiences they now can’t so easily enjoy, though.

      • Blobfish says:

        Yes, population of Sacramento “city proper” is less than 500k, but the metropolitan area has 2.6m, and the Sacramento Philharmonic is certainly nowhere near full-time either: 2013-14 season consisted of just one full opera production, and a handful of orchestra concerts and family concerts.

  • Tamara says:

    What a shame.

  • John says:

    There is a robust series at the University of California, Davis, about 15 minutes from downtown Sacramento, with some excellent artists and orchestras. So the state capital is not entirely bereft of culture. But it’s still a shame that the local orchestra has gone dark.

  • Anonymous says:

    To add insult to injury, Sacramento is the capital city of California. California Governor Edmund Brown resides there, government offices for the state of California are located
    there, and all legislation for the state eminates from Sacramento.

    Seems to me state politicians should be in the loop on this.

    • Charles says:

      It doesn’t work that way in the U.S. and especially in California: state and local government have nothing in common despite sharing the same sidewalks…

  • CDH says:

    Thing is, English cities without orchestras are not usually that far from cities with them. Not so sure that is true in Sacramento.

    • Joshaw says:

      Up to a point. Lancashire has the Halle, RLPO and BBC Phil. but Yorkshire has nothing. Not a huge problem, I suppose, since the M62 was built. But, similarly, the North East had no orchestra for years and Opera North, which obviously has its own band, was only formed in 1977.

      Agree with you in that the US is much larger, of course.

    • Charles says:

      You can always take the train and go to San Francisco…

  • william osborne says:

    It’s all relative. Los Angeles has the 3rd largest metro GDP in the world (behind NYC and Tokyo) and a metro population of 12 million but ranks 180th in the world for opera performances per year.

    Philadelphia has the 9th largest metro GDP in the world and a metro population of 5.9 million but ranks 175th. Washington has the 11th largest metro GDP and a population of 3.92 million but ranks 185th. Miami, which does not have a fully professional symphonic orchestra, ranks 171st.

    There are no US cities with a population of 500k or less that have a significant representation of opera while it is rare for European cities that size not to have a full time house. For small US cities, Santa Fe comes closest with its 8 week season in the summer and about 30 to 35 performances. It is one of our most important companies, but ranks 191st for opera performances per year.

    It’s all part of the fraudulent facade that opera in America is.

  • Addam H says:

    As. a resident of the Sacramento area from 2010-2014 I can tell you a bit about the area’s culture. It is a place where the high points of culture are the Mexican and Vietnamese food. It has a thriving bar scene (naked and clothed) and there is a palpable passion for medical marijuana. The local government is an example of feduciary incompetence and there is absolutely no faith in leadership on local and state levels(it’s the capital). The citizens have no demand for a permanent opera or symphony orchestra as they have proven in a transparently capitalist manner. BUT, just a few miles west at UC Davis one can hear a fine concert calendar that has a world class lineup. I have seen YOYO and the Silky Road funky bunch as well as SF symphony there,as well.

  • David Pickett says:

    William Osborne: “There are no US cities with a population of 500k or less that have a significant representation of opera ”

    Bloomington, Indiana?

    • william osborne says:

      Yes, I suppose one could say that Bloomington does, but the performances are by the opera program at Indiana University — i.e. students working for free. Not sure how many productions they do per year, but the quality is equal to an A-level German house. The high quality of American opera education and singers makes it all the more absurd that we don’t have a more active opera world.

      • william osborne says:

        According to Operabase, Bloomington has 22 performances per year and ranks 262nd in the world. Roughly speaking, that would be about 10 to 20% of the number of performances many houses in Europe would do in a city of 500,000 people.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    It is all down to schools not teaching that there are more valuable and skilled things in life than kids being brainwashed to big bucks stupefaction by electronically contrived synthetic bang, bang, bang through earphones 24 x 7. That and visual ugliness are how the USA has always proclaimed itself brashly to the outside world. Thus relatively few of its citizens can pass on to future generations an appreciation or appetite for the finer things of life. Those whose forebears hail from Europe stand a better chance.

  • esfir ross says:

    Davis CA is lucky to get support from Margrit Mondavi that a music lover and built a concert hall and music life’s blooming. I go from Oakland CA for great concert events. Sacramento has large Russian immigrant population that more in religion . They’re Baptist, Pentacostal and not have need of classical music.