Germany’s most popular current operas are…

From 2014/15 Deutsche Bühnenverein statistics, just released:

1 La Traviata (Verdi)                31 productions, 286 performances

2 Die Zauberflöte (Mozart)     30 productions, 285 performances

3 Carmen (Bizet)                       26 productions, 247 performances

4 Hansel und Gretel (Humperdinck)                   207 performances

Magic Flute and H&G are targeted at children and Christmas audiences. So, no surprises here.

Among more recent works, Peter Grimes (Britten) had 35 performances and The Rake’s Progress (Stravinsky) 30.

traviata2

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  • So, there may be good reasons for opera houses to perform new or recent works, but boosting audiences is not one of them.

        • But surely writing operas that people actually like is “populist”, the worst crime in the eyes of the intelligentsia?

          • Interestingly, in former times composers were part of the same musical culture as the audiences, and only very personal types of opera took some time to get popular (Carmen because of ‘pedestrian subject’ and ‘vulgar female protagonist’; Pelléas et Mélisande because there was ‘no singing in it’, Bluebeard because it was sung in Hungarian). ‘Oldfashioned’ musical languages seem – even from a technical point of view – the most effective for opera, but it is quite hard to write ‘oldfashioned opera’ today without being ‘conservative’ or ‘populist’. The increasing interest in Prokofiev operas fills a gap in audience curiosity though, as fascinating discoveries like Weinberg’s “The Passenger”. Also Braunfels’ operas are rediscovered, ‘oldfashioned’ already in their own time – the twenties.

            But surely, opera managements would not quickly dare to produce an opera by, for instance, Nicolas Bacri, or Karol Beffa (new tonal composers), because of fear to be considered ‘conservative’ by the critics. But as surely, it would be audience successes. The entirely ‘oldfashioned’ opera by Russian neo-tonal composer Alexander Smelkov ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, which was performed, a couple of years ago, in concert form in Rotterdam and London with Gergiev and his Mariinsky band, was a great success with audiences, but was condemned by the press with a vehemence recalling the religious indignation of the inquisition about heretics who dared to claim that the earth circled around the sun. The plot was rather trivial in comparison with its source (Dostoyevski), but that is irrelevant: it was full-blooded opera, well-made, melodious, and kept interest going until the very end, quite an achievement. We won’t hear of it of course, because of these crazy prejudices in which music journalism plays an important part – the orthodox but entirely false faith that ‘modern opera’ MUST sound like what we have been ‘taught’ is ‘modern music’. So, pieces like Schoenberg’s early, tonal Gurrelieder will be dug-up and dressed-up as opera, as it was done in Amsterdam a year ago, to fill the gap with oldfashioned sound but which is not ‘contemporary’. (This production was quite successfull, by the way – it is beautiful music.)

      • Gee, why didn’t anyone ever think of writing *good* contemporary opera? You might just have solved the crisis in classical music!

  • Plenty of reasons why you’d stage Zauberflote other than for children or Christmas. There’d be something very wrong if Mozart wasn’t in the top 5.

  • There are plenty of 20th century operas that audiences would love if allowed to actually hear them. It’s operatic elites who frown upon such common sense populism.

      • How could we know if nobody takes the trouble to do some research? We know only of operas which have been dug-up and produced, or recorded, like Weinberg’s “The Passenger” or Walter Braunfels’ “The Birds”, or Goldstein’s “Die Gewaltige Hahnrei”. They all were hughe audience successes.

  • Re. contemporary operas: in the last 300 years, there are at most 100 operas that are recognised as ‘great.’ That’s no more than one every three years. How many operas have been erased from history for these to remain? Heck, Donizetti composed over 30 operas, to see 7-8 survive in current repertoire. Could it be that we are too demanding with contemporary opera? Many current works are ‘good,’ though not ‘great’. That does not mean they are ‘failed’ works, far from it. And if, in the last 5 years, we’ve gotten Written on Skin, The Tempest, Dead Man Walking, Moby Dick, then that might not be a completely failed period. If two of those survive, then we are in the historical average…doing quite well, in fact!

    • Thanks, that’s well reasoned and optimistic, but it’s not optimism that we need right now, it’s radical change in the nature of new work being programmed. You can say that only a small percentage of work even in the 19th century found a place in the repertoire long term but take any point in time from that era and there were at least half a dozen new works receiving multiple performances and genuinely capturing the imagination of audiences at large. So no, it is a very different situation today.

      • True. But maybe it always was a very different situation. Handel’s operas were popular at the time, then completely forgotten, and in our time being dug-up and produced regularly. Gems like Purcell’s Dido & Anaeas were rediscovered and became popular, which they were not in their own time. There is not much to see in terms of patterns. The least one can say, is that it is the quality of the music that may have something to do with an opera’s survival, and that plot / libretto are irrelevant.

        • Or on the other hand the works of Spontini, considered a genius in his day and now pretty much forgotten. There are all sorts of exceptions, but I think the ‘just give them time’ narrative serves the agenda of those who argue for the status quo, and overall the reality is quite different.

          • It is easier to leave judgement to posterity, so that one can focus upon organising the production of the work at hand. Apparently, it is a too expensive, logistically too complicated art form to include also such subjective and potentially flippant element like musical value judgement in the organizational process. Which is wrong, since music is at the heart of opera.

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