The Bolshoi has 50% more new operas than the Met

The Bolshoi has 50% more new operas than the Met


norman lebrecht

May 06, 2018

There are six new opera productions next season, among them the first Rossini to join the present repertoire stock.

Also six new ballets.

Here’s the full rundown.


  • John Borstlap says:

    In Russia there is more cultural awareness than in the West, because under the glass bell of the Soviet Union, 19C culture was frozen, and although that meant that culture was in a prison, it was kept alive and was protected from modernist erosion. That may be an unintentional but happy result of a very dark era.

    • Tamino says:

      Also, opera is European culture. Russia (at least until the Ural) is culturally European.
      The US had European culture imported with the first immigration waves until the early 20th century. With a population shifting toward more Asian and Latino subgroups today, the US becomes less and less European. Erosion of European culture is just a logical consequence.
      NY metropolitan area has 20 million inhabitants and barely can sustain one full time opera house these days.
      Berlin (Germany) has 3 million inhabitants and three operas.

      • Cubs Fan says:

        I wonder how much this has to do with ticket prices? We’ve seen recent posts comparing salaries of musicians in NY vs. Europe which certainly makes it more expensive to produce opera in the US. Last time I was in NY, prices to MET performances were quite high, to put it mildly. Also, NY only supports one full-time professional orchestra, although there are quite a few smaller, less well-known orchestras in the area. Compare that to London with five (at least) orchestras with world-wide reputation.

        • Alex Davies says:

          Yes, a few years ago statistics found that London had the largest amount of live classical music in the world. Berlin came second. What may surprise you, however, was that New York came third. Now, what I am not sure about is exactly how they quantified live classical music performances, i.e. whether they are only including professional performances or whether they also include amateur concerts, professional standard concerts offered for free (e.g. lunchtime concerts), and semi-professional concerts aimed at the tourist market (about 95% of what’s on at St Martin-in-the-Fields).

          It really is a cultural thing, though, and nothing to do with the size of the city. Cities like Prague and Budapest probably have more or less the same amount of classical music as London, supported by populations a fraction of the size. Prague, for example, has the State Opera, National Theatre, and Estates Theatre, the smaller Kolowrat Theatre, New Stage, and Laterna Magika, as well as the Karlín Musical Theatre. Among major symphony orchestras I’d think of the Czech Philharmonic, Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Prague Philharmonia, and Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. There are also a number of chamber orchestras and early music ensembles. There are two major conservatoires, one of them known internationally. The Prague Spring, of course, is one of the finest classical music festivals in the world. And none of this takes into account the huge number of concerts that are aimed at the tourist market, which probably doubles the amount of classical music at least. And this in a city of only around 1.3 million people (and only another 1.3 million in the greater Prague urban area). Even London cannot support three major opera houses. Okay, they are also used for ballet and drama, but that is way beyond anything one would expect for a city that size. And as many major symphony orchestras as London, too. The Czech Philharmonic is at least the equal of any London orchestra.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Very impressive. Bohemia has always been a hothouse of musical talents and interests. A very civilized, European area.

          • Alex Davies says:

            Indeed. I am not the person for the job, but I would be fascinated to know whether anybody has ever examined the question of why certain art forms have flourished in particular European cultures and during particular periods of history. For example, I can name very few major composers from the Low Countries, and even fewer if one excludes francophone Belgium (defined by present day borders). Of course, there is the Franco-Flemish School that flourished at the court of the Dukes of Burgundy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Then there is Sweelinck. If one includes francophone Belgium there are a handful of composers whom one might describe as minor major (e.g. Franck) or perhaps major minor (e.g. Vieuxtemps). On the other hand, this same small region of northwestern Europe has produced painters who are probably the most important in the entire history of art and certainly the most important outside Italy.

            As you suggest, it seems remarkable that between the 1850s, when Smetana emerged as a major composer, until the death of Martinů in 1959, the Czech lands were briefly the focus of an extraordinary flourishing of musical activity. Is this explained entirely by the historical context of the national struggle for independent nationhood? Why is it that over the period of about one century this small region of central Europe, largely oppressed by its neighbours, produced more really important classical music than the entire musical output of Spain, once one of the largest, richest, and most powerful countries not just in Europe, but in the world?

            The main arguments I have read seem to be (1) it is not true that countries like the Netherlands and Spain do not have a really important musical heritage: their achievements are simply unjustly sidelined as we focus on the musical output of Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Russia, etc., and (2) it is mainly to do with patronage by royal courts and/or the Church. I’m not sure either stands up to much scrutiny. Finland is surely one of the most obscure countries in Europe, musically and in almost every other respect, yet Sibelius is considered to be one of the greatest symphonists of all time and one of the most important composers of the later 19th and 20th centuries. Meanwhile, the once great global imperial power Portugal really does not appear to have any forgotten musical geniuses. And why would it be that the rich, powerful, and otherwise intellectually and culturally distinguished British royal court would have failed to patronise composers for nearly 200 years between Purcell and Elgar? Why is there virtually no really important religious music from Italy after the baroque period, despite the obvious importance of the Catholic Church as a patron of the arts on the Italian peninsula?

          • HRBmus says:

            As far as Britain is concerned it seems likely that the ruling Hanoverians preferred to import Handel and Mendelssohn rather than support the home growns – Onslow, Field… etc etc…

      • Alex Davies says:

        “With a population shifting toward more Asian and Latino subgroups today, the US becomes less and less European. Erosion of European culture is just a logical consequence.”

        You must be working with a very peculiar definition of “European”. Latinos are descended, to a large degree, from Spain and Portugal, which are very definitely European countries. The culture of Latin America is every bit as European as the culture of the United States is. It is not wholly European, but then nor is the culture of the United States wholly European. The culture of the entire American continent results from the mixing of European cultures with native American cultures and, in large parts of the continent, African cultures. The only difference is that Latin Americans speak Spanish and Portuguese and are largely influenced by Spanish and Portuguese culture, whereas Americans (and Canadians) speak English (and French) and are largely influenced by countries such as Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Poland, Russia, and so on. Saying that Hispanic and Lusitanic people erode European culture is plainly ridiculous.

        • Tamino says:

          Please, moderate yourself. We all know that. I should have more precisely described ‘European’. Spain and Portugal were never major cultural breeding grounds of opera exactly. And the so called ‘Latino’ immigrants to the US are a cultural second generation, one more cultural link apart from their European ancestry, than the immigrants who flocked to US territories directly from Europe.

          • Alex Davies says:

            While you are right about Spain and Portugal not being “major cultural breeding grounds of opera”, there are a number of other factors you need to bear in mind. For one thing, Spain does have a venerable tradition of zarzuela, which was successfully exported to its American territories. But furthermore, by far the greatest influence on the United States has of course been Great Britain and Ireland, and from the death of Handel (some 17 years before America existed as an independent country) until the early twentieth century Great Britain and Ireland also had little culture of opera. Of course, opera was performed in major cities such as London and Dublin, but then opera was also performed in major Spanish and Portuguese cities at the same time. In fact, one could say that Great Britain and Ireland and Spain and Portugal were quite equally matched as musical backwaters after the deaths of Purcell and Handel. You also need to think about what kind of people were coming to the United States. For the most part it wasn’t the aristocracy and the intelligentsia. I don’t suppose that all that many of the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses had been going to the opera much back home. The Italian Americans may have been an exception, of course.

            I’m also not sure that you’re on track with your argument that Latinos “are a cultural second generation, one more cultural link apart from their European ancestry, than the immigrants who flocked to US territories directly from Europe.” You seem to think that the United States has some kind of unique role in preserving European culture in the American continent. Suppose a Spaniard immigrated to Mexico in 1800 and an Irishman immigrated to the USA in 1800. If a descendant of that Spaniard who immigrated to Mexico in 1800 immigrates to the United States in 2018 he is not at all further removed from his European ancestry and European culture than a descendant of the Irishman whose family have been American for 218 years. We are talking about cultural links to Europe, not cultural links to the Anglosphere.

  • a colleague says:

    For the sake of accuracy, use a picture of the Bolshoi rather than that of La Scala…

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    This constant negative comparison with the MET and everywhere else is becoming as tiresome as it is pathetic. From a perusal of the 2018/19 seasons of the major opera houses the MET looks no worse nor better than it’s equivalents. If, as LN clearly wishes, Gelb falls under the proverbial bus I wonder whether their program(me) would be significantly different? Most houses are playing it safe and in the case of the current onerous comparison, my view of the Bolshoi is that it is nowadays primarily a Ballet Company, and their newsletter seems to confirm that. But, hey, as I said before any stick to beat Mr Gelb seems as good as another.