German opera audiences are down by 2.2%

German opera audiences are down by 2.2%


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2018

The figures are out for theatre activity in Germany in 2016/17.

The Deutsche Bühnenverein covers 140 state and regional theatres, 128 orchestras, 210 privately owned theatres and 84 Festivals.

It finds a 2.2 percent drop in opera attendancs, 3.3 percent in dance and 6.4 percent for the operetta and musicals.

There was no obvious cause.


  • Sibylle Luise Binder says:

    That’s the “effect” of German Regietheatre. Just as an example: As I was a kid there were eight subscriptions for the opera in Stuttgart in my family. My parents, my grandparents, two of my aunts and their husbands regularly went into the opera and met with friends there. It was an entire “clique” of opera goers and they didn’t only use their subscriptions, but even went sometimes between.
    So it came that I was four or five as I was taken to the opera first time and loved it. That was in the 60thies and 70thies, In the 80thies my grandparents quitted and my father gave his tickets to me because a lot of what was done at the opera wasn’t to his taste anymore. In the 90thies then it had become so bad my aunts changed from an opera to a concert subscription and shortly after my mother did so too.
    By now no one in our family holds a subscription anymore and even worse: My young nephews though both interested in classical music don’t go to the opera anymore. They were as small kids there with me, they had to be there with their classes later – and since then they simply refuse to “pay for depressing, boring shows” which – I quote again – “only serve the egos of a few gaga intellectuals”. And even I who was for a long time saying “When the production is lousy I just close my eyes and listen to the music” have gotten enough. It’s rather obviously that German opera producers don’t care about their audience and so I’m not longer willing to be their audience and to pay for their odd exercises in destroying opera.

    • Dr. Barbara Eichner says:

      So why is the decline more marked for operetta and musical theatre? Neither suffers (or benefits) much from Regietheater stagings.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “That’s the “effect” of German Regietheatre.”

      That’s a brave assumption. People read less books than they did decades ago, people watch way more TV then they did decades ago. Couldn’t it be that there’s just more alternatives to do after dinner then in the medial stone age back then?

      But sure, let’s blame that on “German Regietheatre”, too.

      • Bylle Binder says:

        So it’s just people sticking in front of their tvs instead of going out? Hmm … and how do you explain that a lot of people go to musical theatres?

        • Dr. Barbara Eichner says:

          Except that numbers of musical-theatre goers are down as well, and by a larger percentage than opera goers. It would be interesting to compare the theatre figures with how the hospitality sector and cinemas are doing (i.e. are people going out less) and whether there is a correlation with view-on-demand such as Netflix. If there are economic reasons, they should show across the whole range of leisure activities.
          By the way, research by my colleague Prof. Alexandra Wilson has shown that there were similar anxieties in the 1920s around the rise of spectator sports, which put pressure on music halls, variety theatres and even opera houses.

    • Thomas Silverbörg says:

      Sibylle is correct.

  • Jeremy says:

    Right, but is this compiled in the aggregate? I mean does this one year dip really say anything in comparison to recent years.

  • anon says:

    “There was no obvious cause.”


    (Pace, it was a joke.)

    • Sue says:

      LOL. Muslims don’t like music!! (Another, er, joke)

      • Tireedofitall says:

        Your humour is shameful. Despite your caveats, there are certain jokes that simply aren’t funny, especially in this political climate. There are bigots out there who simply repeat anything they see as support of their cause. These then become facts and ammunition.

        I’m sure some clever person can make similar jokes about this decline in attendance by citing Jews, gays, women…or maybe even you. Er, all in jest, of course.

        • Sue says:

          Yes, shameful. You, of course, are the guardian of public morality and the setting of standards of virtue. I suspect you are really just an old-fashioned chronic enabler.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Your humour is shameful. Despite your caveats, there are certain jokes that simply aren’t funny, especially in this political climate. There are bigots out there who simply repeat anything they see as support of their cause. These then become facts and ammunition.

        I’m sure some clever person can make similar jokes about this decline in attendance using Jews, gays, women…or maybe even you. Er, all in jest, of course.

        • John Borstlap says:


        • Sue says:

          The Left has no sense of humour. So your admonition is yet more evidence of that lamentable fact. Trouble is, nobody is ‘allowed’ by them to laugh at very much at all.
          What sorry people you are and how sad your lives – so busy adhering to doctrines and arid ideologies and endless, endless finger wagging. Same goes for safe spaces and all other forms of pathological altruism and consciousness-devouring over-protection.

          • Tiredofitall says:

            Sue, I expected no less of you. I trust you’ve read history and keep abreast of current affairs.

          • Petros Linardos says:

            You are constantly wagging your finger at a left that doesn’t exist in the real world.

        • jaypee says:

          sue is a trumpanzee.
          What did you expect?
          A classy and informed comment?

      • Von Schneider says:

        As birth rates for native Germans is low and declining, whilst birth rates for ethnic minorities is high and increasing it is highly likely that the opera-going audience in Germany will also decline in future years. You may regard that as a racist comment, alas.

        Perhaps all the new arrivals from Africa and the Middle East will embrace opera. However, Turks have lived in Germany since the 50s and they do not appear to have come around to the idea at all.

        So yes, regardless of what you choose to believe, the ethnic make-up of a nation does make an impact on opera audiences.

        • Tiredofitall says:

          Your rationale is not racist, if based on facts.

          However, racism–even in the context of a joke–is never acceptable. EVER. You’d think lessons would have been learned.

          • Gonzalo says:

            Boo boo. If you can’t resist a joke, then stay in bed.
            Besides, you can’t deny the effects of irregular illegal immigration that, when done as a consumption good for those who take part of the business network only and when it certainly affects and unstabilise society and security (at least that happens in LAm, high numbers of new mouths to care but resources remain the same except for the politicians and media people involved that gets their pay. I don’t know the right situation for Germany but immigration is a variable as many others.
            But one remark you make is truthful, it is dangerous to take the whole box as rotten when truth is there’s only one or two. Paranoia and hate is as stupid as being blindfolded of the dangers and effects of assimilating thousands of unknown foreigners just for the sake of political correctness. Both extremes are awful and must be avoided. Most times truth or the best track to follow is somewhere in the middle.

        • John Borstlap says:

          “As birth rates for native Germans is low and declining, whilst birth rates for ethnic minorities is high and increasing it is highly likely that the opera-going audience in Germany will also decline in future years.” Since culture is independent upon ethnicity, it can be easily absorbed by ‘newcomers’ or descendents from newcomers. If German generations from Turkish origin are oblivious of the art form, this is probably due to lack of any initiative from the locals to offer information and educational programs. Also, if locals feel less and less committed to their own culture, there won’t be much impetus for such initiatives. Exactly because of the demographic changes, transferring culture to new generations is of great importance. The increasing indifference of younger German generations in European culture, including classical music and opera, is therefore a much more serious problem.

          An additional problem is ‘new opera’, where modernist musical languages create a hughe psychological and aesthetic barrier, as a corpse from the ‘wild sixties’, as well as ‘Regieoper’ which for people who have not lived through the postmodernist gobbeldigock insanity is simply incomprehensible (rats instead of people, 18C protagonists in New York MacDonalds, etc.) – as if the original plots are already quite difficult to understand for non-European audiences.

          Given the increasing cases of successful performers from immigrant backgrounds, excelling in the European classical repertoire, proves that it is not ethnicity which prevents the art form form being absorbed. For instance, the young half-Iranian but very German conductor David Afkham declared in an interview that his deepest musical commitment was with the early German romantic music.

        • william osborne says:

          Istanbul (a big city in Turkey) outranks Boston for opera performances per capita by 53 positions (197 vs. 250.) Same story for many American cities. It outranks Manchester (UK) by 183 positions.

          Working class Turks go to Germany for employment. The more educated who would attend opera stay in Turkey. Turks fill working class jobs because Germans have upward class mobility — i.e. an even greater educated German public is created.

          Logic is of little use if its conclusions are based on false premises.

          • Robert Groen says:

            Spot on, Wliiam! Over gthe decades, my country has been blessed with a number of immigration waves. first people from the (former) colonies in the Caribbean, then Italians, followed by Spanish and eventually (and, I must say, most disruptively) Moroccans. None of these sudden increases in the population, nor the resulting soaring birth rates, led to a marked increase in opera attendance, for the very reason that you mentioned. Even the influx of numerous Italians failed to swell audiences. Nothing to do with Regietheater (that came later) and everything to do with the lowly position of these immigrants on the economic ladder. They came here to work, to send money home. Opera? What opera?

          • Petros Linardos says:

            What do we know about assimilation and upward mobility of immigrants in Germany? I know it happens, because of anecdotal evidence, but have no idea about its extent.

    • Jie Yin says:

      You know what? India does not have a functioning Opera Theatre at all, we also barely see any Indian singers in Opera … But Indian people are everywhere … Plus, most of the audiences are over 40 years old – please, don’t say young people love it unless they’re learning it, most of the youths don’t go to see opera at all. So, more old people died, youths are not coming in, immigrants who don’t have such cultural heritage for opera … all those could cause this 2.2% … By the way, I think it has nothing to do with Muslim, actually we know many Jewish instrumentalists and conductors, but barely any great opera singers … in contrast, there are many good Turkish opera singers, what would you say that?

      • Tiredofitall says:

        “but barely any great opera singers”? You may want to check your facts. And these are just some of the big names. Also check out lists of those singers who suffered under the Nazis.

        John (a)Braham

        Natalie Dessay

        Albert de Costa

        Marta Eggerth

        Maria Galvany

        Alma Gluck

        Amy Goldstein

        Igor Gorin

        Reynaldo Hahn

        Melitta Heim

        Maria Ivogun

        Fritzi Jokl

        Alexander Kipnis

        Jan Kiepura

        Selma Kurz

        Evelyn Lear

        Emanuel List

        George London

        Robert Merrill

        Berta Morena

        Jan Peerce

        Roberta Peters

        Rosa Raisa

        Judith Raskin

        Mark Reizen

        Maurice Renaud

        Regina Resnick

        Lotte Schoene

        Neil Shicoff

        Josef Schmidt

        Friedrich Schorr

        Beverly Sills

        Jennie Tourel

        Richard Tauber

        Richard Tucker

        Leonard Warren

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Very difficult to pinpoint a cause in such a varied collection of organisations and venues.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Perhaps, but there is one common factor: the classical repertoire. The field has been frozen into a museum culture where a canon is repeated ad infinitum (occaionally interrupted by the obligatory Klangkunst intervention), plus a small territory at the fringes with indigestible Klangkunst (with its own indigesitble audience). While the classical concert circuit obviously need new impulses, and fierce debate, the overall climate is a mere ‘do as we always did’. Given the German penchant for debating, thorough soul searching, and philosophical drilling, it is truly startling to observe the absence of disussion about the greatest German cutural asset: its music life. German TV offers many endless debate programs about politics and nowadays especially, the ‘migrant crisis’, and the rightwing surge and neonazi abberations, with emotions flying high – but culture and especially, music, is cordoned-off like a high-brow salon where the windows are barricaded against the realities of the world. The professional magazines offer the regular little news items but never any big idea. The magazines for ‘new music’ chew upon stuff of a half century old, as if nothing has changed. When Holger Noltze published his book ‘Die Leichtigkeitslüge’ – I think in 2010 – as a protest against the attempts to ‘sell’ classical music to younger generations with hip wrapping paper, there was some rippling for a while, but it soon died down again and the educational programs at primary schools to prepare children for the appreciation of Klangkunst went on as usual – spoiling their possible receptivity for music altogether. And these are the inheritants of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Strauss, etc. etc.

      It is understandable that gradually, audience interest in the museum culture will erode.

      • Martin says:

        …than just write music that someone is interested in.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed, as actually is happening in France, where a new tonal music is emerging again: Beffa, Connesson, Bacri, Escaich, Dubugnon, etc. In Germany the shadow of the brown period still hangs over new music, so that new tonal music is invoking unsavory political associations (rightwing, fascistoid, reactionary) while Klangkunst symbolizes Western modernity.

          But new music is only a minor problem in comparison with the bigger picture.

  • John G. Deacon says:

    Perhaps regietheater is finally beginning to have an effect ? After the Valencia production of “Samson & Al Qaeda” anything is possible……. and certain things, even at the ROH, remind us that the disease is still spreading …..

    So watch out for the next production by the famous Catalan hooligans La Fura dels Bollocks (sic) !! After a lifetime in the opera my 30+ perfs. a year are now in serious decline as we take greater care than before as to what insults we may risk being exposed to……

    • Dr. Barbara Eichner says:

      As I mentioned above (because that hypothesis has been offered before), figures for operetta and musical theatre are down by 6.4%.

    • Thomasina says:

      Not just the opera…it’s a surprise of life when the prince in Firebird appears with a chicken’s costume (in Vienna).

  • Robert Groen says:

    I’m inclined to think economic factors may be at play.

    • Urania says:

      Me too do think that classical middle class has other problems now, Euro did bring up tickets but not earnings for so many. A opera visit for two, medium seats, medium town plus 2 drinks and snacks can come to 200 Euro easily. And…people might be flat hunting for years…a new tragedy in a country where most are renters. No time for music!

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    One headline figure by itself isn’t very helpful.

    Is this 2.2% part of a trend over years/decades ?

    That would be more interesting to know.

  • V.Lind says:

    There’s a substantial difference in the opera category and the operetta and musicals one. Around here you can;t get enough people through the door to Lucia di Lammermoor but Mamma Mia has extended runs and still all the ticket requests can’t be satisfied. I suspect economic reasons as they stretch across the board.

  • Don Fatale says:

    Not sure it makes much sense as is. What if there were 2.2% fewer performances?

  • Bylle Binder says:

    Unfortunately I’m not wondering. I only have to look at my family. As I was a small child we had seven longstanding opera-subscriptions in the family: My parents, my grandparents, an aunt with her husband, a younger aunt. Going into the opera at least once a month was “normal” in our family, it was talked about, we know all the singers in Stuttgart, my grandfather used to sing Mozart arias while working (he’d once been a carpenter and as a pensioner he started to work with wood again). I was only three or four years old as they started to take me with them to the opera and I was delighted!
    And then the Stuttgart opera made more and more Regietheater productions – and in the end my entire family had quitted their subscriptions because they didn’t like that anymore. By now we haven’t one and my young nephews were only twice in the opera – once with me, once with the school and although both are playing an instrument (the one plays guitar and piano, the other trumpet) and both like classical music – they don’t like opera and are not interested.

    • Robert Groen says:

      I can well understand your frustration at the steady advance of what has become known as Regietheater. Let me assure you that Stuttgart is not the only opera house affected by this phenomenon. Regietheater has spread across the operatic stages of the world like an oil slick, producing such disasters as the Netherlands Opera’s Fliegende Hollaender, Valencia’s insane Ring des Nibelungen (even odder than the Copenhagen one), though perhaps not so odd as the recent amazing Ring from Mannheim, directed by Achim Freyer. I’ll get back to him in a moment. You can see, perhaps, that I have a special fondness for Wagner. Who doen’t? (don’t answer that!). So, to stick with the Ring, it was the Stuttgart Opera that came up with the weirdest Ring of all. The weirdness lay not only in the fact that it represented Regietheater at its most bizarre, it lay also in the decision to place the direction in the hands of not one, but four different directors, one for each doomladen day in Nordrhein-Westfalen. The one saving grace that this tetralogy might have had, i.e. a sense of continuity, of a unified concept (however outlandish) was not there. This was even more evident in the casting, with no character being portayed by the same artist more than once. Thus we had six Rheintoechter, three Wotans, two Frickas, two Fafners, two Siegfrieds, and so on. The one binding factor, and an important one, was Lothar Zagrosek, who conducted brilliantly. In fact, musically this Ring was of a pretty high standard with some very fine singing from the likes of Bracht, Rootering, Probst and Denoke. Finally, back to Achim Freyer. He’s done some strange things in his career. But one production for which he was responsible stands out. His 1980 Stuttgart Der Freischuetz is an absolute gem. Conceived as a series of tableaux vivants in the style of Bohemian naive art it is itself a work of art. I’ve seen a fair number of Freischuetzes, but this one is, and will stay, top of my list.

  • Martin says:

    hey New Yorker’s, don’t you think it’s Peter Gelb’s fault?

  • YS says:

    Robert Groen, what kind of taste do you have? I remember that Freyers Freischuetz had masturbation scenes in the forest. And those kind of operas are one of your tops? Freyer destroys Opera

  • Helene Kamioner says:

    Everyone is in Munich at Oktoberfest.

  • Andreas B. says:

    Here is the link to the actual press release, which answers some of the relevant questions asked in the comments above:

    some key sentences (roughly translated):

    1. ‘total performance numbers have gone down by 2,2%’ (from 67 257 to 65 794)

    2. ‘fluctuations like these are not unusual’

    3. ‘remarkably, other types of events aimed at communicating content and encouraging dialogue with the audience have attracted more viewers’
    (“theaternahes Rahmenprogramm” +5,2% and “sonstige Veranstaltungen” +7,9%)

    Of course, some commenters’ reflexes kick in when they see a post about Germany – it is much more appealing to start their (predictable) rants about immigrants or regietheater instead of looking for some facts…

  • Chiedu Egbuniwe says:

    As usual, there is nothing vaguely scientific in the alarmist use of statistics on this site. A one-year drop of 2.2 percent is insignificant. For example, 2017 worldwide film box office was down 8 percent from 2016, yet 2018’s grosses have already surpassed 2017. Trends by definition must be studied over time. If there is a sharp decline in Germany’s opera ticket sales in 2019, then there is cause for concern.

    Ballet, unfortunately, is another matter. Ballet’s numbers have been soft for years. THAT’S the real story.