Edited by Ruth Towse
Chapter 43: Opera and Ballet
Ruth Towse Opera and ballet have a common history and continue to share many economic features. They are specialized art forms that have developed over the last four centuries, requiring highly skilled performers on stage, an orchestra and a large body of back-stage staff, ranging from répétiteurs who rehearse the performers to specialist costume makers. Traditional opera and ballet companies consist of the ‘star’ principal performers and a large cast of company performers – the opera chorus and the corps de ballet. Both art forms make considerable physical demands on the performers and, as a result, the number of performances has to be carefully regulated. Opera and ballet are very often housed in the same theatre, which needs excellent acoustics and sight-lines; these are often old, heritage buildings that not only have limited seating capacity but are costly to maintain. Consequently, the opera house management has to programme both companies’ performances and rehearsal time on stage. All these features add up to make opera and ballet the most expensive of the performing arts, with opera taking the lead. The only study in cultural economics that has analysed opera and ballet together is the study of pricing which Blaug did in 1978 of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London’s international opera house (hereafter ROH) that is home to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet (Blaug, 1997). This still stands out as an exercise in the microeconomics of a performing arts organization. Cultural economists have subsequently tended to concentrate...
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