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What percentage of the opera audience is female?

August 23, 2013

I was struck by the following passage in an article in today’s Seattle Times on the Seattle Opera’s 2013 performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle:

Women comprise 38 percent of the regular-season [Seattle Opera] attendees; 32 percent of the [attendees of the Seattle Opera’s] “Ring.”

Now, this pretty much goes against every experience I’ve had in attending operas (and I have to admit to attending quite a few both in Europe and North America):  women inevitably form the majority of the audience.  I have a difficult time believing that even for the über-masculine Wagner operas they comprise only a third of the audience.  (I must confess that the stereotypical Margaret Dumont [Mrs. Claypool] character in the Marx Brothers’ A Night At the Opera sometimes even rings true.)

A 2008 National Endowments for the Arts study (see Figure 3-10 on page 21 – PDF page 29) on the subject claimed that 57.8% of the opera audience in the preceding twelve months was female. 

So, I cannot make sense of the claim in the Seattle Times.  The only theory I can formulate is that perhaps – given the economic realities of income distribution in the US (particularly in people over 45, who comprise the majority of opera goers – see the same NEA study), men form the majority of ticket buyers rather than total attendees of Seattle Opera performances. 

PS:  If you look at other columns in that same NEA table, you’ll notice that the only types of performances for which the male audience outnumbers the female audience is classical music and Latin music – and even then only by slim majorities (52.2% and 53.3%).   Note also that among the performing arts listed in Figure 3-10, opera has the largest percentage of audience with graduate school education – which is undoubtedly related somehow to the high cost of opera tickets (perhaps this also explains why opera audiences tend to be so much more affluent than patrons of the other performing arts.)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2013 2:37 am

    Just to make the record clear: I think that Margaret Dumont was brilliant as an actress — not as widely appreciated as she ought to be, but a genius.

  2. August 24, 2013 8:26 pm

    I loved Margaret Dumont in all the Marx Brothers movies she shone in.

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