Opera, and the question of whether it is only for the well-heeled, made it into the Occupy Wall Street debate last week.
NPR Music posted an item Wednesday highlighting two New York Times stories. In one, food critic Sam Sifton went on with rich operatic analogies in his review of a restaurant where dinner started at $295, pointing out that orchestra seats to the Metropolitan Opera's production of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore ran $330 — both excluding wine.
The culture clash in a story that the Met had set a fund- raising record of $182 million came in the comments section.
"At least some of those sickening Wall Street bonuses are going to good use," one commenter posted. Another said, "Just as drug money built the Miami skyline, the corrupt nature of New York's financial center will continue to fund the monuments of their success."
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There were numerous references to "the 1 percent," meaning the wealthiest people in the country whose income far exceeds that of the rest of the nation — "the 99 percent," as Occupy Wall Street folks refer to themselves.
With that context, NPR Music asked, "Is opera stuff (that only) rich people like?"
The real question seemed to be is: "Is the Metropolitan Opera stuff (that only) rich people like?"
Most opera companies do not charge $80 to $415 a seat, which is what it would have cost to get into all but the top tier at the Met for Friday night's performance of The Barber of Seville. By comparison, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre's production of Roméo et Juliette, which opens Friday for a two- weekend run, is $40 for adult tickets. Tickets to The Marriage of Figaro by Louisville's Kentucky Opera, Nov. 18 to 20, are $28 to $95.
Even at those prices, a night at the opera is real money to most households, but it's probably doable if you love opera and want to go.
And really, that's the thing with any upper-level live entertainment: Most people will put their money where their passion is.
People who defend the price of the Met and other cultural institutions that charge into the triple digits like to say that tickets to, for instance, major league sports are pricey, too, particularly for good seats.
But major league sports thrive because there are fans willing to pay those prices, and there are other ways to enjoy those sports aside from going to the game. I am a lifelong New York Yankees fan, but I have never seen a game in Yankee Stadium. Same for my Washington Redskins.
It is possible to be an opera fan without ever going to the Metropolitan Opera.
You have local companies, such as UK and Kentucky Opera. Another group, Bluegrass Opera, charged adults $20 for its most recent show. Here in Lexington, with several colleges in the area, there are often free or inexpensive concerts and recitals by students who might not be Metropolitan Opera singers yet but might be someday.
And there are plenty of ways to listen to recordings and radio broadcasts relatively inexpensively or for free, even those from the Met. There are movie theater simulcasts many Saturdays, and many of those are shown on PBS and released on DVD. Locally, WKYL-102.1 FM is bringing the Met's radio broadcasts back to the Bluegrass, and there are many ways to hear operas online.
Yes, you probably do need to be rich to make a major donation to the Met. But love of opera crosses all socio-economic boundaries.