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The future of opera houses

The European anthem originates from the pen of one of the greatest composers worldwide – Ludwig van Beethoven. It is a symbol of European high culture. But what is the situation in the European cultural and theater landscape? Who actually goes to the opera, to concerts, or to the theater? And what does the internet mean for the entire industry?

Classical music as an expression of European values

The melody of the anthem of the European Union comes from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which in turn is based on a text by Friedrich Schiller. Both Schiller and Beethoven expressed their vision of all people becoming one brotherly community, a vision that also forms the basis for the foundation of the European Union. The “Ode to Joy” expresses the European values of freedom, peace and solidarity through the universal language of music.

The Treaty of Lisbon identifies the protection and development of Europe’s cultural heritage as one of the Union’s common objectives.

The Ninth Symphony represents European high culture, a high culture that is increasingly threatened with extinction. If one takes a look at the cultural and theatre landscape of Europe, a frightening picture emerges:

Where does the European cultural and theatre landscape stand today?
Study Germany (2018):

A representative survey from Germany shows that only 33%, or one-third of the population, are interested in traditional cultural offerings, including an above-average number of women (41% compared to 21% for men), older and highly educated people (45% compared to 26%) and urbanites. Few are frequent theatre-goers, and more than half are non-goers. Only 10% have attended a theatre at least four times in the last 12 months. 31% went to the theatre occasionally (one to three times) and 59% not at all.

City and state theatres should therefore – according to the study – ensure broad participation in addition to producing art. According to the majority opinion, municipal and state theatres should not only show art, but also take on social and societal tasks. When asked about expectations of the theatre, the expectations of programming came first: programmes for children and young people (89%).

Study among European theatres (2015):

The study “Audiences for European Theatres – Study of the status quo of audience development and audience research in the European Convention” paints a similar picture. The study is based on standardised data from 24 theatres from 17 different European countries. This study has produced other important results: In terms of audiences, large houses with multiple genres tend to attract larger audiences because the different genres cover a wider range of tastes. Smaller theatres have a much harder time, not least because they have fewer financial resources.

And there is another important finding: there is a significant difference between the ratio of visitors / 1000 inhabitants in the city centre and the ratio of visitors / 1000 inhabitants within a radius of 80 km (on average 583 to 108). Conversely, this means that if a person or child lives in the countryside, they are 81% less likely to attend a theatre.

The situation in the European countries of the Fortissimo partners

We have also reviewed the available statistical data from the European countries participating in the Fortissimo project. The analysis confirms the cultural behaviour outlined above and in particular the preferences of the respondents for opera and theatre. We found the following commonalities:

  • Among children and young people there are the highest proportions of spectators of theatre and classical (school) concerts.
  • Theatre and opera tend to be attended by young people, especially women, and in general those who do attend are not frequent visitors.
  • Greaterattendance is observed in large cities, while it is low in small towns or villages.
  • The main reasons for not visiting are the lack of time and interest, the cost and finally the low cultural offer in the place of residence.
Changing conditions

In addition, our research found that televisions, smartphones and PCs/laptops are present in almost all European households. Children use smartphones almost every day and access the internet mostly through smartphones, laptops or tablets. 7 out of 10 households in Europe have internet access, and the number of households with internet access has increased massively over the years.

Men and women use the internet equally, and younger people tend to use the internet more than older people. Online use increases with age, while it decreases significantly among older generations. All people use the internet mainly for communication or personal purposes. Young people use the internet to watch content on video sharing platforms and for messaging services

Securing the audience of the future

And this is where Fortissimo comes in. To counter declining audiences, support audience development of European professional orchestras and opera houses, promote social and intercultural openness and follow the trend of using digital devices, Fortissimo presents classical music in a different, more familiar, digital way: with an app, teaching series available online and a digital music house with VR experiences.

Want to learn more about the Fortissimo project?