Notes and Coins: The Financial Sustainability of Opera and Orchestral Music

Antony Feeny

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Throughout their histories, opera and large-scale orchestral music have rarely
been able to cover the costs of their performance without external support, and
yet they continue to flourish. This thesis examines this issue to confirm that
there has been a continual shortfall of sales revenues compared to costs,
assesses why this has been the case, looks at how such shortfalls have typically
been funded, and asks why these art forms have nevertheless survived for more
than four hundred years (the “sustainability dilemma”).

The thesis takes a multi-disciplinary approach covering several areas which
have not yet been systematically explored. After a review of the relevant
theoretical foundations for the study of the classical music industry and its
economics, it explores the meaning of sustainability and various forms of value
key to the survival of opera and orchestral music. This is followed by an
overview of the economic history of opera, and a selective examination of some
important aspects of its economics which are not typically highlighted.

The financial situation of the classical music industry in the post-War years is
evaluated in new ways by combining interviews with over 150 people active in
the contemporary classical music and related businesses with analysis of
financial data. These data are drawn from a variety of primary sources
including the recent financial accounts of a wide range of classical music
organisations in the UK, as well as selectively for other key musical countries
including Germany and the USA.

The current funding model of opera and orchestral music based on income from
commercial, governmental and philanthropic sources appears still to be robust,
if unorthodox in terms of today’s standard business models. The thesis
concludes by highlighting some of the options that may face opera and
orchestral music if the future were to bring a more financially challenging
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Morcom, Anna, Supervisor
  • Tan, Shzr, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Opera
  • Orchestral music
  • Financial sustainability
  • Classical music
  • Sustainability dilemma
  • Cultural economics
  • Opera economics
  • Value
  • Business model
  • Philanthropy
  • Patronage
  • Subsidy
  • Box office
  • Ticket sales
  • Future of opera
  • Economic history of opera
  • Baumol's cost disease
  • Unit cost of opera
  • Opera and musicals
  • Opera houses
  • Social positioning of classical music
  • Commercial viability of classical music
  • Opera ecosystem
  • Classical music industry size
  • Classical music and status
  • Earned income
  • Contributed income
  • Music sponsorship
  • Arts Council England
  • Funding opera
  • Efficiency of opera
  • Royal Opera House Covent Garden
  • Glyndebourne
  • New York Metropolitan Opera
  • Country house opera
  • Festival opera
  • Deutsche Bühnenverein
  • Musicking
  • Funding model
  • Bayreuth Festival
  • English National Opera
  • English Touring Opera
  • Classical music performing organisations
  • William Baumol
  • John Rosselli
  • Cyril Ehrlich
  • Ruth Towse
  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • John Ebers
  • Louis Veron
  • Touring opera
  • Grand opera
  • Lorenzo Bianconi
  • Thomas Ertman
  • FM Scherer
  • Tyler Cowen
  • Pierre Boulez
  • Palais Garnier
  • Teatro alla Scala
  • Wiener Staatsoper
  • Opera national de Paris
  • Mariinsky Theatre
  • Domenico Barbaja
  • Bayerische Staatsoper
  • Staatsoper Berlin
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Teatro San Cassiano
  • Thomas Beecham
  • Imperial League of Opera
  • Opera Syndicate
  • Royal Academy of Music
  • Covent Garden Opera Syndicate
  • Eustace Blois
  • Szarvasy F.A.
  • Philippe Agid
  • Jacques Tarondeau
  • Oscar Hammerstein I
  • BBC orchestras
  • Southbank Centre
  • Welsh National Opera
  • Experience economy
  • Stagione
  • Classical music recording
  • Musicians Union
  • André Rieu
  • Three tenors
  • Classical music sources of income
  • Music trusts and foundations
  • Music friends and members
  • Music ticket prices
  • Neoliberal economics
  • Opera super fans
  • Regional Arts Association
  • Creative Scotland
  • Theaterstatistik
  • Komische Oper
  • London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • London Symphony Orchestra
  • Birmingham Opera Company
  • New York City Opera
  • Matchday income
  • Stiftung Oper in Berlin
  • Les Miserables
  • Tristan und Isolde
  • Richard Wagner
  • Operabase
  • Raymond Gubbay
  • Abbate & Parker
  • Berliner Philharmoniker
  • New York Philharmonic
  • Impresario

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