Opera and classical music are selling better as the year ends. But the increase in sales owes largely to a few shining stars in the business. The traditional music sector is still struggling to reach young listeners.
"Sex sells" is a good rule for opera singers, as Anna Netrebko shows
“If it were up to me, we would broadcast an opera twice a week during prime time,” said the programming director of Germany’s largest private television station at a media conference in Berlin two years ago. Why that never took place and why classical music is still only shown on specialty stations, was clear right away.
“Unfortunately, no one is interested in it. We would have less than one percent viewer ratings,” he said.
In December 2004, the opera singer Anna Netrebko proved that classic music could be popular when she reached out to some 14 million Germans or 47 percent of the viewing audience during a prime time appearance on public broadcaster ZDF’s entertainment show “Wetten, dass…?” (Bet that...). Of course, the majority of her viewers probably tuned in to see the follow-up acts by the other guests Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue.
Anna Netrebko charmed talk show host Thomas Gottshalk with her voice and stunning appearance
Nonetheless, when the Russian soprano sang an aria from “Gianni Schicchi” a cross-section of the German public was listening and watching. After her performance when the opera diva was overwhelmed with compliments for her beautiful voice from the show’s host and British pop star Robbie Williams, people -- particularly non-opera buffs -- took notice.
Stars boost sales
The example of Netrebko’s rise in popularity is typical of the current trend in classical music and opera.
In the first three months of 2004, album sales for classical music rose by 2.3 percent, according to the German recording industry association ifpi. Largely responsible for the increase are stars like Netrebko or the Chinese “Wunderpianist” Lang Lang, who attracted over a million television viewers when he appeared on ZDF to receive a “Classic Echo” award.
But, such statistics deceive. When compared to sales in the record industry as a whole, classic music is a “special interest.” In 2003, the segment accounted for only 7.1 percent of overall sales. More than half of all music sold was purchased by customers over 50. Listeners under 30 make up just five percent of all classical music fans.
Classical music isn't very hip among young people
The phenomena is one concert organizers see first-hand as fewer and fewer young people buy tickets for classical performances. The “Youth Culture Barometer 2004” which measures trends in the younger generation examined the popularity of classical music among listeners between 14 and 25. Only eight percent of them frequently went to classical concerts and six percent went to the opera.
The primary reason for the lack of interest is the way the performances take place, said the director of the Center for Culture Research, Andreas Wiesand. “Classical concerts just aren’t very motivating. Younger people want something more informal. They’re not willing to sit sill for three hours,” he said.
According to the culture expert, it’s a generational problem. “A lot more could be done to make the performances interesting,” Wiesand said with a view to Simon Rattle, the popular director of the Berlin Philharmonic.
Generating youth interest
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Rattle, who has taken Berlin and the music world by storm with his non-traditional methods and approaches to attracting new audience, was recently honoured with the Comenius Prize for his efforts to introduce classical music to youths.
Since 2002 Rattle has headed up the education program of the Philharmonic and taken his orchestra into the schools to teach music. The professional musicians practice their current repertoire with the students and even allow some of them to perform with the world-class ensemble on stage.
In addition to the education program, Rattle has also introduced a youth discount ticket, which allows young people to visit various Berlin concert houses for just €6 ($8), thereby reducing the financial barrier to classical music and opera.
The efforts paid off during the summer when some 22,000 people, including hundreds of younger classical music fans, turned out for the Philharmonic’s Open-Air Concert. Lang Lang performed with the orchestra, and the entire performance was broadcast during prime time on German television.