Despite the upsurge of new music compositions by living composers, opera houses and symphonies are often reluctant to include modern and contemporary music and operas in their programs. While the entire musical community and professional experts are deploring the lack of new music in opera houses and symphonies, musical institutions are increasingly shifting their programs toward a small canon of famous operas of the past, with no commitment to new music. Recent data gathered from Opera Europa show the absence of 20thand 21st century opera composers among the 10 worldwide most played ones.
Indeed this resilience to modern and contemporary music is undoubtedly a public policy problem. As a matter of fact, opera houses are tax-exempted organizations funded by the government and charged by society to choose what to program not only on the basis of audience actual taste (i.e.: the box office), but also by considering what is judged by professional experts as ‘good’ for audience cultivation of taste and for the classical music field development. The controversial issue is to understand which forces drive the introduction of modern and contemporary music in opera houses musical seasons. Exploring Determinants of Programming Contemporary Music and Opera: Evidence from Italy, a recent article by Alex Turrini (Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management, ASK Research Center) and Giulia Cancellieri (ASK Research Center) analyses both the constraining factors as well as potential key drivers to stage modern and contemporary music in opera houses. While most economic studies have typically focused their attention on the effect of public or private funding on theatres’ programming choices, this paper, presented at the 17th International Conference of the Association for Cultural Economics International (ACEI), adopts a more extensive framework consideringthe impact offurther economic factors (i.e.: pressures from the market, competition, diffusion of economic innovation), political forces (i.e.: pressure from local elected representatives), and institution related factors (i.e.: slack resources, risk propensity of the decision makers) on programming choices.
By examining the programming decisions of 30 opera houses in Italy over 5 years, using panel data regression analysis, the paper provides several insights in the determinants of programming contemporary music. First of all, coherently with previous works in the field, this article highlights that pressures from the box office is one of the major constraining factor in staging modern and contemporary works. Second, one of the most striking results of this study indicates that political forces are not countervailing the pressure from the market: as a matter of fact neither national nor local government financial contributions stimulate the programming of modern works. By contrast, both forces influence it in a negative way. In addition, this paper highlights that electoral cycles (i.e. the approach to the election days) do not have an impact on opera house programming decisions. Instead the renewal of local political representatives influence them. Specifically, the higher the number of local governments’ years in office, the higher the willingness of local political representatives to satisfy the electorate current cultural preferences. As a consequence they press opera houses to follow audience current tastes, relenting public commitment to stage modern and contemporary operas. By contrast the political renewal on a local territory fosters innovation in opera houses programming decisions.
Finally the empirical findings in this paper also show that theatres with large subscribers base are more likely to program contemporary works. This challenges the stereotypical view of subscribers as a conservative audience group. Instead, the presence of a large subscriber base fosters risk taking in opera houses programming decisions. Developing trustworthy relationships with the audience becomes therefore a potential key driver of innovation in this sector.