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New bums on opera seats - the transition from feudalism to liberal society mirrored in European opera houses 1750 - 1824

Conference contribution
Authors Staffan Albinsson
Published in Presented at the 13th Sound Economic History Workshop, September 2018
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE)
Language en
Keywords business history, economic history, opera, cultural economics
Subject categories Musicology, Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology), Economic History, Sociology


Opera has gone from a cherished vehicle for royal and aristocratic socializing to a forum for cultural experiences open to everybody. At least for those of us who can afford a ticket. This paper presents findings regarding the transition of audience revenues from the renting out of boxes and seats for all performances during one season to the aristocracy to a much larger share of tickets sold for single performances to a more general audience. Although it was a long, drawn-out process, it seems that the French Revolution was a tipping point not only for the French opera houses, but for those in other European countries as well. Possible pull factors for the much increased bourgeoisie demand are discussed. They include the general economic growth, stable ticket prices, technological evolution, changes in repertoire, the social identification factor, conspicuous consumption, and the new “celebrity industry.” This story is told based on primary data collected in the archives belonging to the Opéra National de Paris, Kungliga Operan in Stockholm, Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, Teatro Regio in Turin and Königlichen Preussische Hofoper in Berlin. Secondary sources are used to describe what occurred in opera venues in London. The paper will include information on how seats were sold, who rented boxes annually, box office revenues and on the share of these revenues in the opera revenues. The study ranges from 1750–1824.

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