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Subject: Re: A question about composers
From: Geraldine <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Geraldine <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 28 Nov 2008 11:01:00 -0500

text/plain (86 lines)

About three or four years ago the Royal Opera house published some data on
audiences, which suggested that the opera audience was slightly more male
and the ballet audience slightly more female - IIRC, the balance was less
than 60/40 (or 40/60) in each case ie tending to 50/50.  I do not know the
source of the data - I wondered about sample bias eg in cases where m/f
couples attend together.  I have noticed, though, that for performances of
Rheingold, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, there is a long queue outside the
gents', while there isn't outside the women's. 

However, given your data on audiences worldwide, I would ask whether there
is an age factor to be considered - women on average living longer than men,
opera audiences on average being older than some other leisure activities.

For the substantive question, I would suggest that the reasons are either
societal or inherent, or a combination of both. Opera composing is an
activity that requires ability at the extreme (high) end of a normal
distribution of ability. I have read - although I cannot defend with sources
- that there are more men than women at both extreme ends of the ability

Historically, women were at a complete disadvantage to men in achieving in
almost all walks of life. 

Out of the very few living opera composers who get performed, perhaps the
two you mention, plus one or two more (I am thinking of a black woman who
had a work performed in ROH's Linbury; it might have been about a bird),
make up a proportion of living performed composers not dissimilar to the
number of women who hit the heights of achievement in business, politics,
technology etc. The complex reasons for this would take longer than a post
on Opera-L, but among them would be expectations; a disinclination to spend
prime childbearing years in work with small chance of reward/success; for
women with children, the inability to secrete oneself away for hours of
work; and not networking sufficiently smartly to get the commissions. 

I accept that all of these reasons can be caveated, they are not applicable
to all women, they can be applied to some men, and they can be countered
with numerous examples from art and literature in particular. But I assume
that these issues will have already been examined with some rigour by the class.

I don't recall studying Opera as part of my Sociology course. It all seemed
to be about work and war and food. Ah well!

>--- On Fri, 11/28/08, florence dupoit <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>From: florence dupoit <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject: A question about composers
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Received: Friday, November 28, 2008, 11:05 AM
>I have been invited to present a talk for a sociology class who are
studying the
>place of opera and music theater in modern society.  They have asked me to
>address one question in particular:
>The audience for opera worldwide, irrespective of age or location, is
>predominantly women.  Why, then are there almost no performances of operas by
>women composers?  (Kaija Saariaho and possibly Judith Weir seem to be the only
>And a corollary question:  
>It is often said that women have composed very few operas. Is this because
>their work is not performed--rather than the other way around? At least in the
>21st century?
>Thank you for any insights you may be able to offer.
>Dr. Florence Dupoit
>Montreal, Quebec

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