by Antony Feeny1

Opera Europa is regularly asked by its members for information on how their particular opera company compares with other opera organisations. Often they are responding to their governments, or to the country’s media, or to the company’s directors, or to some other relevant stakeholders, who are keen to investigate how they measure up – or sometimes are just looking for reasons to criticise their performance.


It is to meet this need that Opera Europa has been assembling a comprehensive map of the sector to help promote opera in Europe. By collecting a few basic data, we can provide statistics to shed light on how opera companies compare. This is acting as a foundation for more in-depth research in the form of the ‘benchmarking’ of performance which has commenced recently. This benchmarking involves gathering accurate data for members to use to monitor their performance compared to other similar opera companies, as has become increasingly common among members of Opera America.
Many members have responded enthusiastically to our request. 76 companies have submitted the results for 20 items of data covering performances, ticket sales, staff, types of income, and expenditure. In addition, we have collected public data covering a further 44, making a total of 120 companies included in this mapping survey. These cover the period 2015-16, although the relevant years may differ between companies.
The basic results are summarised in the table below, although not all companies supplied every item of data:
Item Total Figure  Range per company Average per company
Opera Performances 11.125 4 – 311  93
Opera Productions 1.499 1 – 56 13
Tickets Sold (all types) 18.502.710 298 – 859.434 165.203
Permanent Staff  41.975 0 – 1.496 359
Earned Income €1.053,3m €0,008 – 93,5m €9,0m
Contributed Income €2.694,3m  €0,125 – 108,7m €23,0m
Total Labour Costs €2.455,4m €0,087 – 118,9m €21,2m
Total Expenditure €3.697,8m €0,153 – 211,6m €31,9m
But these figures give only a limited picture of both the similarities and the differences between all the member companies. For example, as shown in Figure 1, 40 companies (or 34% of the total) gave fewer than 50 performances in a year, and 73 (62%) fewer than 100, but 8 companies (7%) gave more than 200 performances.
The picture is quite similar in the case of the numbers of tickets sold, although these data cover all types of activities including ballet, theatre, and tours. As shown in Figure 2, 41 companies (or 37% of the total of 112 here) sold fewer than 100,000 tickets, whilst 12 (11%) sold more than 300,000.

Although subsidy from governments was by far the most important source of income for nearly all member companies at 67% in total, followed by nearly 20% for ticket sales, the proportion of funds coming from these and the other sources varied widely between member companies. Figure 3 shows the split between the four main sources, namely ticket and other sales (both earned income), and public and private (both contributed income).


Average revenue per ticket ranged from €5,41 to €155,10 with a total average of €39,14, as shown in Figure 4.  Because the economies and per capita incomes of each of Opera Europa’s countries are quite different, we have also adjusted these figures to compare them more consistently using World Bank Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)2 data. This adjustment increases the average revenue per ticket only slightly, to €40,20. Interestingly there was no correlation (~0.7) between ticket prices and the proportion of earned versus contributed income.

Labour is unsurprisingly the largest item of expenditure. The total cost of both permanent and freelance staff was €2.455 million, or around two thirds of all expenditure. As with ticket prices, you would also expect to see some large differences between countries in the average cost of the total of 41.975 permanent staff employed. Although the sample size for the average salary figures was smaller (86 companies since there are not as yet data for the permanent salaries of all companies), there were indeed large differences ranging from €6.200 to €95.600 per staff, with an average of €31.000, although adjusted for PPP the bottom of the range increased to €13.900, as shown in Figure 5.


So, the picture painted by these results from the preliminary mapping task shows a wide variety in the experiences of member companies when looked at in total. The data are at a high level only, however, and as we move further into the more detailed benchmarking, we expect to be able to draw more instructive comparisons between those opera companies that are more similar to each other, rather than just comparing all companies regardless of their specific characteristics. At a time when financial resources are stretched and funders are seeking greater value for money, we hope that this work can provide facts to defend our position, and comparisons to enable companies to improve their activities by sharing information.

1 Antony Feeny is an economist and accountant, and recently completed his PhD on the financial sustainability of opera and orchestral music.
2 PPP takes into account different prices in different countries by comparing a range of basic goods


Based on this sample of 120 opera companies, one can estimate that Opera Europa’s total membership may account each year for at least:
• 15.000 opera performances
• 2.000 opera productions
• 50.000 permanent jobs
• 25 million tickets sold
• €5.000 million turnover