On the Arts

For the past several years, Lori and I have taken my grandmother to see Handel's Messiah around Christmas time.  This is a win on many levels.  We all love the performance, it's nice to spend time with Grammy, and I favor intangible gifts like this in general but especially for people who already have every material possession they could want (and in her case, are in the process of distributing many of those possessions in order to reduce clutter).

Until last year, we saw the performance at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall; but I've become increasingly annoyed at shelling out $75 per ticket only to watch my two female companions fall asleep for some non-trivial portion of the concert.  So, I was delighted to find a very local performance in 2010, and even more so when I learned the cost to me would be about 1/3 of the city show.  This year's performance was more than adequate to our untrained ears, and - judging by Grammy's nap - the seats at this venue were every bit as comfortable.  Lori stayed awake the whole time, I think.

Anyway, Tyler Cowen's recent post on state support of the arts got me thinking about the true cost of shows like the one in Baltimore and the smaller one in our small town.  I've always noticed significant corporate and philanthropic sponsorship at events like this, but until last December I hadn't noticed the role that our state plays in directly supporting the group that staged the performance and the performance itself.  I want to thank Dr. Cowen for underscoring the nuance of the issue.  My knee-jerk thought in December was "why should my neighbors help pay for this concert if they're not going to attend it?" but I realize now that's only part of the problem.

By the way, I wondered back then, and wonder still:  what must it cost to put on a performance like the one we saw?  What are the economics of being a choral soloist?  As far as I could tell, all four of the principal performers were top-shelf (is that the correct musical term) - they'd performed at many venues and with many companies around the world, some of whose names I recognized.  Words like "Vienna," "Metropolitan Opera," and "la Scala" come to mind.  What must it cost to fly these people in for a single performance in a small town?  What do these performers net on a good year?  I couldn't even make an educated guess.  I'd love to hear from anyone who can either guess or tell me for sure.