Weathering the Storm

There may be a financial crisis, but in Vienna, performing arts organizations still play to full houses and turbulence feels far away

Despite the financial crisis, concert attendance is growing; the Konzerthaus experienced a surge | Photo: Andreas Praefcke

There may be a financial crisis, but in Vienna, the entire world’s still a stage and the houses are full. In a survey of leading galleries, museums, theatres, concert halls and operas, the picture seems, on the whole, to be one of business as usual. Locals and tourists both continue to flood the ticket offices. Only in the area of sponsorships, report local presenters, have the economic contractions taken a noticeable toll.

At the Konzerthaus, for example, audience numbers are actually up:

“It is fascinating that for the Viennese audiences music is extremely important, even in economically difficult situations,” Bernhard Kerres, director of the Wiener Konzerthaus, told The Vienna Review. He reported “a surge in subscribers over the last 18 months,” and over 400 “well-booked” concerts, with sponsors continuing to support the house. “I am worried, though, about the situation in other countries,” he said, particularly, “about the financial difficulties of some U.S. orchestras.”

Audiences have also remained strong at less traditional performance stages, most notably at the leading jazz clubs, like Jazzland at Schwedenplatz, or Porgy & Bess, on Riemergasse, or at intimate hot spots like Zwe, on Floßgasse in the 2nd, where regulars report “the scene is hopping.” Hadn’t the cold wind of the crisis had kept the crowds at home? “Not yet,” said Christoph Huber, owner/manager of Porgy & Bess.

Some of the change is in what people want to see, a choice for comedy, music and satire over darker works. Eva Langheiter of Theater Drachengasse has noticed “a distinct trend” toward entertainment.

“The comical, musical and improvisational pieces are booming,” Langheiter said.  “Works which deal implicitly or explicitly with problems (crisis and other) have shown a drop of interest of 10% compared to last year.”

At the Burgtheater, a brief downturn had already given way to a clear trend toward recovery, spurred at least in part by the appointment of a new director:

“At the start of the crisis, we had the impression that the audience went to the theatre with greater restraint, especially small groups, including families,” said Konstanze Schäfer, press spokesperson for Vienna’s leading dramatic stage. However, following the appointment of director Matthias Hartmann, “the curiosity and resulting surge of interest was so considerable that we no longer feel the effects of the crisis.”

At this point, she says, 86.2 % of the house is full, and all of the new productions are sold out.  This even in the Burgtheater, which has quite a few seats with poor sight lines; productions of Faust, Struwwelpeter, der Zauberer von Oz, and Immanuel Kant are nearly fully sold out for the season.

“Some 120.000 people have come to the Burgtheater, Akademietheater, Kasino und Vestibül [the companion stages in the Burgtheater network] by the 12th of December. That is pretty amazing,” Schäfer gushes.

What impact there is seems mostly to have been at the high end. At the Vienna State Opera, while “not extreme,” the effect has nevertheless been noticeable, reports Thomas W. Platzer, spokesman for the opera house. It has become more difficult to sell the top-priced tickets, with some regulars attending fewer performances.

And sponsorship departments have felt the impact. At the Burgtheater, while many core sponsors – like Mobilcom Austria, Audi, Magna International, Casinos Austria, and The Austrian Lotteries – have remained loyal, and one new one, the Erste Stiftung, added, several traditional supporters including the Austrian Post AG, Superfund, Verbund, Generali, have been forced to withdraw, citing financial constraints.

Overall, however, the performing arts in Vienna seem to be weathering the storm, with audiences of both locals and tourists continuing to fill the houses, not only at the city’s signature venues like the Staatsoper or the Burgtheater but also at less renowned venues.  At Theater Akzent, a public theater in the 4th District offering a mixed program of cabaret and Music Theater, as well as a mixture of traditional and more progressive theater, the financial crisis, while moderate, has had a decided impact.

“To a limited extent, yes,” agreed Akzent Director Wolfgang Sturm. And how things will develop next year, he says, is yet to be seen.

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