Opera cuts ticket prices. You don’t read that very often.

Opera Holland Park, in London’s richest borough of Kensington and Chelsea, has announced it its cutting seat prices next summer by between 3.5% and 28%. The new policy is called ‘dynamic pricing’ and it’s designed to keep the festival full and reduce social resentment.

Michael Volpe, OHP’s manager, writes:

opera holland park

In trying to subsidise much cheaper seats at one end, rather than making the wealthy pay much more (and the dynamic in a venue’s audience that creates) it might be better if more pay evenly and reasonably in the middle. If we ask the wealthy to pay £120 for a seat so others can pay £20, that is superficially a good thing I suppose, but it also means the qualitative and environmental demands of the higher fee payer increase accordingly, production and facility costs will rise, those audience members who balk at “luxurious” atmospheres will resist and thus the cycle continues and is unsustainable as far as the wider opera loving audience is concerned. Sponsors and donors contribute to ticket subsidy but there is a limit to that, even though we would all love somebody to dump a million into the pot to ensure prices are cheaper. Yet we would again have to confront the expectation this would form and the likelihood of finding regular gifts like that.

I can hear people saying that perhaps the cost of producing opera, expensive at the best of times, needs to find a new balance too. I would agree with that view to some degree; but can we expect singers and orchestras to start dropping their fees? Maybe, maybe not. In most of the opera world, singers don’t get hugely well paid for what is, after all, a high degree of skill and artistry.

Full post here.

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  • I have attended many many operas over the last few decades, but prices seem to me to now be too high to make attending a regular worthwhile event. I have enjoyed performances at Covent Garden, ENO, and excellent regional theatres with touring from the Welsh National and Glyndebourne, seeing stars such as Bryn Terfel, Kiri Te Kanawa, Pavarotti, Domingo and many more, sometimes from cheaper seats, sometimes from the best seats in the house, depending how great I anticipated the performance to be, and how keen I was on the repertoire to be performed.

    I am now much more likely to go to a local cinema to watch a live or encore screen arts performance of an opera from a great house with a great star and great reviews, eg from the Met or Covent Garden.

    You have the benefit of extras like pre performance and interval interviews, you don’t have to travel a long way to London or other theatre, incurring cost of petrol/parking, train, tube, taxis etc, and either the added cost of accommodation in town or the inevitable very late arrival back home.

    To me it is a no brainer to pop along to the local cinema to see a live performance from the Met for £10-20, and I can be home fifteen minutes after the screening is over. You are much less tired when you arrive at the theatre, and much less tired when you get home.

    Yes you lose a little of the atmosphere from attending the live performance, but the gains in having the best view in the house, the multiple camera angles, and the vast savings in time and money to me vastly outweigh the minor disadvantages.

    I hope attendance of screen arts performances expands massively, as then perhaps some of the revenue can be used to make attending live performances a little cheaper again, and better value.

    You can also often later buy the DVD’s of these screen arts performances, and then have them to keep and rewatch for ever as many times as you like, all for much less than the cost of attending live.

    Of course, in addition, the view in a screen arts performance betters any theatre seat due to getting to watch every moment from the best camera angle, so it cannot compare to watching a live performance from a cheap seat, as it compares more than favourably to watching from a top price seat.

    The multiplier in audiences which can be achieved by this means has to be the future.

  • I think live broadcast is a great thing, especially for those of us far from the source of the operas (and plays — we get selected plays form England here in Canada). But when the opportunity arises to see live opera, there is no comparison, despite some director’s choice of what to focus on perhaps bettering the view from a cheap seat. For that, I would prefer the later DVD, to revisit, with added details, the live performance. For that matter, DVDs make available operas that nobody in my wide ambit will perform in my lifetime.

    But it is not a matter of which is “better.” They are two different experiences. If you do not see that a live performance is a unique experience — granted, almost simulated in the cinema live broadcasts — then you do not. The only thing that keeps me from seeing more is cost, and if someone is exploring ways of making it more accessible financially, they have a hearty hurrah form me.

  • I would always prefer to see a performance ‘live’, as it were, rather than a screened version, but there are ways round expensive opera. I saw a really decent Eugene Onegin at the Royal Academy of Music around the same time as Covent Garden did their production. From what I heard, the staging of the ROH one was atrocious, but RAM’s was very traditional and unpretentious. The singing was superb and you know you’re hearing singers who’ll go to the major stages before too much longer.

    Tickets for that RAM performance cost £20, which is well worth it. Likewise with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the RCM. I do accept though that this is only applicable for those living reasonably close to London.

  • Agreed V. Lind – HD transmissions vs live performance are *completely* different animals. For me, the HD phenomenon was initially exciting and I went to most of the MET offerings…this season I haven’t seen one yet and will probably only attend the MET’s Iolanta/Bluebeard combo [interesting repertoire, new production] and maybe their Donna del Lago [same reason]. I have yet to experience the same kind of visceral thrill; emotional rollercoaster; sense of a communal “event” that I do live, in an opera house when I’ve been at an HD transmission. As for “accessibility” – read Mr Volpe’s entire post if you can. His argument (and it’s a very credible one) is that too much of the audience now waits for (hoped for) bargain basement discounts on seats…and yet, this same sector still holds the company to the highest artistic standards. This is simply not sustainable. Opera is expensive! In order to achieve the standards to which audiences are now accustomed [and I would argue the MET/Royal Opera etc. HDs have a lot to do with this] companies cannot continue the race to the bottom in terms of ticket prices. Not to say there shouldn’t be tickets available at reasonable prices [believe you me, that’s what I’m usually purchasing], but expecting 15 pound tickets all the time is simply not realistic. I’ve seen several shows at Opera Holland Park when I’ve travelled to London – they’re a great company, presenting top-notch productions. There’s a price to be paid for that!

  • Thank you all for commenting and reading the blog. I have yesterday suffered a bereavement in the family and am somewhat embroiled in dealing with that. In due course I will respond. Many thanks
    MV

  • Thanks for comments
    Mr Schacter, I can’t decide your opera-going for you but I don’t think a season including il trittico, Lakme, Aida and a production that was one of the biggest hits in London for a while (L’amore dei tre Re) is a deterrent. As for Flight, it is the first professional production in London of an opera that has found quite a bit of popularity. If that season is a deterrent for you, I am not sure what kind of season you would want but feel free to make suggestions!

    Some of you will know that I believe fervently in the concept of live performance. If people choose to replace that with cinema going I can not stop that. I find it a depressing thought and it will ultimately sound the death knell of the art form. I wrote a sarcastic, spoof piece on the subjext recently but like all satire, it does have a kernel of truth.

    Our price reductions are in response to what audiences tell us. They apply to popular works too. We are happy to do it.

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