The price of opera vs the value of everything else

The price of opera vs the value of everything else


norman lebrecht

October 19, 2015

A blogger, ‘Chaconato’, has posted a useful guide to the current price of opera tickets in London compared to other attractions, such as Buckingham Palace, Barry Manilow, theatre, restaurants, the Rugby World Cup and Kew Gardens.

He concludes that tickets are available for operas at cheaper prices than for any major cultural, sporting or tourist activity.

The key word here is ‘available’. There are cheaper things to do in London than go to the opera, but the price still remains remarkably cheap in the middle of one of the most expensive places to live on earth.

Read the full list here.

royal opera house covent garden


  • V.Lind says:

    £250 for Cav and Pag? wow.

    Fascinating. Some of the ROH prices are lower than Opera Lyra’s lowest…on the other hand, there is no such thing as “obstructed view” in Canadian theatres. I don’t suppose it matters for opera — I never had such a seat. (But on a programme with particularly high uptake, I was outraged to have some box office minion suggest I might accept a restricted view for ballet. It seems ludicrous to me that such seats should be sold).

  • Will Roseliep says:

    Very informative. Many opera companies and symphony orchestras arrange for discounted tickets, which makes a night out an incredibly good value. Paying full freight is the best way to support arts organizations, of course. But for curious first-timers or the financially strapped, discount tickets are a gateway into this world.

    This sidebar in the article should be a separate study unto itself:

    “The question of public subsidy for the performing arts cannot be addressed in isolation. There needs to be full transparency from the UK football businesses (the correct terms for clubs) regarding the hidden state and local subsidies they receive through infrastructure, services and especially for police costs. When taxpayers’ money is used to enhance the cultural life of the nation, confused libertarians and philistine far-right commentators in certain newspapers consider it a scandal – the real scandal is that it is accepted and deemed an essential requirement for taxpayers’ money to be used to prevent attendees at a game from fighting each other, assaulting bystanders or vandalising property.”

    Now THAT is something I want to hear more about.

    –Will Roseliep,

  • Alvaro says:

    Even if free, giving away a supposedly “high art” creates a cognitive dissonance within the expectator: if opera is so good for me and so important, why give it away for free?

    • Will Roseliep says:

      If someone is sophisticated enough to enjoy opera, we should trust they understand the reason for discounted ticketing. It satisfies the need to have more people, especially diverse demographics, attending opera! A cheap ticket is a good value proposition for someone who’s never set foot inside a theatre. Even if they hate it they won’t feel cheated or bitter (worse case scenario). And if they love it, they’ll come back, and hopefully tell people about it, too (best case scenario).

      • V.Lind says:

        And are poor people to be excluded? Obviously, in some minds.

        But some of the most financially strapped are students, who form a generation that could well become the next oligarchical class, so they become an investment,

        • Theodore McGuiver says:

          Don’t lower prices to pander to unwilling audiences. You are either interested or you are not, and that’s all work which should be done way before you ever darken the doors of a theatre of any kind (school, home, TV, radio etc). A cheap ticket (not ‘price’, OK?) will not induce someone to give Fidelio a shot if the word means nothing to them.

          Quality has its price and must reflect that. Do you think Mercedes would sell more cars if they lowered the price? Maybe, but at what cost…? There’s a good expression in German: ‘Was nichts kostet ist auch nichts wert’.

          • Alvaro says:

            That is precisely the point I’ve made for the past years, was nicht kostet ist auch nich wert”. Its positioning 101 that you can either competenin quality, or you can compete with price, but both? Only the enlightened “musicians” who claim to be more intelligent bc they heard wagner would think of such stupidity.

            Listen to the value proposition of classical music, worldwide: “this is the best music there can be, all that other crap you listen to is superficial and not even close to be as good for you as classical music. This is the ultimate listening experience: it will make you and your baby smarter, it will make you study better, it makes you soohisticated with your friends. Its the best of the best, but here is a free ticket PLEASE come see us or we will disappear, and since we are the best of the best of the best, the world will lose its most important achievement. Please accept this ticket? Please? We’ll take any money you want to throw at us.”

            Now, the above is 1) proven to be true for most organizations in some level and 2) resembles the strategy of a homeless guy in new york willing to say/promise anything in order to get enough “donations” to have something to eat that night.

            As for the audience? People will keep on getting in debt if necessary, to pay for those musical goods and services that have a stromg value proposition: EDM, Coachella, SXSW, etc.

            Just for Burning Man, the entrance ticket is $1500 and it has SO much demand that your name has to be drawn at random because they dont have space for everybody who wishes to spend that kind of money in that kind of music.

            So what do the arts administrators do with classical music? The “homeless strategy”: overpromise, underdeliver, and beg for money.

          • jocallisto says:

            Must confess, I had to look up ‘BurningMan’. This is what I found:

            ‘Burning Man is an annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary community erected in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by 10 main principles, including “radical inclusion” and community cooperation, “radical self-expression”, “radical self-reliance”, gifting and decommodification, and leaving no trace …………… At Burning Man the community explores various forms of artistic self-expression, created in celebration for the pleasure of all participants. Participation is a key precept for the community – selfless giving of one’s unique talents for the enjoyment of all is encouraged and actively reinforced. Some of these generous out-pourings of creativity can include experimental and interactive sculpture, building, performance, and art cars among other mediums, often inspired by the yearly theme, chosen by organizers. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbollic, ritual burning of a large wooden effigy (“the Man”) that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.’

            Hmmmm. It will be interesting to see if it catches on elsewhere, and lasts as long as Bach and Mozart’s music has. But if it’s all the same to you, Alvaro, I’ll stick to Wagner for the time being, regardless of whether I come out smarter or more sophisticated. As far as I can tell, most people’s expectations seem to be pretty neutral on that front and I don’t know any parents who take the ‘Mozart Effect’ seriously. You must have canvassed a pretty large sample to be able to support your accusations. You can support them, I assume?

            In my experience, most people who prefer a particular type of music tend to think it is better in some way; they wouldn’t have chosen it otherwise, and the most outspoken have certainly not been fans of classical. So far as ticket prices are concerned, I’d give some thought to production costs, economies of scale, and the difference between price and value.

      • Alvaro says:

        The amount of “hopefully”‘s “perhaps”‘s and uncertainty is astonishing, yet administrators continue with the suicidal mission of telling me that something is of extreme value, yet giving me walmart pricing.

        Its been 40 years of such strategy: how is that working for classical music so far?

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Pedant alert: A price cannot be ‘cheap’, only a commodity. A price is low, reasonable, unreasonable, high etc.

  • william osborne says:

    The average price for a regular ticket at the Met was lowered in 2013 to $156 (previously it was $174.) Orchestra level seats average about $350. The averages are thus about 3 to 4 times the prices in the UK. And on the continent prices are often even less expensive. For the Met numbers in 2013 see:

    But the whole story is far worse. The Met sells subscriptions of 6 tickets long before single tickets go on sale. The subscriptions average over $900 per person and over $2000 for the best seats.

    In addition, donors are given priority seating. It takes a minimum donation of $2500 to qualify for priority seating. By the time the subscription and priority services are completed most of the best seats are gone. The less expensive seats in a 3800 seat house are not so great unless one likes to watch theater through binoculars, but that is all most average people have access to. See the donor privileges here:

    The plutocratic nature of the Met shows up even more strongly in other programs. A recent article in the WSJ provides an excellent illustration. The NY Phil and the Met are courting international donors. To woo these people the Met is offering a special event for them for the price of $35,000 per couple. At the time the article was published, they had 29 foreign couples signed up. They’ll get special privileges at the house, a private concert by the house’s stars, name recognition in the program, etc. Average Americans, however, will likely never see a live opera in their lives. Instead, the Met creates special programs for rich foreigners. The WSJ article is here:

    • Michael says:

      I am of very low income and I buy tickets to the MET several times a year, sitting in the Family Circle for $25 or buying Standing Room for even less than that.

      Yes, it’s far away, but an investment in binoculars solves that — and the Family Circle acoustics are far superior to the Orchestra’s, where I’ve sat multiple times as a guest or contest winner.

      Would I rather sit closer to the action? Of course. But, not being able to do so has not stopped me from attending — and I thank those who pay the big bucks for Orchestra seats, allowing Family Circle to remain affordable.

      • william osborne says:

        Most do not want to stand through long operas, so standing room tickets are not a good counter argument. The Family Circle (the peanut gallery) might suit your tastes, but most people best enjoy theater where binoculars are not needed. The point is that in all European countries that is possible for middle class people — and often even the working class.

        • Michael says:

          As in everything else, it’s about lowering expectations. Far as I can tell, those who sit in Family Circle’s / Balcony’s 1000 (?) seats are very grateful to be there.

          As for matching Europe’s accessibility, I suppose the US Gov’t would have to match EUropean gov’t subsidies. Good luck with that.