Opera houses make the elderly pay for young people’s tickets

Opera houses make the elderly pay for young people’s tickets


norman lebrecht

April 14, 2019

That’s the implication of this Telegraph shocker:

Dame Esther Rantzen has accused opera houses of “disregarding” over 65s by aiming its discounts at young people.

In recent months a number of major theatres, including the Royal Opera House, the Barbican, English National Opera and the National Theatre have introduced initiatives to encourage younger audiences with reduced, or even free tickets.

It has left older generations feeling they deserve the same treatment, with many struggling to afford tickets….


Your thoughts?



  • Simon says:

    I’m happy to subsidise kids. When I was a student I stood. Then I managed to buy the odd cheap seat. Now I enjoy the orchestra stalls. It’s called civil society: we pay what we can afford and share the experience happily

    • Straussian says:

      Fine. Good for your sense of civic duty, but there are seniors who cannot afford it, and they should enjoy a senior discount. That’s only fair.

      • Operafan says:

        They do – it’s called cheaper seats. I never pay more than £15 a ticket at Covent Garden but I have to accept a less-good view than those who pay £200.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        I agree, we should offer cheap tickets to younger people, older people, ethnic minorities, and any other minority.

        And then we should also offer cheap tickets to middle-aged people and non-minority people. In fact, why not offer cheap tickets to everyone to sit anywhere they like.

        (What? Isn’t there any money to pay the orchestra or the singers?)

  • Anon says:

    We have a day-of price for younger patrons to entice them to come.
    Our older patrons subscribe, so they get their discount up front.
    If we can’t entice younger patrons to come now, they aren’t going to subscribe when they get older, or make charitable gifts when they have more disposable income

  • Viola da Bracchio says:

    “Dame” Esther Rantzen? Pantomime Dame, more like it? A washed-up shrill old battleaxe, who made her ‘career’ in prurient ‘Candid Camera shows in the 1980s… and is now trying to make a belated comeback/ Wasn’t Cyril Fletcher available this time round? Or Bip and Bop, the two bow-tie clad twits who read out quotes in funny voices?

    This self-serving old cow has NO interest in pensioners, children, or opera – she’s just trying to top-up her own pension pot with more of the same gobshite for which she’s always been famed.

    Shaneful.The fishwrap journalism we expect from the Torygraph.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      We see you can do abuse. Jolly good!

      Do you do thought as well?

    • James says:

      She conceived and founded Childline, for that alone she should be respected and would suggest that she has a very clear interest in children.

  • Henry Rosen says:

    Dear Dame Esther. Surely the insentive is given so that there is an audience for the future rather than helping out financially needy? By the looks of it, MANY more of the over 65s have found their way to love Opera and classical music and are prepared to pay for that..what needs to happen is for the door to be opened for the future, for a new audience to know what joy there is in opera and then been willing to pay for it, as it’s not a cheap thing and can’t be all subsidised.

  • Caravaggio says:

    These ignorant youngsters arts organizations keep tripping over each other for their graces do not deserve to be courted and do not deserve exposure to anything requiring an attention span longer than 2 minutes. They do not and wouldn’t know good singing or good playing (and do not care either) if it crash landed in their hipster lattes. They think great singing or playing is anything that self-promotes in their Instagram feeds. It is a sorry lot. The present and future of these organizations resides precisely in the “dead wood” they are trying to sweep under the rug.

    • Nick2 says:

      Caravaggio: “These ignorant youngsters arts organizations keep tripping over each other for their graces do not deserve to be courted and do not deserve exposure to anything requiring an attention span longer than 2 minutes.”

      So Caravaggio’s two cents worth are as boring and irrelevant as most of what he contributes here! When I was in my youth and trying to learn about opera and ballet, the Royal Opera House had a Young Friends scheme. My weekly wage at that time was around £19. I paid £2 every year until I reached the age of 26. In return, each year I received 12 vouchers worth 50 pence to set against the cost of a seat in the amphitheatre. With full price tickets around £1 for most performances, I used up each voucher and began to learn a great deal. Additionally I gained not only a lot of experience but a lot of enjoyment.

      Back in those days, I believe the costs of the scheme were covered by rich donors and corporations. Why cannot a small percentage of each ROH donation be set aside for this purpose today, rather than having OAPs, amongst others, subsidise young people?

      • Operafan says:

        Donations to the ROH are subsidising tickets for young and old alike. Remember 50%+ of the cost of the Opera House is subsidised through public funding and philanthropy. However much you pay for your seat you’re still being generously subsidised.

      • Viola da Bracchio says:

        [[ So Caravaggio’s two cents worth are as boring and irrelevant as most of what he contributes here! ]]

        I disagree. On this occassion, he’s outdone himself. Not merely boring and irrelevant, but profoundly ignorant and offensive too. He has channeled Rantzen’s mean-spirited, divisive and envious hatred of younger people – in an attempt to snatch away their tickets from them.

        His fatuous tripe about ‘hipster lattes’ highlights the intellectual bankruptcy behind his weary schtick. The real-life Caravaggio was exiled from Rome for his offences. If only that could happen once more.

  • Larry says:

    Norman: Does this mean that “senior citizen” ticket prices are not offered in the UK, as they are in the USA? It’s been pretty much standard operating procedure here for the arts going back to the 1970s.

    • Viola da Bracchio says:

      They are offered, Larry, they are. They are a condition of the subsidies which Arts organisations in the UK receive. But Esther Ransom never does a moment’s research before shooting her big mouth off. The Daily Telegraph caters to a knee-jerk readership which relishes factless tittle-tattle – it’s their stock-in-trade. Esther Ransom is a ‘reputable UK journalist’ in the same way that the National Enquirer is a reputable US newspaper.

    • Zelda Macnamara says:

      No “senior” discounts from Welsh National Opera in Birmingham, nor for concerts at the local Symphony Hall – we used to get discounts there, but in fact that meant that nearly the whole audience would be getting the discount. I think there are now special youth deals as there seem to be more younger people attending, which can only be a good thing. But we do get a discount at the cinema for the Met and ROH live transmissions.

      • C Porumbescu says:

        In Birmingham it was a choice of offering discounts for older customers, or keeping ticket prices down for all. They opted for the latter. Senior concertgoers are still getting cheaper tickets than would otherwise have been the case; the difference is only that u-65s are not being penalised.

  • al says:

    Don’t always agree with Esther Rantzen but pleased that she raised this issue. This is just not only an issue with opera but applies also
    to theatre and other art forms. While I was able to work. I was a very regular attender of Opera and Theatre, but now that I am on a pension my arts going has regrettably become much more restricted. Unfortunately the price of tickets seems to rise at a faster rate than inflation. I do not object to trying to attract young people but the older population, who have been part of the core audience when in middle age, deserve consideration.

  • Chilynne says:

    One subsidizes what one wants more of, in this case – a future audience.

  • RW2013 says:

    Let them play with their phones somewhere else.

  • Rosa Wong says:

    I totally agreed with Dame Esther Rantzen. Roh has never offered any discounts nor concessions to OAPs. For some unpopular or bad productions, Roh offer £10 and £15 tickets to students in order to put ‘bumps on seats’. One has to think of those elderly audiences paying ten times or more of what the students been paying for. How did they feel when they found out?!

    In some countries, people who are over 60 can pay half price. Sadler’s Wells and ENO do offer huge discounts to OAPs. Roh has a lot of money and they do not care about wasting and spending money as they have a lot of grants, donations from wealthy donors. Why only offer cheap tickets to students? Why not consider the elderly who are loyal and devoted?!

    I used to go to Barbican for Met relay. Now they are charging £37, I would rather go to my local cinema, with senior discount, paying only £17.50. I think in future more elderly audiences would go to cinemas instead.

    • Operafan says:

      Cheaper seats for all sounds great Rosa – but someone needs to pay for them. Are you advocating more public funding, more philanthropy…?

  • Noelene Worsfold says:

    Well…If older people don’t attend performances, especially matinee performances, the opera etc will be in dire straits to keep the money coming in and keeping people engaged and experience the arts.

  • Anthony Boatman says:

    I’m 75 and I don’t mind in the least paying full price so that younger patrons may be encouraged to attend. After all, my Social Security income is paid by younger workers, just as mine helped fund the checks of my parents and their generation. It’s called an intergenerational social compact.

  • David Barneby says:

    Times have changed, I remember paying 2pds10s for a seat in the stalls at Covent Garden, to see/hear Aida, 5s in upper circle.

  • Bill says:

    Given that no opera house covers its costs on ticket sales alone, the underlying premise is immaterial, as everyone is getting a discounted ticket. And it seems pretty well-settled that one can have discounted pricing based on age.

  • John Rook says:

    Apart from the obvious thought that the link is to the Grauniad and not the Telegraph, in this age of the lobotomised cult of youth and appearance, little is done for the elderly, the generation(s) who have enabled the current comfort of the young. Derided as unaesthetic and unproductive their patronage is essential in maintaining the arts.

    People were hurling arguments around fifty years ago about opera audiences dying out. They’re still there, though. Maybe it’s one of those art forms which grows on you with time. After all, people’s entertainment preferences often change over time.

    • Operafan says:

      The difference is that there is now compelling evidence that at every stage of life significantly fewer people are attending live performances than people of their age were even a decade ago. The number of people in the UK who have attended one or more classical concerts in the last year reduced by nearly 40% between 2008 and 2017. The crisis is real!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Huh? The older generation has basically bankrupted the young. In Britain they had free-education and heavy subsidies to own their housing. And now they have retired they have very generous pensions (far larger than any contributions they have made) while saddling the next generation with enormous debts and largely abolishing defined-benefit pension provision. The sense of entitlement and sheer greed is extraordinary.

      [I won’t even mention the fact the old have saddled the young with Brexit, something the young overwhelmingly voted against.]

  • fflambeau says:

    From the first link (the 2nd just leads to a general page):
    Dame Esther, 78, who founded The Silver Line charity in 2013 to help older people combat loneliness, was moved by Mr Piper’s letter.

    “The former That’s Life! presenter and producer said: “It is extraordinary for me how the media and the arts concentrate on 16-24s and completely reject and disregard the over 65s.

    “There is a very important therapeutic effect of listening to the music you love as you grow older. It literally keeps you young.”

    She even suggested The Telegraph readers and Mr Piper should join her in a march to the Royal Opera House (ROH) in Covent Garden “wielding banners and singing lustily something from Nabucco, the chorus of Hebrew slaves.”

    Good stuff!

  • Will Duffay says:

    Middle-class retired people, comfortable in their paid-for homes, flush with final-salary pensions, griping about those young folk being helped out, so that opera doesn’t die off completely? Tiresome. Stupid right-wing clickbait rubbish. Ignore.

    • John Rook says:

      Typical envy-fuelled leftist bullshit.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      Maybe you should do a little more research on the incomes of pensioners in the UK before making ill-informed generalizations.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Actually, pensioner inequality is as high as working age income inequality. There are a lot of well-off older people who can comfortably afford to go to the opera. (Sure, there are poor pensioners too, and poor working age people too.)

  • anon says:

    1) The intense pressure comes from the media, advertisers, sponsors to demonstrate outreach and success with young audience. You can’t read an article about the state of opera without reading “old and dying” (usually accompanied by “white”) audience.

    2) And it’s all too easy for marketing departments (and management) to artificially inflate their numbers for young people attendance by providing steep discounts and free tickets.

    3) But no one has ever presented data of the *rate of success* from giving free/discounted tickets to young audience leading them to buy full price subscriptions (much less to give donations and lifetime support).

    Basically, management is blithely giving away free tickets to entice the young without any evidence of immediate or future economic return from them.

    In that case, management should give these free tickets to those who truly need them, appreciate them, and grateful for them.

    But what newspaper is going to write an article in praise of “old dying” and “poor” audience members?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      This seems to be more geared to the US situation rather then the UK situation. In Europe the age-mixture seems to be better that you suggest.

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    This story is about cuts in arts funding since the financial crash in 2008, which have led to massive increases in seat prices. The raison d’être of the Arts Council, when it was set up after WWII, like the NHS based on wartime models, was to fund the arts so that they were available to working-class audiences who would otherwise be excluded. The apogee of this idea occurred in the 1960s, which is often described as a ‘golden age’ in arts funding; this ended when Thatcher took power and slashed arts funding. For me, nothing speaks louder of elitism in opera, of how the art form is again being claimed by the wealthy than the plethora of private, ‘country house’ opera companies modelled on Glyndebourne. It is surely only in this context that the issue of seat pricing and discounts should be considered: it is less an issue of inter-generational conflict and more to do with class conflict.

  • Nick says:

    Normal for Brits. Everything is upside down.

  • Operafan says:

    If you look at the economics I think you’ll actually find that EVERYONE is being subsidised – young and old alike – by a combination of public and private funders. The only question is the scale of the subsidy. Opera houses have a business need (and in some cases a requirement from public funders) to develop the next generation of audience members, so they offer increased subsidy to the young.

  • John Scullion says:

    Rich people will always buy their tickets in advance no performance should be anything but sold out and the way to do this is to give discounts to young people and to seniors maybe a week before rich people will already have their tickets sell out every performance that’s The Secret to getting new audiences and honoring tried and true old seniors get with it smarten up.

  • tone row says:

    ENO website:

    “Concessionary standby tickets are offered for some performances and are always subject to availability, which will be confirmed from three hours before the performance.

    Concessionary standby tickets are available to:

    senior citizens
    income support recipients
    Westminster City Save holders”

  • Whimbrel says:

    Yes, but look at the Royal Opera House, that no longer does standby to anyone except students. Today they sold masses of seats – more than 100 in the stalls alone – for tonight’s Faust for just £10 each. They could have sold some of these for a lot more money to people normally offered standby concessions elsewhere, such as ENO, but who were still unwilling or unable to pay full price. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the remaining five performances, none of which are selling well.

    • Robin Worth says:

      You are not wrong, but they also sell off seats cheap to others when they have a dud production :for the first revival of Lucia they sent me a half-price stalls offer (to see it once was enough)
      In the past they used to sell stalls on the night for £25 to a vast range of qualified folk, including ordinary Friends