English National Opera denies critics a second ticket

English National Opera denies critics a second ticket


norman lebrecht

September 07, 2019

Battered for its variable productions, ENO has decided to withdraw companion tickets from national media critics.

Instead, it will give the spare seats to novice and amateur reviewers.

Fiona Maddocks warns: ‘This decision may backfire. Expect a revolt.’

And rightly so. ENO is going from hapless to hopeless.

Read on here.





  • WJD says:

    Is this really a big deal? I did not realise that any institution was still supplying two tickets for one review. Who else does offer two tickets to one reviewer? This practice ended at the Edinburgh International Festival many years ago. They do offer the ability to purchase a second ticket and try to supply two adjacent seats. The best sounding board can be accessed by chatting with audience members during the interval or intervals.

  • Jack says:

    So what? I don’t get to take my spouse or friend with me when I go to work.

  • Simon Toyne says:

    What’s the fuss about? Do sports journalists have plus ones in the press box? Or do parliamentary reporters bring guests with them? Do novelists have someone sitting beside them while they write?

    The implication of this is one person can’t gain full critical appreciation / understanding of a performance on their own. This is, erm… nonsense, isn’t it?

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I don’t expect companion tickets when I fly to fulfil my own professional obligations. Ms Maddocks’s threat is spiteful and grotesquely unprofessional.

  • Sir Kitt says:

    Good. It’s your job. I don’t get to take a friend to work with me.

  • V.Lind says:

    The “chorus of rage” is well articulated in The Guardian article.

    I have been to the ENO (for the worst thing I have ever seen, The Pearl Fishers in English. I never went back). But I liked the hall in some ways, although it is far too big. I can’t believe that it is so sold out that it can’t afford to expend 10 free tickets for its soi-disant training scheme for critics.And why do the junior amateurs have to go to opening night? Let them learn through subsequent ones.

    We had the amateur view, from New York, around here for a while. It was interesting, up to a point. we heard impressions from people who didn’t usually go to opera and they were occasionally able to communicate something useful. But not usually. Useful requires a little more knowledge, and a little more application.

    These onliners will show how good they are, of course, but if it is still people who discuss operas in terms of loud or high notes and the like, it’s a joke. I thoroughly approve if the scheme is legitimate and involves talented and musically aware people who have not yet had the chance to break through.

    But as someone who often had plus one tickets at my disposal, I remember the value of my companion, whoever it was, as a sounding board and another pair of eyes and ears. I also used my second ticket as a training tool, often taking along student writers who wanted to break in — and several of them did because they had seen a lot before they made their first applications to pro outlets.

    Other times, I was glad that my partner was there to drive me home after I had filed (or, later, in order to, when computers took over).

    I rarely had 48 hours to file, as these kids are going to.

    ENO is just alienating the people it needs in favour of currying favour with people it thinks it can manoeuvre. This is just another instance of the muddled sort of thinking that goes on there.

    • 32VA says:

      [[ ENO is just alienating the people it needs in favour ]]

      So you believe positive reviews should be garnered by buying them with freebies – instead of doing decent-level work?

      • V.Lind says:

        Quite the opposite. It claims it needs the plus-one seats in order to accommodate people who will be pathetically grateful and write less informed and probably very favourable things about it (I am slow to criticise something I know little about, whereas I am more prepared to be critical when I am dealing with something in which I am well-versed). It needs the professionals because their views will have value, whether positive or negative.

      • Bruce says:

        “So you believe positive reviews should be garnered by buying them with freebies – instead of doing decent-level work?”

        Because a “companion ticket” has always resulted in a positive review up till now, right?

  • FS60103 says:

    They have the biggest auditorium in London. They always, without exception, have spare seats. The suggestion that they’re losing money by giving critics plus-ones is risible, not to say disingenuous.

    This will backfire upon them as certainly as a similar stunt did at the National Theatre when they tried it a few years ago.

    • 32VA says:

      Utterly wrong. The freeloaders who spend an evening ligging with a critic will now have to pày as everyone else does. This odious practice had to end sometime. Good on ENO for challenging this abuse.

  • Al says:

    How much more stupidity must we endure from this once excellent company? Gimmicks do not restore good fortune.

  • Dave T says:

    Companions of critics no longer get in for free??

    So it’s come to this. I never thought civilized society could sink this low. What’s next? Some day restaurants will charge extra for salad forks. Then it will all be over.

    Oh, the humanity.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    Why do critics need a companion? They are working, not on a night out.

  • EricB says:

    And why would it “backfire” ? Because critics are so hung on their “privileges” ? First of all, there should never have been an obligation to give a “2nd ticket” to a critic.

    • V.Lind says:

      Well, then, it’s odd that it is an almost universal practice. I’ve been accredited all over the world and have always been offered a pair of tickets.

      I remember being at the Kennedy Centre to review something — I called up to confirm my dates, and said I would be alone in town and did not know anyone and would only need one. Nonetheless, they reserved me two and when I went to pick them up — a little while before the programme — I tried to return the second ticket so they could sell it. (Huge queue for tickets — it was a major event).

      The box office refused to take it — no mechanism for such a thing (they would now, I’ll be bound!). Best I could do was walk the queue looking for someone who only wanted one ticket. I found a lady, and she offered to pay me. I declined, explaining I had not paid for the ticket myself as I was a critic. She tried to insist but I bolted.

      As the GM of a major company told me once, when I called to say I could get down to his city in time to see one of their opening nights but had not booked in the timely manner critics were expected to do, “There are always more tickets.”

  • 32VA says:

    On the day I can take a ‘companion’ to work with me, critics will deserve a free ticket for their chums.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I don’t really care one way or the other whether a critic gets to take a significant other, or a mere fleeting acquaintance to ENO, I’m sure they would be more impressed by the Floral St Nafeteria. But what I do find jaw dropping is this gem from the article….

    “English National Opera has won applause for its efforts to attract a wider and more diverse audience as it broadened its pool of performers, composers and directors.”

    The Guardian should not confuse it’s diversity and identity obsession with reality. But then when everything is now filtered through the prism of white privilege I suppose any woke iniative by ENO or any other arts organisation is going to get the Guardian salivating.

  • Peter says:

    Everyone loves a freebee, of course. And opinions are never influenced by them.
    So how will this “backfire” ?
    Critics will be less favourable ? Critics need a plus 1 before they can form their views properly ?
    Critics will go elsewhere ?
    How come my employer never paid for my partner to join me on business trips ?

  • Craig says:

    Good. Most of the company don’t get free tickets, and they’re actually making the show happen. Why should the crits? The fact they’re a small community of people who are so up themselves they’ve never been down is the only reason this is in the papers. Try some perspective.

  • Laurence says:

    “Backfire “? Does this mean that offended critics will give deliberately bad reviews to demonstrate their pique? That petty lack of principle doesn’t say much for their judgement in the first place. At least they’re not demanding THREE freebies so they can snuggle in between two friends, and further isolate themselves from the sordid people surrounding them who actually have to pay for their tickets.

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    So, the critics are revolting? Hardly news.

  • Bill says:

    Why just one companion ticket? Seems like if one is good, a set of 5 or 10 would be even better. Bring the whole focus group.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Why on earth should a critic get a second ticket if he / she is going to a professional engagement? When I went on a professional business trip my expenses were paid but if I wanted to take a companion along I had to pay for them. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • Brian says:

    Yes, as many others have already said here, no arts organization should be expected to shell out a second ticket to a critic. Those are invariably the best seats in the house, which at Lincoln Center or Carnegie might go for $150 to $200 or better on a good night. Besides, if anything, a companion only distracts from doing one’s job.

  • MWnyc says:

    To me, the issue is that these new, young critics that ENO claims it is developing will be writing reviews to be posted on ENO’s own website.
    That is dodgy.
    And I’ll wager that as soon as one of those critics-in-training writes something that angers someone ENO needs to keep happy, that review will be gone. And possibly the whole program along with it.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I never take any notice of reviews on the website of the performing organisation. I really have no idea why anyone else would either.

  • Ellie says:

    Here’s a CRAZY idea.

    How about critics don’t even get free tickets?! How about the organisation they write for pays for them, as expenses? Then, if the organisation values what the critic gets from their ‘plus one’ in order to help their reviews/retain good staff etc, they will cough up. The arts venue putting on the show gets its full – and much needed – revenue.

    I’ve worked for arts charities in precarious financial positions who routinely get asked for comps and plus ones (or even plus 3’s) for people who may or may not ending up writing a review. People with press passes routinely visit and demand comps with no intention of ever writing something about us. It’s totally galling, and we live in fear that if we don’t bend to their request, they WILL actually write a bad review just out of feeling put out for having to pay.

    More on topic, I don’t see the problem with inexpert reviews for ENO. It’s clear its mission is more about enabling access than say, ROH. I think it’ll be clear who the reviewer is, and people can take on board this when looking at the reviews. A younger opera-newbie might be more inclined to find the opinion of someone in the same boat more helpful than the ‘expert’ opinion of an established reviewer. What makes an expert anyway? And who are they writing for? Are the experts not interested to see what a newbie might make of an opera?

    Sounds to me that not only are the established critics just making a fuss about an optional ‘perk’ but they feel threatened by the culture change in how information and opinion is shared through different media, and the rules of who can or can’t be an ‘influencer’ are changing.