One of the biggest barriers to opera accessibility is expense. I’m not going to lie. Costs really can rack up when you factor in entry prices, travel, food and drink, a programme and so on. Depending on where you are in the country and where your chosen opera is showing, you might even need accommodation.
But a night at the opera shouldn’t have to cost a fortune. So how can you get your hands on cheap tickets?
There are a number of schemes offering affordable seats. The Royal Opera House, for example, has its Young ROH membership. Anyone aged between 16 and 25 can register for a free account to access £25 tickets and exclusive events. There are 200 Young ROH tickets available for every Saturday matinee and every performance on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
On a similar note is Opera Holland Park’s (OHP) Under 30s Scheme. Sign up for a free account to access £10 side seats for the 2022 season, released every Monday before the performance date, as well as exclusive offers to selected OHP performances and events, invitations to special events, 10% off food and drink and priority access to returns.
The West London-based company also offers 1,000 free tickets for under 18s to performances across its whole season and free seats for the over 65s to some performances across the season.
English National Opera (ENO) offers free tickets to youngsters, too. A full-paying adult can apply for up to two free tickets for 5-15 year olds, while 16-20 year olds can register for a free Under 35s account in order to access free seats. Those aged 21-34 can sign up for discounted tickets.
Scottish Opera offers cheap tickets to the under 26s. Any seat in the house at the main shows in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen cost just £10, and for the smaller-scale touring shows it’s usually just £5. At Welsh National Opera, under 16s can go for a fiver when accompanied by a full-paying adult.
Organisations are deliberately trying to encourage younger audiences and that can only be a good thing. But what about those of us who, sadly, are no longer 34 or younger? There are still money-saving schemes to be found, but they might require that you’re not so fussy about what you see or when you see it.
Some venues and companies offer cheap tickets on the day of the performance. These are always subject to availability and usually come on sale a few hours before the performance starts, so you have to be quick. It also helps not to be too set on what you want to see. You’ll have to check individual websites to find participating organisations, or be ready to pop into box offices.
ENO offers concessionary standby seats for some performances. Details of these cheap tickets are confirmed from midday on the day of the performance. When offered, they are available to senior citizens, students, Universal Credit recipients and Westminster City Save holders. These tickets must be booked in person in the three hours before a performance.
Friday Rush is an offering from ROH. Tickets are released at 1pm every Friday and you can get last-minute seats at a range of prices for selected performances. Opera Holland Park ringfences around 2,000 Inspire 22 tickets, offered on select performances across the company’s summer season and costing just £22. Tickets for both these schemes have to be booked online.
Another way of saving money is to go for non-traditional venues or operas. There is a list of greatest hits, works by the likes of Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Wagner, Puccini and Britten, that get performed at the big opera houses year after year. These are the operas that most of us recognise at least bits of: music that’s been used in adverts, stories that have passed into cultural folklore.
There’s nothing wrong with this; these works are often what attract us to opera in the first place. But they’re also the productions with the biggest price tags. Organisations know that these operas will get packed-out auditoriums so they can charge more.
This isn’t the case with little-known works or operas from new or unknown composers. These won’t attract the crowds in the same way as the big-ticket productions and the prices reflect this. Do a bit of research – what is it that you like about the operas you enjoy? Look for works that incorporate these elements. You’ll expand your horizons, get to know some of opera’s little-known gems and help support emerging talent. All while looking after the pennies.
Companies such as Graeae and English Touring Opera, for example, are well known for mounting innovative productions of new and forgotten works in venues across the country.
I’m a big fan of pub opera. I’ve championed it many a time in these pages. One of my favourite venues is King’s Head Theatre (KHT), which is little more than the back room of the King’s Head pub on Upper Street, Islington, in North London. It’s set to move to a new space by the end of this year and while I’m excited – the new premises will increase the number of seats, improve disabled access and have a café/bar space – I’m a little concerned it’ll lose some of its charm.
I saw a wonderful modernised English-language version of Carmen (Bizet, 1875) there, set in the NHS, with Carmen as a cleaner, Don José an orderly and Escamillo a famous footballer. I also saw Barry Kosky’s version of Bizet’s masterpiece at the Royal Opera House. Guess which I preferred? Clue: it wasn’t the one with £250 tickets (I didn’t have those tickets, by the way; I was in the rafters, and those seats still cost £54 each).
I’ve seen many fantastic productions, from plays to operas and musicals and even a panto (Oh yes I have!), at KHT and all for around £20. London is lucky to have many such theatre pubs, but these venues can be found all around the country. Along with local theatres, corn exchanges and even village halls all host opera and many other productions, sometimes from local drama groups and sometimes by touring companies. There is sure to be at least one of these venues close by wherever you are in the country. You’ll save money on the price of entry and travel.
One final tip is to look for package deals. Welsh National Opera, for example, has accommodation and dining discounts for those attending shows at its Cardiff home, the Wales Millennium Centre. Other venues have similar offers, while websites like Red Letter Days and Groupon also occasionally have combined ticket/food/accommodation deals, so it’s always worth checking before you book.
Opera really doesn’t have to break the bank – it should be an enjoyable experience for everyone. These are just a few money-saving tips; there are plenty more. Share your best advice below.
• Cheap tickets from English National Opera
• English Touring Opera
• King’s Head Theatre
• Opera Holland Park cheap tickets
• Red Letter Days
• The Royal Opera House ticket deals
• Scottish Opera Under 26 Tickets
• Welsh National Opera
Even a trip to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden needn’t break the bank if you take advantage of one of the opera house’s cheap tickets schemes (James Bellorini).