— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) March 5, 2016
There seems to be two misconceptions about opera tickets. Firstly – a point which has been argued to death – that ‘opera tickets are expensive’ and secondly, once a show, or production, has sold out there is no way you can see it, ever!
As a reviewer and blogger, I have the advantage of seeing many operas in London through press tickets, however, this is not ALWAYS the case. With the amount of theatre and opera I see per week (which can range between two to five shows in a week), there are occasions where opera and theatre companies do not provide me with that complimentary ticket. This has encouraged me to seek alternative ways of gaining access to sold out shows and finding the cheapest tickets, which might not always offer the best view but still provides me with a means to view 90% of the opera, and hearing beautiful music and amazing voices.
Opera, theatre, even ballets and classical music concerts, are not only composed and written for the rich and affluent. Keen culture vultures can go and enjoy shows without breaking the bank! Alongside discounted theatre websites and (believe it or not) newspaper, magazine and online publications, actual opera companies offer reduced tickets and special offers as well!
Here are two examples from newspaper, magazine and online publications:
For the 5-Star rated Akhnaten at the ENO, Time Outwere offering 40% off on tickets.
- Dress Circles tickets on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays were £79 (now £47.40) and Upper Circle tickets were £39 (now £23.40).
- Dress Circles tickets on Tuesdays were £59 (now £35.40) and Upper Circle tickets were £34 (now £20.40). (Click here to see the offer.)
The Daily Mail also, at times, offer £10 tickets to Sussex Opera House at Glyndebourne. Although they might not be available on ideal dates (or close to the stage), it’s still a massive chunk from the usual £90+ to £200+ tickets, which is the going rate for most Glyndebourne operas. (Click here for article.)
Keeping a close eye on the schedules and calendars of your favourite opera companies, opera festivals (Grimeborn, Tête-à-Tête) or concert halls (Barbican, Royal Festival Hall, St John’s Smith Square), is probably the most effective way of knowing what operas are being showed so you can prepare ahead and purchase the ticket(s) you want, before they get snapped up by someone else.
Social media, particularly Twitter, is another way of keeping tabs on opera tickets (including returns) on the day. Sometimes fellow Tweeters (and opera lovers on other social media platforms) let people know if they have tickets up for grabs. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some very generous operagoers and classical music aficionados who have offered me their spare ticket last minute through Twitter and Facebook.
I’ve provided a list of opera companies (unfortunately not all) that not only dispel the idea that opera tickets are expensive but provide ways for customers to see a sell out show on the cheap!
- Cheap tickets: Balcony tickets, in the first and second rows, are worth £12, but they come with a restricted view e.g. a pole or safety bar is in front of you, but I’ve never been fazed by this as I tend to see the majority of the staging. These tickets sell out fast, so find out when the ENO release tickets for the opera and book early!
- Cheap tickets: Opera Undressed (£25) (Click here for more info) I’ve managed to get stall seats from Opera Undressed, which is usually worth £100+. All you need to do is register and you will get an email that will indicate when you can purchase your Secret Seat ticket(s). At the end of the performance, you also get the chance to meet some members of the cast and a lovely drink (G & T) on the house. However, there’s only one or two opportunities to take advantage of Secret Seats, so perhaps get a friend to register thereafter to ensure you can continue to use Secret Seats. It should be noted, however, that these tickets are targeted at newbies to opera, so for those that that are regular operagoers…
- Cheap tickets: Secret Seat (£20) is probably the best option (Click here for more info.) Secret Seats are released during the priority booking period and are for stall and dress circles seats, which are usually priced at £30. First, you decide when to see the opera and then you book online, in advance! From those who have experience booking them, they suggest you book Secret Seat tickets for several operas in the season. The only catch is that if you book for a group, of say four, sitting next to all of them isn’t guaranteed, but you’re promised to sit next to at least one. Also, although the website says there are a limit on Secret Seat tickets, there have been occasions whereby operagoers have managed to get Secret Seat tickets on the day of the opera, so it is worthwhile keeping an eye on the ENO social media accounts in case they pop up.
- Cheap tickets:Access All Arias – If you are aged 16-29 or a full time student, you can purchase stall tickets for £30, dress circle tickets for £20 and upper circle tickets for £10 through Access All Arias. You can also bring another adult with you for the same price, and purchase a programme booklet for half the price. Talk about convenient! (Click here for more information.)
- Cheap tickets, and great for sell out shows: The £10 Standing ticket – I recently discovered this method for ENO’s Ahknaten, which was completely sold out. Surprisingly, I felt that while I was watching the opera, I had a better view than those sitting in the row in front of me. You can only purchase them in person on the day, and sometimes you can buy an extra ticket for your friend if they are running late (which I was.) When I arrived at 6.30pm (for a show that started at 7.30pm) there were many standing tickets available, therefore there isn’t a limit of them on the day. My advice is – just grab your opera glasses and ensure you wear the most comfortable shoes, then enjoy the show! Of course, I’m not recommending this to anyone who has been advised by their doctor to avoid activity that requires standing for a long period of time.
- Cheap Tickets: Upper Slips for £4 – £18 – Last year, to my joy, I discovered £4 Upper Slip tickets to see one of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. I also managed to see La Traviata with Sonya Yoncheva for £14. These seats are on the side of the stage, high up, more so than the amphitheatre level, with a restricted view, yet I was pretty satisfied with what I was paying for. It’s worth mentioning that it’s a game of luck when purchasing these tickets – you don’t know which side has the best view. Unfortunately the ROH box office doesn’t know where the best side to view the production is until a week before the first night, usually the time when dress rehearsals have taken place, so you might be out of luck on choosing the wrong side to sit if you book months in advance. But there are…
- … Day tickets, which range from various prices. These can be cheap tickets and are great for sell out shows: On the actual day of the opera (or ballet), the ROH offers between 60 to 70 day tickets, so you can physically queue up to get a ticket of a sold-out performance. For your information, it’s one ticket per person and the box office doesn’t open until 10am! However, depending on the cast, conductor or popularity of the opera, you might have to get there very early. For the in-demand Tristan und Isolde production with Nina Stemme, two years ago, I queued up from 8am and managed to get an extraordinary view from the Grand Tier Boxes for £40. For Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek in Andrea Chénier, I was very tired – I queued up from 7.45am, and managed to see the hot cast from the Upper Slips for less than £20. And for the latest Il trittico, I arrived at the opera house at 8.41am and purchased an amphitheatre (S-Row) ticket for roughly £33, which allowed me to view the entire stage and see the wonderful Ermonela Jaho reprise her role as Angelica.
- Cheap tickets, and great for sell out shows: Phone in Day tickets – But you can’t queue up on the day I hear you cry! Not to worry, from 10am you can still call the box office and see what tickets are available. When I want to see an opera on its opening night and all the seats are taken, there are standing tickets. For Wayne McGregor’s ballet, The Ravel Girl, I managed to book a standing circle stall ticket for £6. Yes, £6! Again, wear comfortable shoes! Another example is this week’s opening of Musorgsk’s Boris Godunov with Britain’s favourite baritone, Bryn Terfel where I managed to get a standing ticket for the same location, which was originally £18 reduced to £10. The reason being that it was a restricted view. The actual staging had two levels, which meant that it was hard for some, depending where they sat or stood, to see the higher level. I appreciated the fact that I was advised and made aware by the box office of this disadvantage; despite the restriction, I was still pleased with my view, though some people may not agree.
- Cheap tickets: Student Discounts: If you are a student, you can register to get e-mails from the ROH which will update you on special student days whereby tickets, no matter where they are located – orchestral stalls, amphitheatre, grand tier or upper slips – tickets are £10 each. During my student days, I would rely on these a lot and although they are only available on special days e.g. a weekday and not for all productions, they still give newbies an opportunity to get to see an opera live for a tenner.
Opera Holland Park (OHP): The company offers thousands of ticket for free through their Inspire Tickets range and they go like hot cakes, so you have to apply early to get your hands on them. They also have many tickets at £17 per person. (Click here to look at last year’s offer of Inspire.)
- FREE tickets: 1,000 tickets are available for free for those aged between 7 – 18 and up to four people can apply, such as an adult and three young people. There’s a deadline for applications for these free tickets, however, these seats are available for all 32 productions during the summer season. (Click here for more information)
- FREE tickets: Patrons of the OHP (ages 60+) also have access to free tickets. Each year OHP offer 500 free tickets for the older audiences as well!
- FREE tickets:Under-30’s tickets – 300 tickets are offered to those under-30’s and available to book on the phone for each production. (Click here for more information.)
Small-scale opera productions
Here are a few example of prices for small and local productions, which also prove how cheap opera tickets really can be.
- Unexpected Opera’s The Rinse Cycle at the Charing Cross Theatre ranged from £12.50 to £25.00
- Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival: Out of hundreds of operas to choose from, they offer tickets worth £5 per ticket for early bird booking on line. Or £7.50 per ticket thereafter.
- Fulham Opera’s Simon Boccanegra (which has its last showing today) ranges from £20 (for concessions) to £25. There’s a booking fee on-line, otherwise, like most small-scale productions, you may chance it and pop down to the venue and buy tickets on the door.
- For London Mozart players’ The Coose of Cairo (L’oca del Caïro) at St John’s Smith Square, showing on Thursday 14th April 2016, tickets are available for as cheap as £15! I’ve also seen excellent productions by Opera Danube at this Westminster venue where the price of tickets were within the same price bracket.
And for those that love chamber music and recitals, there’s Wigmore Hall’s Under 35s Scheme where certain performances are accessible for £5 only. (Click here for more information.)
I have only provided a handful of examples based on my experience. If you know other ways of getting cheap opera tickets, please let me know and volunteer this information. I believe that I’ve provided fair examples proving that opera ticket are cheap. If this doesn’t convince you that this is the case, I don’t know what will.