CriticalDance Forum

Ticket prices and booking practises at Royal Opera House
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Author:  Cassandra [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 7:49 am ]
Post subject:  Ticket prices and booking practises at Royal Opera House

I somehow missed this very important article from last week by The Telegraph's opera critic Rupert Christiansen: ... roh120.xml

Note that Mr Christiansen is particularly worried about the steep rise in the cost of ballet tickets. He is right to complain as since the re-opening of the ROH the price of ballet tickets in particular has soared, whereas the theatre itself has become a lot less comfortable with standard seats being replaced by benches in certain parts of the house. A 248 per cent price increase is frankly outrageous.

Also of concern is the absurd practice of forcing patrons to book their tickets far in advance, which in my case means I often find I'm forced to dispose of tickets due to other commitments. I can't comment about the helpfulness or otherwise of box office staff as a friend of mine always books my tickets as part of a pair (He is a Friend of Covent Garden and gets us priority booking) but anecdotal evidence suggests that customer service is particularly poor at the Opera House.

Author:  LMCtech [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 10:44 am ]
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I've heard for years that ROH is particularly terrible for both ticket pricing and customer service. Does a patron have any options to complain?

Author:  ksneds [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 1:36 pm ]
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I've never bought a ticket at the ROH, and their policies are good part of the reason why.

Ticket booking is by 'season', very far in advance and heavily biased towards people who are willing to join the 'Friends' program. Which means paying more $$$. Judging from comments on other other boards, the rush to book tickets means that the internet booking is a nightmare, in-person booking means taking time to wait in a long line and many, if not most, of the good tickets are long gone before booking even opens to the general public.

For someone who'd like visit once in a while from Scotland, this is a huge turn off because I can't afford to come down to book in person, don't want to spend extra $$ just to book one or two tickets and don't want to spend all day at the internet in the hopes of booking a ticket. And I can imagine it's the same for the vast majority of Brits who don't live in London and/or are not able to be on the phone/internet/in person line during the day. Even the highly touted cheap tickets program (£10) required requesting months in advance with no guarantee you would even get any of the dates you requested.

Compare this to the situation in Edinburgh where prices are very reasonable (usually no more than £40), concession prices are available for almost all performances and the main dance theatre has stage almost exactly the same size as the ROH and almost no bad seats. And we certainly can attract good companies, especially during the Edinburgh Festival. Even in NYC, getting tickets for NYCB or ABT is MUCH less of hassle - I've never not been able to get a decent ticket for a performance.

To be honest, for many us north of London, it's just as cheap or cheaper to catch a discount airline flight to France or Copenhagen or Germany etc. to see ballet.

Unfortunately, I think the recent prices increases may in part be due to the drastic drain on the Lottery money from the Olympics. A lot of money that would otherwise have gone to the arts is now being directed towards Olympic planning. Which is why many of us did not want the Olympics here, especially those of in Scotland - only one event will be held here, yet we are losing a lot of Lottery funding that goes to things like youth sports leagues.

I can understand why prices would be cheaper in Edinburgh, but why can companies like NYCB afford to start prices as low as $30, and have programs like the 4th ring society which allow you to buy 4th ring seats at $12 all year for one $25 fee. How many tickets at ROH are less than £25?? Is the ROH still paying off debts from the overhaul? Are salaries that much more expensive? Are ROH ticket profits subsidizing something else? Are NYCB and ABT that much better at getting funding?

IMHO, I wonder if the ROH would improve the situation by

a) scrapping the Friends program which unfairly favors people who can afford to spend extra money. Yes, other companies give priority booking to patrons at some levels, but it's not like the ROH where many events and ticket levels literally sell out before the general public ever gets a chance.

b) setting up subscription series like NYCB or ABT which allows people who want to see several nights too book first, but since tickets aren't sent out for a few weeks, gets rid of that massive rush of people trying to book all at once as soon as booking opens for multiple programs before seats sell out. This has the added benefit of ensuring a certain amount of $$ coming in for a company, and allows people to book multiple performances at once, cutting down the number of bookings each person has to make. And if it's run properly, you can have substitutions permitted if people need to change one of the performances in their subscription package.

c) Stagger booking more - say open booking set period of time before each performance series.

d) Possibly hold back some tickets until a month or two weeks prior to the performance so people who can't plan as far in advance can have a chance at buying tickets. They do have the 'day of the performance' tickets, but frankly these tickets are but impossible to get unless you have the time to arrive hours before the doors open and camp in line.

In anycase, I think ROH needs to do something because the high prices and difficult access to tickets is helping to promote the impression that ballet (and opera etc.) is only for the rich and privileged. If we want to make ballet accessible that means making tickets affordable, making ticket booking systems that don't favour those who have the time during the day to be on the internet/on line or on the phone and don't require people to make decisions months in advance.


Author:  LMCtech [ Thu Sep 27, 2007 11:23 am ]
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How about adding more performances? Wouldn't that also help by creating more opportunity to buy?

Author:  ksneds [ Thu Sep 27, 2007 1:18 pm ]
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I could be wrong, but I think the opera house is pretty maxed out as far as performances - it's not just opera, but ballet and some special galas. But, I've never added up the number of performances, so I don't know how it compares to companies like NYCB and ABT or even other European companies.

In addition, I don't know whether the ballet would be able to deal with more performances in terms of keeping dancers healthy and not over-worked - they've certainly had quite a few on-stage injuries in the last year of two. Plus, though the UK has the longest working hours in the UK, people tend to work shorter weeks here than in the US, and I suspect they would run into issues if they tried to impose more work hours on dancers and theatre workers. And then you have to deal with EU regulations, which sometimes go a bit (or more) overboard.

But, the question is whether simply having more performances would work. I think it would help, at least to give more dancers the chance to do the big roles. These days its a miracle to see anyone other than a principal in a lead role. Which leaves a big gap for dancers to jump over when they are promoted. But having been 'trained' to want to see the big names (and you can't blame them), would people go to performances where the roles are danced by lesser known dancers?

You'd also have to factor in whether the available times for extra performances would be of interest to audience members. The Royal Danish Ballet tried extra performances one year between Christmas and New Year's and ticket sales were so bad that one performance was actually cancelled.


Author:  Cassandra [ Fri Sep 28, 2007 4:31 am ]
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I have major concerns about the lack of matinee performances at Covent Garden as these are essential for people living outside of the London/South east area, but these can only be on Saturdays as extra performances on a Sunday might not achieve much as public transport is very reduced and in some cases grinds to a halt on Sundays. Midweek matinees are pretty useless for working people and when the Bolshoi gave a couple at Covent Garden last year, the one I went to was poorly attended.

Regarding ticket prices, last night's performance of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride was watched by a packed amphitheatre where the top price is £65 but there were swathes of empty seats in the lower parts of the house where tickets are almost double at £150. And by the way I was completely taken aback to discover that last night's performance came complete with a sign-language intepreter spot-lighted at the side of the stage. Not only was I unaware that opera was a popular entertainment for the deaf but was puzzled as to why the ladies services were necessary when surtitles/subtitles are available in all parts of the house and she would be invisible to a third of the audience anyway because of the theatre's horse-shoe shape. I suspect the mayor's office at work there.

Author:  ksneds [ Fri Sep 28, 2007 10:53 am ]
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Both NYCB and ABT always have Saturday matinees, whilst NYCB does a Sunday matinee (instead of an evening performance) and ABT also does Wednesday matinee. ABT's midweek matinee audiences are often mainly pensioners and schoolchildren, but you get enough folks in the NYC area who have the afternoon free to make it a pretty popular show. (I would think you'd have enough housewives/pensioners/students etc. in London to make at least one weekday matinee feasible). The RDB also does some weekend matinees, though every week's schedule is different.

Based on my experiences with RDB, and knowing how the system works at NYCB, matinees can be problematic because of rehearsal hours and the requirements for 'off time' between rehearsals/performances. If you have a matinee on Saturday, a full rehearsal day for most companies, that day is pretty much lost for rehearsal purposes and if you have a performance on a Friday or Saturday night, you can't call the dancers who performed back to the theatre until at least mid-morning the next day. Which is why matinees usually aren't any early than 1pm.


Author:  LMCtech [ Fri Sep 28, 2007 11:17 am ]
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San Francisco Ballet does Sat and Sunday matiness in addition to evening performance. The mid-week matinee is a NYC phenomenon not in standard practice outside that area, but they've been doing it for DECADES. It's an institution of "the ladies who lunch". It tends to work in big cities like chicago and San Francisco for Broadway tours, which are mandated to have 8 performances a week by Actor's Equity. Opera singers have different regs based on their union and ballet dancers have still different regs having to do with the amount of time per day they are called to rehearsal and performances (I think they max out at 6 hours).

There are always around personnel issues. You simply cast more dancers and schedule more stage hands. From my point of view that is a good thing. It gives more people more opportunities. I am always in favor of more performances rather than less. It is essential for the growth as a performer to be able to perform a role more than once or twice.

But I think I'm digressing.

Scheduling in a house that is booked solid anyway can be very challenging. The SF Opera House is booked almost every day of the year. Is the ROH in the same boat?

Author:  salzberg [ Fri Sep 28, 2007 12:40 pm ]
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LMCtech wrote:
You simply cast more dancers and schedule more stage hands.

I'm not familiar with NYCB's IATSE contract, but it may well be that they're required to use the same stagehands, or at least the department heads and keys, for every performance.

Author:  ksneds [ Fri Sep 28, 2007 1:23 pm ]
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The Royal Ballet also tends to do big full-length ballets which require large amounts of corps dancers. So unless they start doing more triple bills or the like, it's hard to stretch the corps any farther. Now, I think doing more triple bills would be great, but ruffling the feathers in London is a risky business. And, gosh knows, the London critics get in a total grump - to put it mildly - if companies dare to deviate in the slightest from tradition. You'd also probably have to create changes with the company way of thinking - more dancers doing roles means more coaches, more rehearsal time and more flexibility in scheduling - which probably means not announcing cast months and months in advance. And all the fuss from the ballet fans about that...

I think, unfortunately, there would be a lot of resistance to spreading out the casting. Royal Ballet fans tend to get testy if they can't see the big names - they've not really learned to appreciate up and coming talent the way people do elsewhere. And since dancers like Acosta and Cojocaru and Kobborg etc. tend to spend a lot of time guesting, there's only so many chances for them to dance in London.

You also have to remember, as I stated, that Europeans just don't do the long hours of work that Americans do. Brits work more than continental Europeans, but you won't find European ballet companies with contracts that allow them to work dancers for as many hours as say at NYCB or the Kirov. Same for stagehands. My perception is that workers tend to want to keep hours limited - even if you could find more workers to create shifts etc., there's this fear that having longer hours will lead to employers requiring longer working hours. Which is why stores here generally close by 6:30pm most nights and large stores are not permitted to open on Christmas day or New Years etc. There is NO public transport for more than 24 hours at Christmas in Scotland for the same reason.

And workers here have EU regulations to back them up, so companies have to be very careful not to run afoul of the rules because it's not just a union or a judge, it's the weight of the EU that could come crashing down on them.


Author:  Cassandra [ Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:14 am ]
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it's hard to stretch the corps any farther

I don't understand why as its not as if they are on stage every night. They alternate with the opera company and if performances are shared equally then each company performs three nights per week. Next week, the first full week when the ballet season is open (the opera season usually opens first), the dancers will be exceptionally busy with five performances, including a Saturday Matinee, the opera will give two performances including a Sunday and on two nights the main theatre will be dark.

Since the reopening of the theatre the numbers of performances have increased to include lunchtime concerts, lectures and the like and tours of the building so that many of the front of house staff now work full time, not just evening performances meaning that they are on duty in the theatre regardless of whether there is a matinee or not.

more dancers doing roles means more coaches, more rehearsal time

Unless things have changed in recent years, individual coaching isn't that common with two or more casts being taught a role simultaneously and in any case if rehearsal time is limited then the answer is simply to give an extra performance to those already scheduled to dance during the run.

I think, unfortunately, there would be a lot of resistance to spreading out the casting. Royal Ballet fans tend to get testy if they can't see the big names - they've not really learned to appreciate up and coming talent the way people do elsewhere. And since dancers like Acosta and Cojocaru and Kobborg etc. tend to spend a lot of time guesting, there's only so many chances for them to dance in London.

I cannot agree with that at all, in fact the ballet fans are always delighted to see dancers progress through the ranks; don't forget that Cojocaru did that and other dancers such as the massively popular Sarah Lamb didn't join as principals. If you doubt what I'm saying then just wait until the RB management decides to give Steven MacRae a leading role: the diehard balletomanes will be storming the box office.

Author:  Tahor [ Sat Oct 27, 2007 8:02 pm ]
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I am afraid I just had to post here to correct several of the inaccuracies contained within Kate's post near the start of this thread. Whilst I agree with posters about prices at the ROH being too high (that is a whole debate in itself), I do not see the need to "beat up" the ROH unjustifiably. Especially when it comes from someone who admits that they never actually attend anyway - I am afraid most of this impression is myth, not general reality.


a) There seems to be the suggestion that all tickets go to the Friends, and that this is some kind of exclusive club for rich people to use their masses of cash to get a priority. Can I correct the impression that you need to be mega rich to be a Friend. It costs £78 per year, that's £6.50 per month! I think we would all agree that £6.50 a month is nothing, that virtually anyone that wanted to be a Friend could afford to do so. I am not rich, neither are any of the people I know who are Friends. There are 20,000 of them, and these are simply people that love the art forms, wish to support them whilst at the same time earning themselves a priority booking. But even then you go into a ballot and you do not always get what you ask for as a Friend if demand is higher than supply. It saddens me when people moan about the Friends and say close them down. Kate says it unfairly favours members but how is that? Anyone that wants to join is free to (there is no limit to membership and it is not by nomination), almost everyone could afford £6.50 a month (many people I know are pensioners on very modest incomes yet they still afford to be a Friend). So I have to say to people that say the Friends is unfair that this is nonsense. Instead of moaning at the Friends why not simply join it yourself and enjoy the benefit like the rest of us. Most theatres have a Friends programme, there is absolutely nothing any different about the ROH.

b) Kate suggests ALL the tickets go to Friends, and that very often nothing is left. That is not the case strictly speaking. The ROH is actually forced under the terms of its public subsidy to keep 20% of seats back for public booking, and this it does every booking period across all price ranges - 20% is actually frozen out from the friends. So there is always at least 20% of seats on the first day of public booking, but for the vast majority of performances there is a lot more than that, as the Friends do not normally take the full 80% for routine repertory performances (only for special things i.e. Domingo singing etc, would all 80% of Friends and Trust tickets be gone). Of course how long that 20% + supply lasts after public booking opens is down to popular demand.

c) So if organised enough to note the public date in their diary and booking within a few days of that opening, anyone has access to well over 20% of seats per night, and for most performances would easily find tickets available. But is anyone feels that being limited to this 20% + does not give them enough choice, they are perfectly free to join the Friends for £6.50 per month like the rest of us!

d) Of course the root cause of such attitudes I know is ticket prices. Very often what you will find left as a routine are expensive stalls tickets, whereas you have to be in on the first day to get stalls circle standing. The cheap seats go early, as there are far less of them than the expensive ones. But there are low prices starting at £5 to £8 for ballet - you just have to be more organised to get these cheaper ones. If you can afford to pay for stalls seats you can hang around without too much of a panic very often.

e) The picture painted of general difficulties buying tickets is not accurate. On an average day you can buy tickets on line instantly - there is no need to wait. Try it now - you will find it easy and immediate. The only time you have to wait in a long line (either on the internet, or in person) is on the FIRST days of the 4 booking periods, both Friends date and Public date. So to me its no big deal if 4 days a year you have to be a bit patient. I did it a few weeks ago on-line on the first day and the system worked fine, I simply left it logged on and waited for about 45 minutes until it let me in, it was hassle free, just have to be a bit patient. Any other day apart from these FIRST days, you can log on an buy immediately. Its true when they trialed the new system it did not work the first time and caused all those horror stories, but that was a one off, now fixed.

f) I despair when people complain that on these first days of booking there is high demand which means they have to wait. I say its great news that there is high demand, as it means the art forms are alive and kicking, and popular! What would you rather, booking open and on the first day no one shows up? Then for sure the art forms would be dead. It's great that people are swamping the ROH on the first day, this means the art forms are popular and demand is high - isn't that good news for us all? We just have to learn to be patient on those 4 or 5 days a year. On any other day it is very easy to book.

g) I agree it is a pain to have to book 8 months in advance, but to be honest I find that better to have schedules and casting well in advance for planning, rather than like say in Paris where they publish the ballet casting so late that by the time you get it all cheap travel to Paris is sold out. Better to have the info in advance. Most opera houses take bookings the same as the ROH - for example booking in Paris for the Bolshoi opened at the start of Sept for mid Jan performances, so 4 months in advance. The public date for the ROH for each period is the same, about 4 months prior. Interesting idea kate had about holding some back a month / 2 weeks before, but quite honestly why do that when they have day seats? The whole reason they hold the day seats is for people like Kate who want to decide at the last moment. So the ROH does do something for people like that, and yet you still give them a kicking?! You do not have to wait in line for hours to get day seats (again unless it is something like Domingo, or with big singers), frankly most routine ballet performances you can just pitch up at 10am and get the day seat. If the theatre were to have this other booking date 1 month or 2 weeks in advance you would still complain that you have difficulty getting through that day etc. The effect is the same whatever the date is.

h) There is a suggstion that there should be a subscription series like NYCB etc - there actually already is one, I get it sent to me every booking period. It is open to the public and it operates in exactly the way Kate suggests.

I) More booking periods won't work - 4 in a year is enough. If you make it 10 you will only have the same effect 10 times a year instead of 4, as all of us will still be trying to get through on that first day. Most regulars at the ROH go to virtually everything, so the effect would be to have the same volume of people logging on, calling etc.

In short I think many of the incorrect perceptions Kate has are as a result of unsubstantiated myth - Kate herself explained that she has actually never been to the ROH, yet still formed these opinions. If she picked up the phone or logged on on any average day she would see its child's play to book a ticket. But yes on opening days for high demand stuff it is manic and does cause a delay. Kate compares this to Scotland (lower prices, ease of booking, no waits etc) - well of course! The ROH could never be like this because the demand it faces is far higher than any theatre in Scotland putting on opera or ballet. The ROH is the national opera house of the UK, and one of the famous opera houses of the world. So of course far more people are going to be trying to get in. Demand if higher, the theatre only has 2000 seats so for popular things they will sell out. But a lot of performances in fact do not sell out, partly as prices are far too high, so there is always a chance to go if you want to - the problem is not so much access to tickets but access to the £ to pay for them!

So the real problem at the ROH is simply the £ of tickets, not so much the booking practices of Friends scheme etc.

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