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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Taking opera to the cheap seats
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Theatre audience
The Savoy Opera wants to compete with West End shows
The UK's newest opera company, Savoy Opera, aims to take the art form to a new audience, attracting "opera virgins" with the lure of cheap tickets - some as low as a tenner.

The new London company, launched by theatre impresarios Raymond Gubbay and Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, has adopted a populist approach somewhat at odds with opera's occasionally rarefied air.

Some of its tickets will cost as little as 10 each - and none of its 1,100 seats will cost more than 49.50.

The Savoy Opera - which opens Thursday with The Barber of Seville - comes on the coat-tails of Mr Gubbay's opera "spectaculars", such as his production of Aida at the Albert Hall in 2001, which have attracted huge crowds.

Sir Stephen told the BBC last year: "We would like people to come knowing the tunes, looking forward to the emotional rollercoaster that a good opera should be, and enjoying themselves."

New audiences

Even in the description of its prices, the Savoy seems to be unashamedly populist, talking of its productions as being less expensive than a West End musical or a Premiership football match.

Just a few streets away at the Royal Opera House (ROH) in Covent Garden, seats for some of its more prestigious shows, such as the forthcoming Arabella, sell for up to 115.

But the ROH too has initiated price cuts in order to attract fresh blood to its productions and guarantees that 50% of all tickets for every production at the Royal Opera House cost 50 or less.

The Barber of Seville
The Barber of Seville is the Savoy Opera company's first production

Last week it also announced it would be offering 100 10 tickets to many of its Monday shows next season - though they would only be available 90 minutes before the show started, and not available online.

The Royal Opera House also has tickets for 11 available for some productions in the coming months and 272 tickets every night at the opera house cost 10 or less.

And Britain's other premier opera companies - Welsh National Opera, English National Opera and Scottish Opera - all offer limited numbers of tickets for productions at under 10.

On its website, the London-based English National Opera advertises that you can see "a tenor for a tenner" at the Coliseum.

The new drive to fill seats at London's opera houses comes as opera increasingly loses its elitist image and emerges as a genuine mainstream entertainment.

Kenwood House, in Hampstead, north London, has held an outdoor opera as part of its summer concert season for many years.

And it has consistently been one of its most popular performances, Gudrun Allsobrook from events organiser IMG told BBC News Online.

"It used to be a lot more of a highbrow programme, but over the last few years the audience really has changed. But we still have opera in the programme because it is very popular.

"We don't put on anything radical. It is stuff that people will recognise even if they don't own a classical CD - with all the popular arias."

'Cheaper than football'

"We have found that our audience is getting younger, and people are buying tickets for the atmosphere," Ms Allsobrook adds.

Cheap opera ticket prices
Welsh National Opera 8
English National Opera 8
Scottish Opera 5
Royal Opera House 11
Prices are based on cheapest ticket available online
"It will be interesting to see how Raymond Gubbay does, but I believe he is going to be successful."

Martin Cullingford, news editor at classical music magazine Gramophone, says the Savoy will open up opera to an audience that may not have considered going before.

"Anything that encourages people to go to opera is a very good thing, and having cheaper tickets is a good way to do that. Not all of their tickets are going to be 10, but a lot of them are going to be cheaper than for a football match or even some rock concerts."

"People who have not gone before will now feel it is within their price range," he says.

He says it was sensible to equate the Savoy experience with that of a West End show.

"People will feel the Savoy Opera is something they can attend and feel comfortable doing so."

Royal Opera House in Covent Garden
The Royal Opera House has launched 10 tickets as well

Opera producer Joseph Seelig, who has staged productions at arts festivals in Hong Kong and New Zealand, says opera companies should not be obsessed with having overtly populist rosters at the expense of more challenging work.

And he says performing opera is not a cheap business, as many productions require as many as 150 people to stage them.

"I don't know if it going to bring in a new audience but it is another place in London to see opera and that is a good thing. I think this new opera should be good because I know the people who involved in it.

And even the tickets nudging 50 present better value than a football game, says Mr Seelig, a football fan himself.

"You go and see a Tottenham Hotspur game and you could see a boring match where your team loses.

"The quality of the opera for the same prices is going to be extremely reliable."

'Mainstream' opera company opens
15 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
Impresario plans 'accessible' opera
29 Oct 03  |  Entertainment
Plan for third London opera house
10 Sep 03  |  Entertainment

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