While thousands of tourists flock to London’s Royal Opera House (ROH), for many of us opera remains unapproachable, elusive, and above all, too expensive.
This is fake news, however, when opera tickets are more affordable than you think – and less highbrow too. A seat at the ROH may cost as little as £3 while you could be watching a performance based on the real-life story of Anna Nicole Smith, a small-town stripper who married an octogenarian billionaire.
Don’t be put off by the fancy venues either. While it’s true that the top-end tickets may cost more there, it’s not the case for the cheaper ones.
For example, the Royal Opera House (www.roh.org.uk) has plenty of opportunities for the less minted. The best scheme is ‘Rush’ seats which are available online at 1pm on Fridays. There are 49 tickets in total: 10 in the stalls circle, 16 in the balcony and 23 in the amphitheatre. You can buy up to two Rush seats. It’s less well-known that, if you can’t book online, you can get Rush tickets by phone or in person on the same day at the same time. Prices vary for each production.
If you’re happy not to sit, every ROH performance has 123 super-cheap standing places for sale. And, on a more quirky note, you can buy ‘listening only’ seats behind light rigging which have no view of the stage.
The English National Opera (www.eno.org) has marginally greater audience capacity than the ROH and operas here are performed in English, unlike the ROH which has English surtitles.
It has several affordable schemes. ‘Secret Seats’ are for those who don’t mind where they sit. No matter how far in advance you buy, where you sit is allocated only 48 hours before a performance. But at a cost of £29 per secret seat, you’re guaranteed a preferential seat worth £50 or more.
Then there's the ENO Concessionary Standby tickets which are available to senior citizens, students, income support recipients and the under-16s. They are sold on the day, three hours prior to a performance for 50% off, excluding the top and lowest price tickets.
Both the ENO and the ROH have similar ‘Friends’ loyalty schemes. As a ‘friend’, you can get significantly reduced dress rehearsal tickets. These cost from £5 to £23 at the ROH, for example. Friends membership schemes start at £60 a year at the ENO, compared to £99 at the ROH, and also allow access to priority booking and discounted multi-buy schemes. Once exhausted by members, priority bookings are available to the public on a first come, first serve basis, as are multi-buy tickets.
Away from London’s two main houses, there is plenty of other affordable opera, some seasonal and others as one-off performances. Look out for Opera Holland Park’s season (www.operahollandpark.com) and ‘Grimeborn’ at the Arcola Theatre (www.arcola.com) which features bold versions of classic operas throughout July and August. Tickets start at £12. Finally, The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten is on from 22 to 30 June at Regent's Park alfresco theatre
Don't forget opera companies in other parts of the country such as Opera North, English Touring Opera and the Welsh National Opera. Tickets for productions outside the capital could be more economic.