Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has been asked to investigate claims by a retired local government worker who has been attending the House since 1953. Christine Partridgesaid yesterday that she has always sat in the the amphitheatre, the cheapest part of the House. For the new season's most popular productions, prices there have doubled to pounds 50.
"To pay pounds 50 to sit at the top of the House is disgusting," she said. "As it is I have to pay pounds 55 to join the Friends of Covent Garden so that I can get my choice of tickets. This was meant to be the people's opera and I gathered the idea was to bring new young audiences in. How will they be able to afford these prices?"
The ROH chairman, Sir Colin Southgate, said at the reopening gala on Wednesday night: "We have lowered seat prices substantially. And on Friday and Saturday nights over 50 per cent of seats in the House will cost less than pounds 40 for opera and pounds 25 for ballet." The crucial question of ticket prices was also dwelt on by the Prime Minister. He wrote in the programme for the new season: "Everyone will be welcome. Tickets are cheaper and easier to get hold of."
However, for the most popular productions there are no reductions on Friday and Saturday nights and seats at the back of the gods cost pounds 50 - far more expensive than before the House's closure. An examination of prices for next week's opening production of Verdi's Falstaff shows that for all evening performances it costs pounds 150 to sit in the stalls. Only when one goes to restricted view seats and standing room do prices fall to pounds 20.
An ROH spokeswoman said last night: "Sir Colin was summarising the situation in a couple of sentences. The Friday and Saturday night reductions do not apply to all operas. The amphitheatre has been re-priced because the facilities are different. There is access now to the Floral Hall, its bars and foyers. The most expensive opera prices have come down. We have never said that all prices have been reduced."
A spokesman for Mr Smith said: "Ministers want the House to be open to a broader audience and for the public to have access to performances, including through some lower ticket prices.
"The Secretary of State believes the ROH management has responded to this desire."
Miss Partridge said yesterday: "The prices quoted are always for the `Slips' - a seat from which not all the stage can be seen. Admittedly, the prices of the most expensive seats have fallen quite considerably but this doesn't help ordinary people who enjoy opera and who can now no longer afford to go to Covent Garden as much as they used to."