Rich to pay as opera house cuts prices

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The Independent Online
The Royal Opera House is planning to bow to years of public unease over its ticket prices and reduce them under a confidential plan now being discussed by ROH executives.

More than 500 seats every night will be under pounds 20 for opera and pounds 10 for ballet, according to radical proposals to make the publicly funded Royal Opera House more accessible. This could involve the controversial step of applying for more lottery money, even though the ROH has already had pounds 78m for its redevelopment.

It will almost certainly involve helping the poorer opera-goers by increasing prices for the very rich and the corporate customers who can expect to pay in excess of pounds 300 a seat when the ROH reopens after its two-year closure in 1999. At present, only about 200 seats are under pounds 20 for opera; and top prices can go as high as pounds 250 when Pavarotti or Domingo are performing

The private paper being studied by the ROH board has been written by Keith Cooper, head of corporate affairs. It proposes creating an endowment fund of pounds 25m which would give an annual return of pounds 1.5m to be used to make ticket price reductions.

The money would come from the special appeal fund that Vivien Duffield, chairman of the Royal Opera House Trust, is launching this autumn to raise private money to go towards the redevelopment.

This is expected to raise pounds 100m, which will leave sufficient to create the endowment. It would be the first time in Britain that an endowment fund was used to cut the cost of seat prices.

A number of options will be considered by the ROH board, chaired by Peter Gummer. They include percentage price reductions on all tickets; targeted reductions for specific groups; price reductions for selected shows and in selected parts of the theatre; a loyalty card scheme with price reductions for regular patrons.

But whichever option is chosen, the ROH will soon announce a commitment to re- open in 1999 with 500 seats a night under pounds 20.

A senior source at the ROH said: "We are determined to have the headline 'Opera House To Reduce Prices' when we reopen. We should be able to do this from an endowment fund, but if we have to make another lottery application, the Arts Council have said they want to increase access and get prices lower, so we would hope they would be sympathetic."

But while prices will go down generally, the top seat prices will go even higher. The paper being discussed by the board stresses that it does not make commercial sense to reduce prices for those who have no problem paying some of the current prices.

It does seem clear that the ROH will have to raise the money to keep prices down itself. The prospect of more lottery cash is remote. An Arts Council spokeswoman said yesterday that another Royal Opera House lottery application would certainly not succeed under the present rules; and even when the rules are changed next year to allow applications for money to increase accessibility, a successful application would be "unlikely".

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