Opera house to launch cut-price performances: Subsidised tickets to be sold to students, unemployed and young for first time

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THE Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has bowed to public pressure and reduced its prices for some performances.

For the first time a number of Saturday performances throughout the new season this autumn will be subsidised by the Royal Opera House itself and sold to students, young people, the unemployed and other groups on low or fixed incomes. Prices will range from pounds 3.50 to pounds 20. The productions will include the operas Madame Butterfly and The Magic Flute and the ballets Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker.

Generally though, prices will rise next season by 4.45 per cent. Average prices at present are pounds 62 for opera and pounds 27 for ballet. Best seats for opera are already more than pounds 100, and at performances when star names such as Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti or Jose Carreras appear, prices for the best seats are as high as pounds 208. Attendances at the Royal Opera fell last year from 88 per cent in the previous year to 85 per cent of capacity. The Royal Ballet attendances increased from 82 per cent to 87 per cent.

Last year the Royal Opera House made a surplus of pounds 266,000, though that still leaves it with an accumulated deficit of pounds 28m.

The reduced price events will all be matinees and the company will lose up to pounds 30,000 per performance. Jeremy Isaacs, general director, said that the board had expressed concern to him at the pricing levels, and he was looking for commercial firms to sponsor the six performances. If they were not forthcoming the Royal Opera House would subsidise them itself.

Highlights of the new opera season, which starts in September include Carreras and Domingo returning to the ROH. Domingo appears in Carmen and in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, and Carreras appears in one of his favourite operas, the seldom-performed Fedora by Giordano.

Leeds-based Opera North is also to make its first appearance at Covent Garden with two performances of Benjamin Britten's Gloriana, first staged at the Royal Opera House to mark Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne.

Nicholas Paynes, the new head of opera at Covent Garden and former director of Opera North, said he wanted to put on more English opera. 'We mustn't neglect our English heritage,' he said. 'There is a pure pleasure in hearing English well sung in a theatre where you can actually hear the words.'

Mr Isaacs added that Covent Garden gave fewer performances of ballet than it ought. In the current season there were about 160 opera performances compared with 120 ballet performances.

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