The Week in Arts: It's official: cheap tickets attract more people

The annual report of the Royal Opera House probably hasn't been bedtime reading for many people this week. But it certainly sent me to sleep happy. For it contained a remarkable admission. The departing chairman Sir Colin Southgate wrote in his valedictory report: "I believe the major issue facing the Royal Opera House over the next five years is ticket prices. We make great efforts to maintain a sustainable range of affordable ticket prices for every performance, and reducing our top ticket price to £50 for Wozzeck and Sophie's Choice in the autumn confirmed that more people come when we lower our prices."

With a contented sigh I drifted off to sleep. At last, a public admission that reducing ticket prices brings in a new audience. I have been banging on about this for quite some time. But the usual responses are that people will pay high prices for football or pop concerts, so why not theatre or opera, or that there are always a number of very cheap seats available each day, so what's the problem?

The Royal Opera House has clearly now learned that some football and pop-concert attendees need to be persuaded into the arts, and price is one of the best persuaders. The great theatre director, Peter Brook, was once told that young people will spend a fortune on shoes, so surely they shouldn't mind spending a reasonable amount on a theatre ticket. "But," he replied, "over the centuries, shoes have not let anyone down."

The other perennial argument of the ROH, that they have seats for just £6 for all performances, is useful only up to a point. I sat in one of these seats for the ballet Romeo and Juliet, and had a smashing view of Romeo but rarely clapped eyes on Juliet.

You can see only half the stage from the £6 seats. New attendees are choosy these days and they want to see the whole stage for their money.

But, as Sir Colin Southgate says, offer them good seats for £50 and they will give opera a try. My hunch is that they are far more likely to give it a try for a £50 best seat than for £6 with a rotten view.

And there is another reason why our premier opera house should concentrate on finding ways to reduce prices. Charging £170 for the best seats, as the ROH does, may be defensible on the grounds that there are enough rich people and corporate buyers happy to pay those prices.

But charging £170 for a seat at a subsidised arts venue is also faintly obscene. It sends out a message - the untrue message - that opera is elitist, class based and out of reach.

Ten years on, there's a bit more teen spirit

The papers this week have been full of tributes to Kurt Cobain on the 10th anniversary of the Nirvana singer's death. But it was not ever thus. When Cobain died in 1994 the press largely failed to realise that it was a significant event. While the death led TV bulletins across America, over here The Times had just a short report on page three; The Guardian a mere 147 words, again on page three; The Daily Telegraph also a short page-three report. The Independent did better, running the story at the foot of page one.

Younger readers were bemused by the lack of coverage. One fan wrote in The Times: "Every single person I know under the age of 35 is on the phone, and when I finally get through to them, they're chain-smoking and downing vodka."

It was, I think, a rare moment in the past 40 years when youth culture and its heroes had escaped the gaze of the older generation in the media. And it was the last time such an oversight has occurred.

¿ Peter Ustinov, whose death was announced last Monday, had a multitude of anecdotes. My favourite concerned his role as Nero in the 1951 Hollywood epic Quo Vadis?. Ustinov told how the head of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, the inimitable Sam Goldwyn, had difficulty in distinguishing between Ustinov and his character. Goldwyn seemed to have just discovered the personal history of the Roman emperor and accosted Ustinov on set, bellowing: "That sonofabitch! Do you know what he did to his mother?" Ustinov mumbled that he was aware of the episode. Goldwyn glared at him. "That sonofabitch!" he shouted again, and walked away, throwing a last contemptuous look at the unfortunate actor.

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