One might imagine the venerable Paris Opera, which dates all the way back to the Louis XIV and celebrates its 350th birthday next year, might be rather conservative, closed shop in terms of the patrons it cultivates. Those red velvet seats and sumptuous gilded ceilings seem to say just one thing: opera is for the established set. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paris Opera, or to give it its official title, Opéra National de Paris, has adopted some remarkable initiatives to welcome in the less well-off and particularly those in their 20s and 30s.
In fact they are so inventive that they could be taken up by opera companies in this country – and our orchestras for that matter.
It all comes down to ticket pricing. Compare first the cost of seeing for example Opera Australia’s Carmen, currently playing at the Sydney Opera House: it costs $89 for pensioners and students to sit in the stalls – that’s 10% less than the normal $99 for adult admission. Alternatively, there’s a flat rate of $46 for everyone in the circle.
Paris Opera’s discounting is the reverse way around. Seniors pay full price, which is typically in the range of €100-210 (AU$156-330) although it can be €35 (AU$55) or even less for seats with limited visibility. However, ‘under 40s’ – by which they mean those aged between 29 and 39 – enjoy a whopping 40% rate reduction on virtually all seat categories.
Now that’s interesting, because experience shows that young adults (20s and 30s) are one of the hardest age groups to bring to the opera. Typically they are too busy establishing careers or enslaved with families and mortgages to even think of it. So for them, a break like this can only be good news.
Paris Opera does not ignore cash-strapped students either: last-minute tickets for as low as for €5 (AU$8) can be picked up 30 minutes before the curtain goes up. Opera Australia offers student rush tickets too, along with limited view and standing room tickets, for a more expensive but not-unreasonable $45.
Paris Opera has been amazingly successful with its pricing structure. Its average audience age is 48. In the US it is a lot higher: for example the average age at The Met is 58, and 65-72 at the Houston Grand Opera.
Not only that, a large proportion of the audience at the Paris Opera is made up of young people experiencing their first taste of opera. Stephane Lissner, the company’s director since 2014, has remarked: “60% of the people who come to these performances for young people are coming to the opera for the first time.” It would be interesting to compare statistics on audience demography in this country, but unfortunately the National Opera Review of 2016 offers no light on this question.
For the last two years Paris Opera has also been offering what it calls Avant-première seats to under-28 audiences for cheap €10 (AU$15) tickets. Similar to dress or open rehearsal tickets that are occasionally offered by this country’s opera companies, these “facilitate young people’s access to performances” and seek “to abolish further barriers that still make access to live performances difficult for young people,” says the company.
In terms of paving the way for opera’s future, it all adds up to some forward thinking.