Those who want to be shocked by the opera only have to look at the ticket prices. As I found out, much to my dismay, when I was told that front row seats to Puccini’s Turandot at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden cost £235.
Which kind of underscores what thespian Derek Jacobi lamented last week when he said theater should be accessible to all and part of “our blood and our bones.”
You can just hear 84-year-old Jacobi’s rich intonation as he makes his plea, can’t you? He was shocked to learn of skyrocketing West End prices, saying their exorbitance makes theater attendance an ‘elitist’ pursuit.
Few would disagree. But if you want to see world-class opera, there are other options, as I discovered.
Opera North’s revival of Edward Dick’s critically acclaimed 2018 production of Tosca at Hull New Theater received five-star reviews – and rightly so. I am an opera fan and have seen Tosca many times, including once at the Royal Opera House, but this was by far the most beautiful yet.
Mykhailo Malafii as Cavaradossi and Giselle Allen as Tosca in Puccini’s Turandot at the Royal Opera House
Opera fan Stephanie Hawthorne (pictured) was devastated when she was told front row seats to Puccini’s Turandot at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden cost £235
I went with my brother and we had the best seats in the house – a bargain at £43.50 per ticket. In fact, our whole weekend in Hull, including the two tickets, round trip train tickets from London, two nights in a hotel (with an excellent freshly cooked breakfast) and a visit to a top tourist attraction, cost less than £470 out of the two Royal Opera House tickets.
I’m sure the good people who saw Turandot, Puccini’s last opera, had a great night. But I doubt it surpassed mine. No wonder The Times art critic called Opera North’s Tosca “a corkscrew of a show.”
Certainly, everything exceeded my expectations: from the beautiful set to the orchestra to the performances.
Giselle Allen, starring as the celebrated singer in love with artist Cavaradossi, played by Ukrainian tenor Mykhailo Malafii in his Opera North debut, were both outstanding.
I had arrived in Hull the day before. Often disparaged as Britain’s least glamorous city, it has long struggled with an image problem. One of his most famous sons, the poet Philip Larkin, wrote: ‘I wish I could think of something nice to tell you about Hull, oh yes…it is very pretty and flat for cycling.’
As my train pulled into the station, I thought that the criticism is undeserved these days. There is a sparkling marina, green spaces, a patchwork of cobbled streets, great bars and restaurants. But it is in the arts where the renaissance is most visible.
Hull was named a British City of Culture 2017. That year, the director of the Royal Ballet said the city not only stood above its weight for its ability to produce male ballet stars, but generates arguably the most per capita of any UK city.
I stayed in the family run Victorian Kingston Theater Hotel in a garden square opposite the theatre. Staff were friendly and service excellent. A double en-suite room with full English breakfast was £194 for two nights.
Stephanie stayed at the family-run Victorian Kingston Theater Hotel in a garden square opposite the theatre
Hull is such a friendly place. Poor parts of the city remain, but it is on the rise with resurgent docks and many museums. The train service is excellent. There are 16 direct trains to London every day and the average journey time is two hours and 51 minutes. My return ticket cost £62.35, purchased with a senior rail card and booked in advance. Total cost then for two days in Hull to see the opera: £443.20.
And it even included tickets to The Deep, the city’s biggest attraction, an aquarium focused on conservation and entertainment.
The Royal Opera House defends its pricing saying: ‘We have been consistently voted the cheapest theater ticket in the West End, with tickets this season starting at just £4, and have been able to keep nearly 40 per cent of our £4 tickets. 50 or less, despite rising costs.
Our Young ROH program has sold us over 80,000 discounted tickets to people aged 16 to 25 since August last year, and 14,400 discounted tickets have been purchased through our #ThankYouNHS program since June 2021, with tickets costing just £ 1 cost to NHS staff and their families.’