Tuesday 22 July 2008

This time next year

We have just booked some opera tickets for the Santa Fe Festival (Christine Brewer in Alceste and Natalie Dessay's first La Traviata plus Tom Ford’s opera designing debut). For 2009! This seems to be part of a growing trend, the stretching out of booking periods so that for popular events you can find yourself booking for a ridiculously long period in advance.

In the case of Santa Fe, this is understandable; it encourages this year’s festival goers to sign up for next year’s tickets whilst they are at this year’s festival. But organisations such as the Royal Opera House and English National Opera seem to be putting longer lead times on their advanced booking. And ENO seems to have reduced its number of booking periods, so that you find yourself booking for longer stretches of time.

Some of the other UK opera companies seem to have adopted the yearly booking strategy; we have just booked tickets for Scottish Opera for May 2009 (Massenet’s Manon with Anne Sophie Duprels and Paul Charles Clarke). This yearly booking cycle is one used by the Barbican’s Great Performer’s Season, so that in early Spring each year we find ourselves booking for the following season, which might run until June/July the following year.

Why book so early, you ask yourself?

Partly it’s because you can. If you don’t book early then you stand a chance on missing out on the better seats. As an example, we normally sit in the cheaper front seats in the stalls at the Barbican. We like the closeness. But if we don’t book soon after booking opens, then we either miss these seats or end up sitting further away or at the side.

This ends up becoming a self fulfilling cycle, companies open booking earlier so people book earlier; certainly a case of supply generating demand. The only benefit would seem to be in the companies’ bank accounts where they get their income earlier.

By contrast, a number of the continental opera companies still operate the old system whereby booking opens a fixed period before the first performance of the opera. This system though, I suspect, may gradually give way under pressure from the internet.

People want on-line internet booking so that they can choose their own seats; we certainly prefer this and are prepared to wait for it in some cases. But when companies move to this method of booking, you can find that their whole model of booking changes. The other area where the UK, well at least London, differs from many Continental houses is that on mainland Europe subscriptions are still a vital point.

The end result of all this is that I have already bought my 2009 diary and have a clear idea about my main holidays in 2009 (Scotland in May and Santa Fe in August). It also means that increasingly we have a very expensive cache of tickets sitting in our in-box. But the main casualty is that spontaneity can go out of the window.<

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