Friday, 18 September 2015

Grumpy Old Man (GOM) at the Royal Opera House

Wise words from Special Correspondent GOM (Grumpy Old Man)

Does the current fad for so-called inclusion know no bounds. Certainly the Royal Opera House’s latest wheeze defies demographics. As anybody who has been involved with marketing knows, we have an ageing population. The big audiences are those who are growing older, not the young. Yet ROH appears obstinately behind the curve, obsessed with youth and ‘inclusion’.
What is ROH’s response to this? Possibly feeling a little guilty at becoming a preserve of the super-rich (top priced seats are £165 but spend an evening eating and drinking there as well and you can probably double this), ROH’s newest marketing initiative runs contrary to any perceptible logic

My partner and I have been ‘regulars’ at ROH now for nearly 50 years, hence the above designation as ‘Grumpy Old Man’ and, if she will pardon me, in my partner’s case, ‘Slightly Ageing but Enduringly Elegant Lady’ or SAEEL (you will appreciate that I am slightly biased). Between us we have been to ROH at least 3,000 times. Now as ‘pensionists’ it remains one of our great and increasingly few pleasures in Life, especially the Royal Ballet which in our opinion is enjoying something of a Golden Age. As retirees understandably we have to count the pennies; my dear ‘Elegant Lady’ is a long term “Friend”, albeit now a Friend of the Lower Order since a hierarchy of giving has been established. Naturally we choose what we see and where we sit with some care.

In response to half a century of loyalty ROH have now seen fit to reserve some of the best seats in the Lower Slips for public booking. When ‘Enduringly Elegant Lady’ queried this with the Friends Office she was curtly informed that “the public” must have equal opportunity to book any seat. Is this all part of the obsession with ‘inclusion’? Leaving aside the simple fact that we are the public, this begs the question “what is the point of paying to be a Friend if seats which are ideal for older people like ourselves are now off-limits and reserved until the opening of public booking?”

Far from anything to do with inclusion this is all about discriminating against older people and is therefore clearly ageist. The seats involved are nearer the stage, next to a gangway and generally ideal for an older person. When we raised this question we were told to go and sit further along.  This actually makes it much harder for older people like ourselves (a) because they are in the middle of a row and therefore harder to get to, and (b) because they are angled slightly backwards and cramped up against the rail, one has constantly to lean forward in order to see the stage. So much for ‘inclusion’.

Of course with occupancy as high as it is Covent Garden can pretty much do what they like, but whatever the rhetoric, ROH is undoubtedly getting progressively less and less ‘accessible’ to the regular genuine opera or ballet-loving punter of modest means and simply becoming yet another ‘night out’, a venue to be gone to, rather than an artistic experience to be regularly enjoyed. As a lifetime supporter of the Arts I never thought I would say this but perhaps the Government through the Arts Council should review the £77 million which I believe Covent Garden currently receives and leave them to find their own financial support.

“Grumpy old Man” (GOM)

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