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Paris Opéra lures millennials with discount tickets

Joseph Bamat, FRANCE 24 | Young people present their tickets to ushers at the preview performance of Samson and Delilah at the Opéra Bastille on October 1, 2016.

The Paris Opéra has this year extended its programme offering heavily discounted seats to young people, enabling many of them to attend a performance of opera or dance for the first time.


The opera is most commonly associated with greying audiences in fur stoles and business suits, but the crowd filling the seats at the Opéra Bastille’s staging of Samson and Dalila on Saturday night had a much more youthful vibe.

The event was one of 13 preview performances of ballet and opera that are being opened this season exclusively to audiences under the age of 28 for just 10 euros a seat. Tickets go on sale about a month before each performance (the calendar is on their website), but would-be culture consumers must act quickly, as the house sells out in under 20 minutes.

The opera initiated the programme in its 2015-2016 season and it was a resounding success: 25,000 young people attended the special youth performances and nearly 60 percent of those did so for the first time.

Matilde Debaeke, a 26-year-old architect, was among the ranks of first-timers Saturday night. “I’m pleasantly surprised,” she said. “You realise that it’s pretty accessible.” This performance was particularly so because it was in French and the staging was contemporary.

Debaeke had come with her friend Flora Bonneme, also 26 and also an architect. Bonneme had attended two of the discounted performances last season, both ballets, and like her friend was seeing her first opera. Without the discounted tickets, she wouldn’t be able to afford to go to the opera or ballet. “It’s too expensive otherwise,” she said.

Tickets to the opera can cost upto 250 euros. While there are 15 euro seats in the upper balcony, these special preview nights enable younger audience members to afford some of the best seats in the house.

As for her first opera experience? “I like it,” she said. “It’s good.”

The programme brings perhaps as much pleasure to its organisers as it does to its beneficiaries.

“It is by far my favourite night of the season, Paris Opéra director Stéphane Lissner said in a press conference before the curtain went up on Saturday. “They watch the shows with such enthusiasm, their eyes sparkle. There is none of the detachment and aloofness that can be associated with the opera’s usual audiences.”

Paris Opera director Stéphane Lissner speaks to the Anglo-American Press before a preview performance of Samson and Delilah on October 1, 2016
Paris Opera director Stéphane Lissner speaks to the Anglo-American Press before a preview performance of Samson and Delilah on October 1, 2016

A percentage of tickets are made available to schools and to associations for poor and disadvantaged children. On Saturday night a sizeable group of children were sitting in the first balcony and, by all appearances, they were hooked. They sat quietly through all three acts (aside from a bit of cheering or jeering at key dramatic moments), then erupted in applause and appreciative shouts when the curtain fell.

The rest of the house was similarly enthusiastic, showering the cast with sustained and resounding applause. The performers were clearly moved, and mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, a rising star within the world of opera, emotionally took a knee at least twice in face of the prolonged adulation.

As successful as the youth-oriented programme is, Lissner realises that the opera is still out of reach of many. “How can a blue-collar worker who lives in the suburbs buy himself an opera ticket?” Lissner asked rhetorically. “He simply can’t. If I could lower the prices of normal tickets, I would do it right away, but I would soon have budget officials on my back. Many people actually say the prices need to go up.”

Lissner dreams of democratising the opera even further. “As long as the Opéra is located in central Paris, it will remain a place limited to most of the population. I hope one day we will have a building on the outskirts of the city that would allow us to launch real social projects.”

The funding for the discounted youth tickets comes from the BNP Paribas Foundation, which has pledged to continue its support not only for this season but for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons as well.

Tickets are released about a month before each performance, and are limited to two per person.

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