Royal Opera House peddles free tickets, dinners to celebrities to boost sales

Saturday, March 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ You can hail a modern genius, but you can't make people listen.

Less than four days before opening night of ``Boulevard Solitude'' by avant-garde German composer Hans Werner Henze, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is offering free tickets to London celebrities and journalists in hope of whipping up public interest.

The Opera House also is offering heavily discounted tickets through charities such as the HIV/AIDS group Crusaid, which sent out a letter to members Monday offering ``the best seats in the house'' with a glass of champagne and six oysters at the opera's main bar for just $87.

Subway stations are plastered with ``Boulevard Solitude'' posters in an effort to lure tourists and Londoners to the opera house _ where traditional productions by Mozart, Verdi or Puccini generally sell out days after tickets go on sale.

The Henze production, a modern reworking of Abbe Prevost's novel Manon Lescaut, tells the story of a young couple who first meet in a waiting-room, only to find their lives descending into a downward spiral of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll and murder.

A spokesman said advance sales for the Henze's production ``could be'' an all-time box office low for the Royal Opera.

The six performances, part of a citywide celebration of the artist's 75th birthday, are estimated to cost more than $363,000 and Henze is expected to attend on opening night.

While top ticket prices have not been changed _ $167 per seat _ seats in the back row are being discounted from $44 to just $4.40.

The opera house said the measures were not a sign of desperation.

By Monday, it expects to sell 40 percent of its 2,200-seat auditorium for Tuesday night's opening of the Henze production, said Christopher Millard, director of press for the Royal Opera House.

``Our ticket sales are exactly where we thought they would be at this time,'' Millard said in an interview Friday. ``We take into account our expectations of rare operas and we don't expect full-capacity houses. To do that would be something short of a miracle.''

``We're not sitting here now, worrying that this will pull us down financially,'' he added.

``This is not doom and gloom, but a very exciting time. This is when we get a buzz, when we are trying something new and bold and different.''

The Southbank Center, which is participating in the citywide celebration of the composer's birthday, is in the midst of a Henze Festival in its concert halls. The center reported no problem in selling tickets for 10 Henze concerts.