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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

Inside the Metropolitan Opera's new 'Dynamic Pricing.'
"Homer Simpson: you will renew your Metropolitan Opera subscription!"
Image from The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV, © 1991 Gracie Films/20th Century Fox.
The Metropolitan Opera's 2012-13 season brochures are out. In the past year, it appears that the company has been hard at work figuring out how to squeeze as much money out of the pockets of New York opera-lovers. To that end, they've implemented two major changes to the way you buy your tickets.

Carving Up the Theater: 
In the old days at the Met, a subscriber had their seats in one of the opera house's six levels of seating: Orchestra, Parterre Box, Grand Tier, Dress Circle, Balcony, Family Circle. Each level had different prices for side (partial view) seats and for "main," with the box seats on one level corresponding in cost to the "main" seats on the level above. Starting in 2011, the Orchestra was divided into "Premium," "Prime" and "Balance." That should have been a warning for what was to come.

This year, each of those sections has been subdivided into Premium, Prime, Balance and Boxes, with corresponding price increases:
  • Premium: The first six rows in the center blocks of seats.
  • Prime: The remaining center seats. 
  • Balance: The back left and right corner seats, which do not afford the best view.
  • Boxes: Are the same as they were, although you can now order a whole season in a box. (This is a good thing, as long as you don't mind the wall that blocks your view of half the stage.)
What this means:
My 2011-2012 subscription seats in the Family Circle (Row B, 107-108, Row D, 106-107) are now "Family Circle Premium" and as a result I am faced with a choice: move back to cheaper seats or pay $10 more per ticket ") Since I have two subscriptions (part of my ongoing effort to keep writing about an opera company that doesn't want bloggers writing reviews of its shows) I'm looking at a renewal fee of approximately $850 for next season. 

Fees, Fies, Foes, Fum:
The Met has learned well from Ticketmaster, Live Nation, the New York Mets (who put this system in in the 1990s) and other legitimate ticket agencies: gouge your customers whenever possible. Each purchase made from the Met (even at the box office) has a "facilities" fee of $2.50. 

Ordering by phone or the Internet? Add on another $7.50 (again per ticket)  "convenience charge." That adds up to a hefty $10 fee per seat per night.

The Met continues its third year of charging fees to change your tickets. This year, the fees go up to $7.50 per ticket. So if you buy seats for the opera, it may be cheaper to keep them. If your grandmother dies or something, you can still donate them back as a tax-deductible contribution to the opera house. Doing some digging through the site reveals that certain productions are not available for exchange. 

Welcome to Alphabet City!
This year, the Met introduces a new "Price Categories" system, inspired by the price-gouging that goes on at Broadway houses. If you look at the individual ticket orders on the back pages of the program, you'll find little red letter grades next to the operas that are scheduled. 

Those letter grades (A, B, C, D, E, F, with F for "holiday" performances) have correspondingly higher ticket prices.  The higher the "letter grade" of the night you want to attend, the more you'll pay. The Met was already charging attendees more for performances on Friday and Saturday, but this is the next coldly logical step.

So if your seats are in the Family Circle on an "E" night, you could pay as much as $15 more per ticket, in addition to all the fees mentioned above.  If your seats are lower down in the house, the amount added gets higher, with an "E" ticket in the Orchestra Premium going up by a staggering $40.00.

Looking closely, it's apparent that the letter grade system (reminiscent of New York City's new health inspection grades) are not organized according to what opera is being performed. They're attached to the specific operatic performances (days of the week) that the Met believes will be the most popular of the season. 

What's next?
The next step is to start charging more for performances where stars are scheduled to appear. If that happens, and Anna Netrebko doesn't show up, don't expect the Met to give you a partial refund.

Want to know what you'll be paying for? Our first look at the 2012-2013 season is here on Superconductor.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats