On Monday’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4, presenter John Humphrys boldly – deliberately even – stepped into an operatic minefield. Grilling Rachel Tackley, President of UK Theatre, on the rising price of theatre tickets in London, he took a sideswipe at The Royal Opera House, scornfully stating “you need a mortgage for those tickets”. A social media backlash followed and rightly so. Humphrys knows full well that there are cheaper seats available, “about 400 miles away” as he dismissively added. What irks me is that, despite being aware of these cheaper seats, he is happy to perpetuate the myth that opera – and classical music in general – is for wealthy patrons and not for the likes of us.

As a critic, I am incredibly fortunate in attending world class performances in the best seats in wonderful venues. However, I also attend performances that I don’t review, paying for tickets out of my own wallet. On a salary roughly in line with the national average (according to the Office for National Statistics Salary survey 2015), I don’t have a good deal of money to fritter on tickets for the opera, ballet, theatre and concerts. Yet my diary is still stuffed, fit to burst.

Francesca Hayward (Juliet)
© ROH | Alice Pennefather
Take last night. Dashing away from the office, I caught a pre-concert recital given by the Philharmonia cellists and soprano Lauren Fagan in the Royal Festival Hall. It was free. You didn’t have to be a ticket-holder for the main evening concert – just turn up and they let you in for 50 minutes of wonderful music. The turnout was excellent, with a good percentage of the front stalls occupied. I then hot-footed it across Waterloo Bridge for The Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet – Francesca Hayward’s Juliet fully justifying the “a star is born” critical reaction to her role debut a fortnight ago. I had picked up a return the day before – a seat in Row D of the Amphitheatre which set me back the princely sum of £16. It was described as “Restricted View”, but in all honesty, there was a tiny corner Stage Left that I couldn’t quite see. I have the luxury of being tall, which helped; the downside is that legroom can be a touch cramped. The performance was sublime. A super evening’s entertainment – four hours or more for the cost of a pizza and a small glass of wine.

I certainly didn’t feel 400 miles from the stage. In late September, I had also attended the General Rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet, where I was right at the back of the Amphitheatre. It cost me £5. Usually, I choose to be closer to the stage – Stalls Circle or Balcony Standing being my cheapest option for opera and ballet. After a day of sitting in the office, I don’t usually mind standing. If a seat is in order, there are plenty of decently priced ones from which to choose. I saw Orphée et Eurydice from so close to the stage that I could almost have reached out and touched the singers – all for £26. It certainly doesn’t cost me a mortgage!

Romeo and Juliet ticket

And it’s not just the ROH. Side stalls seats at the Royal Festival Hall are very reasonable, as are those in the higher reaches of the Barbican. I catch a number of performances at Wigmore Hall, where their Sunday morning “coffee concerts” (Sherry also readily available!) will only set you back £13. If you’re under 35 (Wigmore Hall’s happy definition of “young”) you can buy tickets for a lot of their concerts for a fiver. If there’s something I want to catch at Glyndebourne, I have been known to join the online throng at midnight when public booking opens in March to secure a standing place – acoustically superb – for £20  or £30. The myth that you have to be rich to be into classical music is just rubbish.

When I returned home from the ROH last night, I checked through my ticket purchases for the year. The Globe, The National Theatre, ROH, Wigmore Hall, Barbican, RFH, St John’s Smith Square… The highest price I paid for a ticket in 2015? £45… and that was for a Premier League football match.  What does that tell you, Mr Humphrys?