ONE of Leeds’s biggest summer cultural events has sold fewer than 10 per cent of its 45,000 tickets after leisure bosses decided to charge for entry for the first time.
Opera in the Park, which attracted 45,000 people to Temple Newsam Park last year, has sold just 4,240 tickets with two weeks to go until the flagship event on July 30.
Last year the open-air event was free entry, but this year Leeds city council leisure bosses decided to charge £12 for general admission tickets for the event they describe as “something for everyone” and “completely accessible”.
At a council meeting, former leisure boss and current shadow leisure boss Coun John Procter called on the executive member for leisure, Coun Adam Ogilvie, to abandon the charges, refund those who had paid for tickets,
At a meeting of Leeds City Council at the Civic Hall, former leisure boss and current shadow spokesperson councillor John Procter called on the current executive member for leisure, councillor Adam Ogilvie, to abandon the charging system, refund those who had paid for tickets, and return to the free tickets policy.
“It’s high time to abandon this bizarre means of charging and allow it to be free of charge to the 45,000 who have enjoyed it traditionally,” he said.
Coun Ogilvie insisted the decision to charge for tickets had been “forced on us” by the Government’s “massive cuts”.
He said there had been wide consultation within the department about the option of charging, and there had been overwhelming support for it.
“A lot of people are waiting until closer to the day to buy tickets,” he insisted.
He added the traditional VIP area had also been taken away this year to save money.
He said it was “too early” to confirm the full cost of putting on the event, although an initial estimated overspend of £8,000 had been reduced,
But he confirmed just £48,000 had been generated from ticket sales so far.
The council has promoted Opera in the Park as “a highlight of the cultural year in Leeds”.
Councillor Ogilvie said earlier: “There really will be something for everyone to enjoy.
“From the most ardent classical music fan to anyone who watches The X Factor, there will be a host of songs and pieces of music you will recognise.”
And Opera North’s Dougie Scarfe said: “Opera in the Park is always one of the highlights of the cultural year in Leeds; a marvellous celebration of top quality music making.
“As ever, the programme is designed to delight and entertain and be completely accessible for the audience who come to this event.”
Opera in the Park is a sister event to the free Party in the Park, backed by the YEP, which is still free.
Councillor Procter said after the meeting: “This is a humiliation for this crazy policy that clearly has not worked. Last year, over 45,000 people enjoyed Opera in the Park at Temple Newsam. This year, less than 5,000 people will be present.
“I feel sorry for the performers, staff and those who have purchased tickets. I demanded monies paid be returned to ticket holders and the remaining 40,000 plus tickets be made available free of charge to the people of Leeds forthwith.
“It further transpires that there are additional costs associated with charging for tickets, understood to be in the region of £50,000.”
Opera in the Park is at Temple Newsam Park on Saturday, July 30, and features singer and TV presenter Aled Jones.
The performances will include pieces from Verdi’s La traviata and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly along with modern music.
Tickets can be booked online at www.leeds.gov.uk/opera, at Leeds Visitor Centre at Leeds Rail Station (0113 242 5242) and venues throughout the city.