Why "full price" isn't really full price: The true cost of an opera

LivingSocial recently offered tickets to the Minnesota Opera at a 50% discount. The reduced price: a single ticket to Mary Stuart for $50. Yes, that's about what you'd pay for a mid-range seat to hear the Minnesota Orchestra play Mozart, more than you'd pay to buy the best seat to Romeo and Juliet at the Guthrie, over three times what you'd pay to see a burlesque show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, and about five times what you'd pay to see a first-run movie at a local theater. But I knew that opera is the most fantastically expensive of the performing arts, and I wondered just how much of a savings from the true cost of the opera a $50 ticket represents.

I wrote to the Minnesota Opera; here's the response, direct from production director Kevin Ramach:

This is for [the] entire season of our current production year:

  • Projected ticket revenue is $2,568,000, we sell about 43,000 tickets
  • The direct season expense is $5,828,000, but for the sake of this exercise we will net out ticketing fees so the number we are working with is $5,683,000
  • $5,683,000 includes all costs directly related to producing the season, artist fees, Ordway rental, orchestra costs, costume and scene shop employees, stage managers, etc. It does not include fund raising expenses or indirect staff support like salaries for regular opera staff.
  • So as a result ticket sales represent 45.2% of the direct cost of production
  • The total direct cost for attending the opera is $132.16 per seat
  • Minnesota Opera's average ticket price is right at $60.00, so the difference is about $72.00
  • If you include the indirect costs, you could simply add $22.07 to the ticket.

So the average ticket buyer is already paying less than 50% of his or her "fair share" of the full cost of the lavish production. A LivingSocial ticket represents even less—particularly given that the Minnesota Opera will only get about half of the $50 you pay to LivingSocial. So it's quite a deal. If you do attend Mary Stuart, it would be appropriate to pause during your pre-show dinner and raise a toast to the generous donors and sponsors who significantly subsidized your ticket cost.

345 Washington St.
Saint Paul, MN 55102
345 Washington St.
Saint Paul, MN

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Jay Gabler's picture
Jay Gabler

Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) is a digital producer at The Current and Classical MPR. He was arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet from 2007-2013.


Would wine help?

As a long-time subscriber to the Minnesota Opera, and a big fan of the pre-ordering intermission drinks option, I'm hoping that those intermission glasses of wine help defray some of the costs. Thanks for the article--very interesting!