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date: 19 November 2019


  • John Rosselli


The circumstances governing admission to opera houses before the 19th century are ill documented; full understanding awaits more research. Conditions varied; no theatre, however, met those looked for today – common access for all operagoers by means of tickets entitling them to specific seats, priced according to seating area.

Theatres were rarely full, save on special occasions; some court theatres were extensions of the ruler’s palace; in France, before the Revolution, nobles came attended by retinues of servants: hence a vast, sometimes amorphous list of persons entitled to free admission, and much giving out of free tickets to singers and staff, in part as a means of eking out wages. Even those who paid to get in did not all pay the same price for the same seats: nobles might pay more than ordinary citizens, army officers and civil servants less.

In opera houses of the Italian type the audience was physically divided into the owners or renters of boxes, the stalls audience, and the gallery (if there was one): each area had separate access (an arrangement that survives for the gallery of older theatres), but only the boxes had numbered seats; this meant a rush to get into the stalls on special occasions, and into the gallery on most nights. In Italy, each section of the audience might buy its tickets from a different source: boxholders were often entitled to re-let their boxes in competition with the management, and the gallery was generally sub-let to a separate impresario. A separate charge was made for admission to the building (...

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