Last updated on December 28th, 2023
London opera isn’t just for the well-heeled. Here are some tips on how to see some top productions without breaking the bank including opera, chamber, classical music and song. Oh, and the best bit – some of it’s free. So, shhh: here’s Londoness’s guide to affordable opera and how to get cheap opera tickets in London.
Cheap opera tickets in London
Royal Opera House
OK, let’s deal with the big beast: London’s glorious Royal Opera House. The ROH, as it’s called, is the grande dame of opera houses, and watching a production here is as much about the experience as anything else. Yes, you’ll have to part with a pretty penny to get your bum in a top price seat, but it is a total joy to watch opera here.
How to get cheap seats at the Royal Opera House
If you’re looking for a good deal, I recommend you opt for an amphitheatre seat. These can be the best seats in the house, especially when the orchestra is expanded to accommodate more instruments, such as in a Wagner production. The sound will literally envelop you up here. When you’re booking, you will get the option to see the stage view from your seat, so check on any restricted views. Try and aim for seats as close to the centre of each row – you won’t be disappointed!
If you’re a student, you can bag a ticket for as little as £1. More details here. And every Friday at 1pm, the Royal Opera House releases 49 tickets for each main-stage performance from Saturday to the following Friday (even for performances which have sold out).
Recitals at Lunch
The lunchtime recitals are a little-known secret, and it’s a marvellous way to experience some of the finest song in the Royal Opera House’s sumptuous Crush Room. The recitals at lunch are led by tomorrow’s opera stars who form part of the prestigious Jette Parker Young Artists crew. Tickets £16. More details here. You can also drop into the ROH Paul Hamlyn Hall for a free Live at Lunch recital.
Royal Opera House at the cinema
This is one of my favourite ways to watch opera: a comfy seat, a glass of wine, and, rather essential during long acts, easy loo access! I prefer to go to the independent cinemas to watch these (I recommend Curzon Cinemas), but cinemas all over the country participate in these live transmissions. During the interval, the presenters often go backstage where they interview members of the cast or the conductor.
English National Opera at the Coliseum
Tickets to the English National Opera (or the ENO as it’s referred to) are affordable, especially if you book early. Operas are in English which is great for young ones and opera novices. Under 21s get free tickets at the ENO and under 35s get discounted tickets. More details here.
Opera Holland Park
Open for business in the summer, Opera Holland Park is one of my top recommendations for watching opera in London. It’s set against the backdrop of the Blitzed-out, divine Holland House, and the productions are first class. A temporary canopy is erected every year, and approximately six operas are staged. There isn’t a bad seat in the house here, and the best bit is, you can have a pre-performance picnic in Holland Park. For more details, check the website. It’s also worth checking out the OPH events at the nearby, glorious Leighton House. (re-opens October 2022)
The Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank provides a year-round selection of opera, with some big names at affordable prices. Check the website for more details.
There aren’t many places where you can see opera for as little as £20 but Cadogan Hall is one of them. The Chelsea concert hall also puts on recitals, masterclasses and classical concerts. Check the website for more information.
London Handel Festival
If you love Handel, you need to head over to the London Handel Festival, which takes place annually every March and April. Throughout the year, the festival presents some 40 events held in venues across London celebrating Handel’s extraordinary creative life in the city which he made home.
Handel (and Hendrix) Museum
As if you needed an excuse to visit Handel’s home in Mayfair, but I’m giving you an extra one: baroque recitals in the historic Music Room where the maestro would rehearse with his latest prodigies. Check the website for what’s on. Please note: the museum is currently closed for renovations.
Barnes Music Festival
The Barnes Music Festival celebrates all thing noteworthy including orchestral, choral, instrumental, opera and jazz. For more information, visit the website.
St James’ Piccadilly
St James Piccadilly, Christopher Wren’s mini-masterpiece, provides a charming backdrop to some wonderful choir, opera and classical music. And the lunchtime recitals are free! More details here.
St John’s Smith Square
This delightful concert hall was once a Grade I listed church, completed in 1728. Its inaugural concert was given by Dame Joan Sutherland in 1969, and it is now host to chamber, orchestral, choir and jazz music, as well as opera. Check the website for more details.
Fans of the film, The Favourite might like to know that St John’s Smith Square is referred to as Queen Anne’s Footstool. When designing the church, the architect Thomas Archer asked his Queen what she wanted the church to look like, whereupon she kicked her footstool over, exclaiming, “like that!” Rumour has it that this led to the design of the four corner towers. Not everyone was a fan of the architecture. Charles Dickens referred to it as a “petrified monster, frightful and gigantic, on its back with its legs in the air.” Oops!
If you love lieder and chamber music, then the Wigmore Hall, or “Wiggy,” is where you want to head. Normal prices range from £18 to £60. If you can’t be bothered to head into Marylebone, you can listen to their Monday lunchtime concerts on BBC Radio 3 – for free.
This London gem of a museum also has a whole floor dedicated to Handel. The composer was a founder of the Foundling and bequeathed the manuscript to Messiah to the museum. Check the website for regular free and affordable concerts
The London Charterhouse dates back to 1371 when it was a Carthusian priory. It later morphed into an almshouse and a school (Thackeray was a student). Henry VIII once stored his hunting gear here, and Queen Elizabeth I prepared for her coronation in the house. Today, the venue is home to a museum and plays host to a selection of concerts and opera performances. Check the website for more details.
City Music Foundation at St Barts
Head over to the St Barts Great Hall for the series of free lunchtime recitals given by City Music Foundation. The Hogarth staircase which leads you to the hall is worth the visit alone. It’s one of London’s best-kept secrets.