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L.A. Opera widens ticket buyers' options for 'Ring' cycle performances

March 31, 2010 |  2:30 pm

Alberich The slogan "Have it your way" has sold lots of Whoppers for Burger King. Now Los Angeles Opera is following that lead to sell tickets to the whopper of its world, Richard Wagner's "Der Ring Des Nibelungen."

With about two months to go before it mounts three climactic runs through the four-part "Ring" cycle from May 29 to June 26, the company has thrown open the box office -- with discounts -- to prospective buyers who don't have the time or inclination to devote four evenings or afternoons over the course of nine days to experience the piece in the crash-course form that Wagner himself considered optimal.

After selling only tickets for a full cycle since October 2008, L.A. Opera on Tuesday began offering a "Design-Your-Own Ring" plan. Buyers can purchase as few as two performances instead of all four, or they can spread out seeing the entire Ring over a month -- opting for weekend performances only, for example -- instead of shoehorned into nine days.

As it turns out, those who bought the full cycle before now paid a premium, with one of the benefits being first dibs on seat locations. Prices ranged from $350 to $2,200 for the four operas (except for 124 balcony seats that went for $100 because their view is obstructed). About 40% to 50% of the cost was classified as a tax-deductible donation from full-cycle buyers.

Design-Your-Own customers can get a whole "Ring" for $200 to $1,100, or half a "Ring" for $100 to $550, none of it tax deductible.

SiegfriedDomingoL.A. Opera spokesman Gary Murphy said that the design-your-own approach is "something new and  different ... that addresses people's very complicated contemporary schedules." It's also, he said, a nod to the difficult task of selling tickets in a bad economy -- and in an era when most performing arts groups find that buyers like to keep their options open, picking and choosing and waiting longer to buy, rather than following the past norm of buying a full subscription.

The tradition of buying a full "Ring" cycle goes way back: to 1876, when Wagner debuted the piece at the Bayreuth festival house in Germany, built expressly for the "Ring" and other Wagnerian works. For its L.A. premiere, sales predicated on that model of selling the "Ring" haven't gone as swiftly as L.A. Opera had hoped. About half the 9,189 total seats have been sold, Murphy said; Stephen Rountree, the company's chief operating officer, recently said that to balance the project's $32-million budget, it needs to sell close to 80% of the available seats.

"With the 'Ring' being so new to Los Angeles, it's going to take a little more work to introduce," Murphy said.

The stand-alone "Ring" installments that L.A. Opera has mounted since last year, with the concluding "Götterdämmerung" opening Saturday, have been part of the company's regular 2008-09 and 2009-10 subscription seasons. From a marketing standpoint, the three full cycles that conclude the project are a separate challenge.

-- Mike Boehm


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Review: The Ring begins

Review: Die Walkure at L.A. Opera

Opera review: `Siegfried' at Los Angeles Opera

`Ring' Master

Photos: Alberich, the villainous dwarf of Wagner's Ring cycle, brandishes his magical gold ring in L.A. Opera's "Das Rheingold." ; Siegmund (Placido Domingo) and Sieglinde (Anja Kampe) grow close in "Die Walkure." Credits: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times