The English National Opera is London's second opera house. Its productions are always sung in English, and they frequently surpass the Royal Opera House's in terms of theatrical innovation, though rarely in musical values. Star names are rare, but many excellent young singers start out here. ENO live and die by the press - although this means highly-praised or hotly-anticipated productions may sell out, it also means they often resort to heavy ticket discounts for others.
ENO have a website which will answer most of your questions. Here are some it doesn't, and some things which are hard to find on the site:
*IN THE HOUSE*
Is there a dress code?
No. Most people dress fairly smartly, though less so on whole than the Royal Opera House. But you won't be thrown out for wearing jeans, and many dress casually. Very few people wear evening dress. The heating and air-conditioning work well, and temperatures are rarely uncomfortable.
What about eating and drinking?
No food or drink is allowed in the main auditorium, though you can generally get away with a small bottle of water.
Dining options are listed on the ENO website, and sandwiches and light snacks are available from the bars. The Sky Bar on Upper Circle level is the most attractive of the various bar areas, and the Stalls bar is the best for star-spotting (which before you get too excited is at the Fiona Shaw/Jonathan Miller level).
Can I take pictures or record the opera?
No. ENO enforce this rule very strictly - even souvenir pics of your companions in the bar may result in a threat to confiscate your camera.
What happens if I arrive late?
You will generally be allowed to slip in and stand at the back if you wish, but unless there's a break, you won't be able to get to your seat until the interval.
Are there any cheap seats?
There are discounts of up to 35% for advance group and multi-show bookings - check the website for details. Balcony seats are generally under £25.
ENO's very generous student and under-30's scheme allows you to purchase two tickets per show at less than half the regular price. You need to register in advance here.
Standby tickets (£10-£30) may be available three hours before a performance, but are only available to senior citizens, students, Income Support recipients, under-16s and Westminster Rescard holders.
ENO have frequent promotions for slow-selling productions, sometimes in conjunction with newspapers or discoutn websites. Tickets have been offered at prices as low as £10. Join the ENO mailing list and scan the press to find out what's available. Any I hear about are listed here.
The TKTS discount theatre ticket booth in Leicester Square offers reduced price tickets for slow-selling productions - in practice, almost all performances. Typically these cost £20 - £25. You can only buy in person, on the day of performance. The TKTS Today webpage (updated daily) shows what's available.
Lastminute.com, TravelZoo.com and similar discount sites sometimes have offers too.
Discounts are generally not available for first nights of new productions.
Unless a production is insanely popular, which is very rare, you should be able to obtain a discounted seat by one of these methods. It's only worthwhile booking in advance if you're very particular about which night you go and what area you sit in.
How do I get seats for a sold-out performance?
Performances rarely sell out, but if you need to, call the box office on 0871 911 0200 or check the website regularly in the week or so before the performance for returns. A number of day seats (at rear and sides) are available for personal bookers from 10am on the day of performance. Generally these are Balcony row A sides and Balcony row B, both of which have views partially obstructed by safety rails. Note that, contrary to myth, day seats are no cheaper than regular seats. Get there early to be sure of getting a day seat.
How do I get tickets for a dress rehearsal?
These are theoretically offered to Friends of the ENO (Friends membership costs £50 pa and upwards) at a price of £4-20, but as a large number are also allocated privately to individuals and organisations, demand from Friends is greater than supply.
Which are the best seats?
The London Coliseum was not purpose-built for opera, and sightlines and sound vary significantly between seating areas. The pricing doesn't reflect this, making some seats better value than others. The best seats are undoubtedly the central stalls, which have clear sightlines and very good sound. These tend to sell out early as they are not significantly pricier than some much poorer seats.
The side stalls are nearly as good, but at full price they cost the same as the central seats so offer worse value for money.
Sound suffers in the rear rows of the upper tiers due to the overhanging layers above, with the front three rows of each offering significantly better sound. Surtitles are not visible from some rear seats on the Circle levels (the website notes which ones on the booking page), and the low ceilings can give the impression of viewing through a mailbox. Front side seats are generally preferable to rear centre seats at all levels.
Seats at lower levels are reasonably comfortable by London theatre standards. The Balcony seats on the other hand are narrow and shallow with minimal leg room. However they are significantly cheaper. Sightlines from here are clear, if distant - as is the sound. Unlike many opera houses, the sound is not best on the top deck - perhaps something to do with the shape of the ceiling.
You can view (or add to) readers' comments here.