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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bolshoi Hikes Price to Beat Scalpers

As the Bolshoi Theater opens its 226th season with Glinka's opera "Ivan Susanin" on Saturday, theater management is hoping the new season will bring it into healthier finances thanks to a new ticket price policy.

The Bolshoi has brought its ticket charges in line with market prices in an attempt to reap a greater share of the sales revenues and to have more money to pay its top stars.

Tickets had been available on the black market at hefty markups, and the difference between the sale price and the amount the theater received was going into speculators' pockets, said Anatoly Iksanov, general director of the theater, in an interview published Tuesday in Kommersant.

The new ticket prices were first implemented in the spring, just before the close of last season. Iksanov said tickets to "Swan Lake," the Bolshoi's most popular show, had sold out even with prices as high as 2,000 rubles ($85). Prices are being lowered for performances that have limited popularity, he added.

Katya Novikova, head of the Bolshoi's press service, said making ticket prices more flexible was one of the recommendations of a study of the Bolshoi's finances by consultancy McKinsey & Co. last year.

"It was very obvious here that the price was very low and the market price was much higher," she said.

"They [McKinsey staff] went to each box [in the theater] and they had a look at the stage. They made a very, very precise map of prices and we have a big range in prices now. Some of the tickets, especially in the middle rows, have become expensive, but some of the seats have become even cheaper," she said. "They also went out to find out what the prices are on the black market."

Shows have now been divided into a range of categories, each with a "base rate" used to determine the ticket price scale. "Swan Lake," for example, has a base rate of 2,000 rubles, with a price scale ranging from 20 rubles to 2,500 rubles. Midrange shows such as "Don Quixote" and "Giselle" have a base rate of 1,200 rubles. The cheapest categories in September are for matinee performances of "Iolanthe" and "The Golden Cockerel," with a base of 320 rubles.

Asked what the theater intended to do with the extra income from ticket sales, Novikova said one of the Bolshoi's priorities was paying its top performers more so that they were not lured into spending most of their time on lucrative foreign tours. Other strategies to reap more sales revenues include opening new official ticket offices, increasing the number of phone lines, introducing a new computer system, and persisting with Internet sales despite the lack of a credit card payments system.

"Since we changed to a computer system in the spring, we have raised our sales by 62 percent per month," Iksanov said.

"Our goal is to be as open as possible to customers so that they won't need to go to scalpers," Novikova said. "I don't know how you can 100 percent wipe out the black market," she added.

During the week about a dozen scalpers ? all male, acting warily and equipped with minimal English ? were trading tickets for Bolshoi performances outside the Bolshoi ticket offices in front of the theater and next to the ticket office beside the Teatralnaya metro station. None would give their name.

One reseller said people were still prepared to pay several times the official price.

"But if they raise the price more there will be problems for us," he said.

Asked where they got the tickets they resold, the resellers said their sources were secret, but they had not bought them from the theater's ticket booth.