Raymond Snoddy on Media: Sun shines on Royal Opera

The Covent Garden opera house is trying to shed its elitist image with a gala for red-top readers.

On Monday, Sun readers who pay attention might have received a nasty shock. Not the usual unpleasant details about Amy Winehouse's latest misadventures - this one was a touch more serious.

The old Currant Bun announced that the end of the world is imminent - a reference to the scientists who are trying to stop next week's Large Hadron Collider experiment deep under the French-Swiss border area. Some of these scientists believe that millions of little black holes could be created, with disastrous results.

Naturally, The Sun was able to take such an unfortunate eventuality in stride, and give us its advice on what to do with the rest of our now-limited time: try out every position in the Kama Sutra, eat 27 Big Mac meals, and complete Super Mario: The Lost Levels.

What The Sun could have recommended, but didn't, was to attend the gala opening of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House (ROH) on Monday night.

The performance presumably didn't make the list because someone remembered that the event is already sold out, with the seats filled by 2200 Sun readers after a sponsorship deal between the newspaper and the ROH.

This, surely, is a Sun sponsorship made in heaven. The marketing was ready-made: the ROH's sultry ad reads, 'Please join us for a night of seductions, dark disguises and ghostly goings on!' The Sun could have added 'and enjoy the retribution at the end!' - something of which the paper usually wholeheartedly approves.

However, one has to be careful with sponsorship and promotion deals involving The Sun, as history and baggage can get in the way.

Last month, Carlsberg had to withdraw from a deal offering Sun readers a free bank-holiday pint when the brewer was inundated with complaints from Liverpool. The Sun's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster has been neither forgotten nor forgiven, but opera is surely a promising field with no latent downsides.

Tony Hall, the ROH chief executive, thought up the scheme. As massive recipients of Arts Council funding, Hall is keen to get the ROH as far away as possible from opera's elitist image.

He has done gala evenings for readers of the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and even the Daily Mirror - so why not go the whole hog and open the doors to The Sun?

The paper's editor, Rebekah Wade, was delighted and set only one condition - that the paper could promote the evening in its own way.

For Hall, the challenge was to stop his regulars snapping up The Sun for a day and getting the promo, a chance to buy up to four tickets priced at a fraction of the normal price. To avoid this, every applicant was checked against the ROH database. If they had ever been to the Covent Garden venue, they were out of the draw.

For Wade, there was the possibility of challenging readership stereotypes. Not all Sun readers are opera fans, but with 3.12m copies sold every day, there might be more than a few among readers of what Kelvin MacKenzie liked to call 'the unpopulars'.

Guardian bloggers have denounced the tie-in with a paper that 'objectifies' women every day of the week, and its readers have weighed in with future suggestions of Sun opera promotions, including Hop Off You Frogs (The Cunning Little Vixen) and He Shagged My Bird (Tristan and Isolde).

Still, this Sun reader can't wait to go on Monday - even if I do spend more time with its football than its politics.

Raymond Snoddy is a media journalist and presenter of BBC Television's Newswatch

30 SECONDS ON... THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

- The Covent Garden site is the home of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet, as well as its own orchestra.

- The Royal Ballet was founded by Lilian Baylis, who also started Sadler's Wells and the company behind the National Theatre.

- A price hike in 1809 led to two months of riots until the old prices were reinstated.

- The company performs works by classical British composers such as Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughn Williams and Michael Tippett.

- A royal theatre has been on the spot since 1660, when Charles II awarded letters patent to the manager.

- The site now claims to be the most modern theatre facility in Europe.

- In the 1990s, extensive reconstruction involved demolishing most of the site except for the auditorium.

- Surtitles projected above the screen give English translations of lyrics at all performances.

- The conversion of the Floral Hall to a dining and drinking space has attracted new and younger audiences.

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