|Full name||The Royal Opera House|
|Former names||Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (until 1892)|
|Public transit|| Covent Garden|
Bus: 6, 11, 14, 26, 59, 98, 139, 168, 176
|Owner||Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation|
|Capacity||2,256 (main auditorium)|
|Built||1728–1732 (original building)|
|Opened||7 December 1732|
|Architect||Edward Shepherd (original building)|
Edward Middleton Barry (current building)
|Builder||Lucas Brothers (current building)|
|The Royal Ballet|
The Royal Opera
The Royal Opera House (ROH) is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply Covent Garden, after a previous use of the site. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. The first theatre on the site, the Theatre Royal (1732), served primarily as a playhouse for the first hundred years of its history. In 1734, the first ballet was presented. A year later, the first season of operas, by George Frideric Handel, began. Many of his operas and oratorios were specifically written for Covent Garden and had their premieres there.
The current building is the third theatre on the site, following disastrous fires in 1808 and 1856 to previous buildings.
The foundation of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden lies in the
In 1728, John Rich, actor-manager of the Duke's Company at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, commissioned The Beggar's Opera from John Gay. The success of this venture provided him with the capital to build the Theatre Royal (designed by Edward Shepherd) at the site of an ancient convent garden. Inigo Jones had developed part of this property in the 1630s with a piazza and St Paul's church (now known colloquially as the actors' church). In addition, a Royal Charter had created a fruit and vegetable market in the area, a market which survived in that location until 1974.
During its first century, the theatre was operated primarily as a playhouse, with the Letters Patent granted by Charles II giving the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane exclusive rights to present spoken drama in London. Despite the frequent interchangeability between the two companies, competition was intense, and the companies often presented the same plays at the same time. Rich introduced pantomime to the repertoire, performing himself, under the stage name John Lun, as Harlequin. A tradition of seasonal pantomime continued at the modern theatre until 1939.
In 1734, the theatre presented its first ballet, Pygmalion. Marie Sallé discarded tradition and her corset and danced in diaphanous robes. George Frideric Handel was named musical director of the company at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1719, but his first season of opera for the theatre was not presented until 1734. His first opera was Il pastor fido, followed by Ariodante (1735), and the première of Alcina, and Atalanta the following year. In 1743 there was a royal performance of Messiah; its success resulted in a tradition of Lenten oratorio performances. From 1735 until his death in 1759, Handel gave regular seasons at the theatre; many of his operas and oratorios were written for that venue or had their first London performances there. He bequeathed his organ to John Rich, and it was placed in a prominent position on the stage. It was among many valuable items lost in a fire that destroyed the theatre on 20 September 1808. In 1792 the architect Henry Holland rebuilt the auditorium; he expanded its capacity within the existing shell of the building.
Rebuilding began in December 1808, and the second Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (designed by Robert Smirke) opened on 18 September 1809 with a performance of Macbeth followed by a musical entertainment called The Quaker. The actor-manager John Philip Kemble, raised seat prices to help recoup the cost of rebuilding and the cost of an increased ground rent introduced by the landowner, the Duke of Bedford, but the move was so unpopular that audiences disrupted performances by beating sticks, hissing, booing and dancing. The Old Price Riots lasted over two months, and the management was finally forced to accede to the audience's demands.
During this time, entertainments were varied; opera and ballet were presented, but not exclusively. Kemble engaged a variety of acts, including the child performer Master Betty; the great clown Joseph Grimaldi made his name at Covent Garden. Many famous actors of the day appeared at the theatre, including the tragediennes Sarah Siddons and Eliza O'Neill, the Shakespearean actors William Macready, Edmund Kean and his son Charles. On 25 March 1833 Edmund Kean collapsed on stage while playing Othello, and died two months later.
In 1806, the
Early pantomimes were performed as
In 1817, bare flame gaslight had replaced the former candles and oil lamps that lighted the Covent Garden stage.
Costa and his successors presented all operas in Italian, even those originally written in French, German or English, until 1892, when
On 5 March 1856, the theatre was again destroyed by fire.
Work on a third theatre, designed by Edward Middleton Barry, started in 1857, and the new building, which still remains as the nucleus of the present theatre, was built by Lucas Brothers and opened on 15 May 1858 with a performance of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots.
The Royal English Opera company under the management of
The theatre became the Royal Opera House (ROH) in 1892, and the number of French and German works offered increased. Winter and summer seasons of opera and ballet were given, and the building was also used for pantomime, recitals and political meetings.
From 1934 to 1936, Geoffrey Toye was managing director, working alongside the artistic director Sir Thomas Beecham. Despite early successes, Toye and Beecham eventually fell out, and Toye resigned.
The Royal Opera House reopened on 20 February 1946 with a performance of
Before the grand opening, the Royal Opera House presented one of the Robert Mayer Children's concerts on Saturday, 9 February 1946.
Opera at the Royal Opera House after 1945
Ballet at the Royal Opera House after 1945
Reconstruction from the 1980s forward
Several renovations had taken place to parts of the house in the 1960s, including improvements to the amphitheatre but the theatre clearly needed a major overhaul. In 1975 the Labour government gave land adjacent to the Royal Opera House for a long-overdue modernisation, refurbishment, and extension. In the early 1980s the first part of a major renovation included an extension to the rear of the theatre on the James Street corner. The development added two new ballet studios, offices, a Chorus Rehearsal Room and the Opera Rehearsal room. Dressing rooms were also added.
By 1995, sufficient funds from the Arts Lottery through Arts Council England and private fundraising had been raised to enable the company to embark upon a major £213 million reconstruction of the building by Carillion, which took place between 1997 and 1999, under the chairmanship of Sir Angus Stirling. This involved the demolition of almost the whole site including several adjacent buildings to make room for a major increase in the size of the complex. The auditorium itself remained, but well over half of the complex is new.
The design team was led by Jeremy Dixon and
The new building has the same traditional horseshoe-shaped auditorium as before, but with greatly improved technical, rehearsal, office, and educational facilities. Additionally, a new studio theatre, the Linbury, as well as more public space was created. The inclusion of the adjacent old Floral Hall, which had fallen into disrepair and was used as a scenery store before redevelopment, created a new and extensive public gathering place. The venue is now claimed by the ROH to be the most modern theatre facility in Europe.
In 2014 design work, known as the Open Up Project, began with the aim of opening the theatre's building to the public during the day, as well as improving the entrances, lobby areas and the Linbury Theatre. As part of the Open Up Project, IQ Projects were tasked with the renovation of the upper floor bar area and restaurant utilising various elements of bespoke glazing.
In October 2020, the BBC reported that the Royal Opera House had lost 60% of its income as a result of restrictions implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a consequence, the 1971 Portrait of Sir David Webster by David Hockney, which had hung in the opera house for several decades, was put up for auction at Christie's. It eventually sold for £12.8 million. The funds raised from the sale were needed to ensure the survival of the institution. "Significant redundancies" and an appeal for public donations were also made. In addition, the opera house applied for a loan to the Culture Recovery Fund.
Paul Hamlyn Hall
The Paul Hamlyn Hall is a large iron and glass structure adjacent to, and with direct access to, the main opera house building. The hall now acts as the atrium and main public area of the opera house, with a champagne bar, restaurant and other hospitality services, and also providing access to the main auditorium at all levels.
The building was formerly known as Floral Hall. It was originally built by the Opera House to house a flower market (also selling fruits and vegetables), hence the name. It was designed by Edward Middleton Barry and opened in 1860. After being used as a concert hall, it became part of the Covent Garden Market in 1887. A fire broke out in the building in 1956, after which it sat derelict. It was acquired by the Opera House in 1977 and used as storage space.
The redevelopment of the Floral Hall as part of the 1990s redevelopment project involved lifting up the cast iron structure to accommodate new public areas for the opera house underneath. The southern side of the hall now connected with another building, so the cast iron south portico was dismantled and rebuilt in Borough Market, where it is separately Grate II heritage listed.
The redevelopment had gone ahead on the strength of a pledge of £10m from the philanthropist Alberto Vilar and for a number of years, it was known as the Vilar Floral Hall; however Vilar failed to make good his pledge. As a result, the name was changed in September 2005 to the Paul Hamlyn Hall, after the opera house received a donation of £10m from the estate of Paul Hamlyn, towards its education and development programmes.
As well as acting as a main public area for performances in the main auditorium, the Paul Hamlyn Hall is also used for hosting a number of events, including private functions, dances, exhibitions, concerts, and workshops.
Linbury Studio Theatre
The Linbury Studio Theatre is a flexible, secondary performance space, constructed below ground level within the Royal Opera House. It has retractable raked seating and a floor which can be raised or lowered to form a studio floor, a raised stage, or a stage with orchestra pit. The theatre can accommodate up to 400 patrons and host a variety of different events. It has been used for private functions, traditional theatre shows, and concerts, as well as community and educational events, product launches, dinners and exhibitions, etc., and is one of the most technologically advanced performance venues in London with its own public areas, including a bar and cloakroom. 
The Linbury is most notable for hosting performances of experimental and independent dance and music, by independent companies and as part of the ROH2, the contemporary producing arm of the Royal Opera House. The Linbury Studio Theatre regularly stages performances by the Royal Ballet School and also hosts the Young British Dancer of the Year competition.
The venue was constructed as part of the 90s redevelopment of the Royal Opera House. It is named in recognition of donations made by the Linbury Trust towards the redevelopment. The Trust is operated by
Royal Opera House, Manchester
In 2008 the Royal Opera House and
High House Production Park (High House, Purfleet)
The Royal Opera House opened a scenery-making facility for their operas and ballets at High House, Purfleet, Essex, on 6 December 2010. The building was designed by Nicholas Hare Architects. The East of England Development Agency, which partly funded developments on the park, notes that "the first phase includes the Royal Opera House's Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop and Community areas".
The Bob and Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre, also designed by Nicholas Hare Associates, opened in September 2015, and provides a costume-making facility for the Royal Opera House and a training centre for students of costume-making from South Essex College. The building also houses the Royal Opera House's collection of historically important costumes.
Other elements at High House, Purfleet, include The Backstage Centre, a new technical theatre and music training centre which is currently run by the National College for Creative Industries and was formally opened by Creative & Cultural Skills in March 2013, alongside renovated farm buildings. Acme studios opened a complex of 43 artist studios in Summer 2013.
In addition to opera and ballet performances, the Royal Opera House has hosted a number of other events including:
- British Academy Film Awards – 2008 to 2016
- Laurence Olivier Awards– 2012 to 2016
- Owners, lessees and managers of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
- European Route of Historic Theatres
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