Logo of the Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House's Bow Street frontage with Plazzotta's statue, Young Dancer, in the foreground
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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 of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Originally called the Theatre Royal, it served primarily as a playhouse for the first hundred years of its history. In 1734, the first ballet was presented. A year later, Handel's first season of operas 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.The façade, foyer, and auditorium date from 1858, but almost every other element of the present complex dates from an extensive reconstruction in the 1990s. The main auditorium seats 2,256 people, making it the third largest in London, and consists of four tiers of boxes and balconies and the amphitheatre gallery. The proscenium is 12.20 m wide and 14.80 m high. The main auditorium is a Grade I listed building.
The foundation of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden lies in the letters patent awarded by Charles II to Sir William Davenant in 1662, allowing Davenant to operate one of only two patent theatre companies (The Duke's Company ) in London. The letters patent remained in the possession of the patentees' heirs until the 19th century; their whereabouts were unknown for some time,but as of 2019 are held in the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia.
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, part of which had been developed by Inigo Jones in the 1630s with a piazza and 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. At its opening on 7 December 1732, Rich was carried by his actors in processional triumph into the theatre for its opening production of William Congreve's The Way of the World .
During the first hundred years or so of its history, the theatre was primarily a playhouse, with the Letters Patent granted by Charles II giving Covent Garden and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane exclusive rights to present spoken drama in London. Despite the frequent interchangeability between the Covent Garden and Drury Lane companies, competition was intense, often presenting the same plays at the same time. Rich introduced pantomime to the repertoire, himself performing (under the stage name John Lun, as Harlequin) and a tradition of seasonal pantomime continued at the modern theatre, until 1939.
In 1734, Covent Garden 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, at Covent Garden, was not presented until 1734. His first opera was Il pastor fido followed by Ariodante (1735), the première of Alcina , and Atalanta the following year. There was a royal performance of Messiah in 1743, which was a success and began a tradition of Lenten oratorio performances. From 1735 until his death in 1759 he gave regular seasons there, and many of his operas and oratorios were written for Covent Garden 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, but 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, within the existing shell of the building but deeper and wider than the old auditorium, thus increasing capacity.
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 Charles 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 pantomime clown Joseph Grimaldi (The Garrick of Clowns) had performed his greatest success in Harlequin and Mother Goose; or the Golden Egg at Covent Garden, and this was subsequently revived, at the new theatre. Grimaldi was an innovator: his performance as Joey introduced the clown to the world, building on the existing role of Harlequin derived from the Commedia dell'arte . His father had been ballet-master at Drury Lane, and his physical comedy, his ability to invent visual tricks and buffoonery, and his ability to poke fun at the audience were extraordinary.
Early pantomimes were performed as mimes accompanied by music, but as Music hall became popular, Grimaldi introduced the pantomime dame to the theatre and was responsible for the tradition of audience singing. By 1821 dance and clowning had taken such a physical toll on Grimaldi that he could barely walk, and he retired from the theatre.By 1828, he was penniless; Drury Lane held a benefit concert for him after Covent Garden refused.
In 1817, bare flame gaslight had replaced the former candles and oil lamps that lighted the Covent Garden stage.This was an improvement, but in 1837 Macready employed limelight in the theatre for the first time, during a performance of a pantomime, Peeping Tom of Coventry. Limelight used a block of quicklime heated by an oxygen and hydrogen flame. This allowed the use of spotlights to highlight performers on the stage.
The Theatres Act 1843 broke the patent theatres' monopoly of drama. At that time Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket was the main centre of ballet and opera but after a dispute with the management in 1846 Michael Costa, conductor at Her Majesty's, transferred his allegiance to Covent Garden, bringing most of the company with him. The auditorium was completely remodeled after an 1846 fire, during the following 1846–47 seasons, the company performed at the Lyceum Theatre.The theatre reopened as the Royal Italian Opera on 6 April 1847 with a performance of Rossini's Semiramide .
In 1852, Louis Antoine Jullien the French eccentric composer of light music and conductor presented an opera of his own composition, Pietro il Grande. Five performances were given of the 'spectacular', including live horses on the stage and very loud music. Critics considered it a complete failure and Jullien was ruined and fled to America.Costa and his successors presented all operas in Italian, even those originally written in French, German or English, until 1892, when Gustav Mahler presented the debut of Wagner's Ring cycle at Covent Garden. The word "Italian" was then quietly dropped from the name of the opera house.
On 5 March 1856, the theatre was again destroyed by fire.Work on the 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 Louisa Pyne and William Harrison, made their last performance at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 11 December 1858 and took up residence at the theatre on 20 December 1858 with a performance of Michael Balfe's Satanellaand continued at the theatre until 1864.
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.
During the First World War, the theatre was requisitioned by the Ministry of Works for use as a furniture repository.
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.
During the Second World War the ROH became a dance hall. ..."There was a possibility that it would remain so after the war but, following lengthy negotiations, the music publishers Boosey & Hawkes acquired the lease of the building. David Webster was appointed General Administrator, and Sadler's Wells Ballet was invited to become the resident ballet company. The Covent Garden Opera Trust was created and laid out plans "to establish Covent Garden as the national centre of opera and ballet, employing British artists in all departments, wherever that is consistent with the maintenance of the best possible standards
The Royal Opera House reopened on 20 February 1946 with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty in an extravagant new production designed by Oliver Messel.Webster, with his music director Karl Rankl, immediately began to build a resident company. In December 1946, they shared their first production, Purcell's The Fairy-Queen , with the ballet company. On 14 January 1947, the Covent Garden Opera Company gave its first performance of Bizet's Carmen .
Before the grand opening, the Royal Opera House presented one of the Robert Mayer Children's concerts on Saturday, 9 February 1946.
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 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.and private fundraising had been raised to enable the company to embark upon a major £213
The design team was led by Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones of Dixon Jones BDP as architects. The acoustic designers were Rob Harris and Jeremy Newton of Arup Acoustics. The building engineer was Arup with Stanhope as developer.
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.
Surtitles, projected onto a screen above the proscenium, have been used for all opera performances since they were introduced for school matinees in 1984. Since the reopening of the theatre in 1999 an electronic libretto system provides translations onto small video screens for some seats, and additional monitors and screens are to be introduced to other parts of the house.
In 2014 design work, known as the Open Up Project, began with the aim of 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.
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.
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 Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover and his wife Anya Linden, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet. The name Linbury is derived from the names Linden and Sainsbury.It was opened in 1999 with a collaboration from three Croydon secondary schools (including Coloma Convent Girls' School and Edenham High School) in an original performance called About Face.
In 2008 the Royal Opera House and Manchester City Council began planning stages a new development known as Royal Opera House, Manchester. The proposal would have seen the Palace Theatre in Manchester refurbished, to create a theatre capable of staging productions by both the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera. It was intended that the Royal Opera House would take residence of the theatre for an annual 18-week season, staging 16 performances by the Royal Opera, 28 performances by the Royal Ballet and other small-scale productions.A year later The Lowry sent an open letter to the then Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Ben Bradshaw, Arts Council England, Manchester City Council and the ROH, calling for the scheme, in its current form, to be scrapped. In 2010 it was announced that the project was being shelved as part of larger arts-funding cuts.
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:
Covent Garden is a district in London, on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit-and-vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and with the Royal Opera House, which itself may be referred to as "Covent Garden". The district is divided by the main thoroughfare of Long Acre, north of which is given over to independent shops centred on Neal's Yard and Seven Dials, while the south contains the central square with its street performers and most of the historical buildings, theatres and entertainment facilities, including the London Transport Museum and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Sadler's Wells Theatre is a performing arts venue in Clerkenwell, London, England located on Rosebery Avenue. The present-day theatre is the sixth on the site since 1683. It consists of two performance spaces: a 1,500-seat main auditorium and the Lilian Baylis Studio, with extensive rehearsal rooms and technical facilities also housed within the site. Sadler's Wells is renowned as one of the world's leading dance venues. As well as a stage for visiting companies, the theatre is also a producing house, with a number of associated artists and companies that produce original works for the theatre. Sadler's Wells is also responsible for the management of the Peacock Theatre in the West End, during times not used by the London School of Economics.
John Rich (1692–1761) was an important director and theatre manager in 18th-century London. He opened the New Theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields (1714), which he managed until he opened the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (1732). He managed Covent Garden until 1761, putting on ever more lavish productions. He introduced pantomime to the English stage and played a dancing and mute Harlequin himself from 1717 to 1760 under the stage name of "Lun." Rich's version of the servant character, Arlecchino, moved away from the poor, disheveled, loud, and crude character, to a colorfully-dressed, silent Harlequin, performing fanciful tricks, dances and magic. The British idea of the Harlequin character was heavily inspired by Rich's idea of a silent character. Rich's choice of being a silent character was influenced by his unappealing voice, which he was well aware of.
Her Majesty's Theatre is a West End theatre situated on Haymarket in the City of Westminster, London. The present building was designed by Charles J. Phipps and was constructed in 1897 for actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who established the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the theatre. In the early decades of the 20th century, Tree produced spectacular productions of Shakespeare and other classical works, and the theatre hosted premieres by major playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge, Noël Coward and J. B. Priestley. Since the First World War, the wide stage has made the theatre suitable for large-scale musical productions, and the theatre has accordingly specialised in hosting musicals. The theatre has been home to record-setting musical theatre runs, notably the First World War sensation Chu Chin Chow and the current production, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which has played continuously at Her Majesty's since 1986.
West End theatre is mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres in and near the West End of London. Along with New York City's Broadway theatre, West End theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world. Seeing a West End show is a common tourist activity in London.
Deborah Bull, Baroness Bull, CBE is an English dancer, writer, and broadcaster and former creative director of the Royal Opera House. Deborah joined King's College London as Director, Cultural Partnerships in 2012. In 2015 she was appointed as the university's Assistant Principal (London) and in 2018 was named Vice President & Vice-Principal (London).
Joseph Grimaldi was an English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era. In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden theatres. He became so dominant on the London comic stage that the harlequinade role of Clown became known as "Joey", and both the nickname and Grimaldi's whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns. Grimaldi originated catchphrases such as "Here we are again!", which continue to feature in modern pantomimes.
The Royal Ballet School is one of the world's greatest centres of classical ballet training. Founded by the Anglo-Irish ballerina and choreographer Ninette de Valois, the school's aim is to train and educate outstanding classical ballet dancers for the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, commonly known as Drury Lane, is a West End theatre and Grade I listed building in Covent Garden, London, England. The building faces Catherine Street and backs onto Drury Lane. The building is the most recent in a line of four theatres which were built at the same location, the earliest of which dated back to 1663, making it the oldest theatre site in London still in use. According to the author Peter Thomson, for its first two centuries, Drury Lane could "reasonably have claimed to be London's leading theatre". For most of that time, it was one of a handful of patent theatres, granted monopoly rights to the production of "legitimate" drama in London.
The Royal Opera is an opera company based in central London, resident at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Along with the English National Opera, it is one of the two principal opera companies in London. Founded in 1946 as the Covent Garden Opera Company, it was known by that title until 1968. It brought a long annual season and consistent management to a house that had previously hosted short seasons under a series of impresarios. Since its inception, it has shared the Royal Opera House with the dance company now known as The Royal Ballet.
The Theatre Royal is the oldest theatre in Glasgow and the longest running in Scotland. Located at 282 Hope Street, its front door was originally round the corner in Cowcaddens Street. It currently accommodates 1,541 people and is owned by Scottish Opera. The theatre opened in 1867, adopting the name Theatre Royal two years later. It is also the birthplace of Howard & Wyndham Ltd, owners and managers of theatres in Scotland and England until the 1970s, created by its chairman Baillie Michael Simons in 1895. It was Simons who as a cultural entrepreneur of his day also promoted the building of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and Glasgow's International Exhibitions of 1888 and 1901.
Mary Allen is a British writer, broadcaster, arts administrator and management consultant best known for her controversial and turbulent period as Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House.
The patent theatres were the theatres that were licensed to perform "spoken drama" after the Restoration of Charles II as King of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1660. Other theatres were prohibited from performing such "serious" drama, but were permitted to show comedy, pantomime or melodrama. Drama was also interspersed with singing or dancing, to prevent the whole being too serious or dramatic.
The Opera House in Quay Street, Manchester, England, is a 1,920-seater commercial touring theatre that plays host to touring musicals, ballet, concerts and a Christmas pantomime. It is a Grade II listed building. The Opera House is one of the main theatres in Manchester, England. The Opera House and its sister theatre the Palace Theatre, Manchester on Oxford Street are operated by the same parent company, Ambassador Theatre Group.
William Reeve was an English theatre composer and organist.
ROH2 was the contemporary arm of the Royal Opera House until 2012, commissioning and producing dance and contemporary opera works in the Linbury Studio Theatre, Clore Studio Upstairs, Paul Hamlyn Hall and various other locations situated both within the Royal Opera House and outside. ROH2 also provided additional artistic resource to partners and associate artists in order to help the organisation realise its strategic aims. ROH2 focused on developing the art forms, creating opportunities for emerging artists and attracting new and diverse audiences to the Royal Opera House. From the start of the 2012/13 season the work of ROH2 has been undertaken by the 'studio programmes' of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.
John Peter Bologna (1775 –1846), known as Jack Bologna on stage, was an Italian actor and dancer, who spent much time in England popularising the role of Harlequin in Georgian pantomimes and harlequinades in the early part of the 1800s at the Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden Theatres.
The somewhat involved history of the ownership and management of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden can be split up into three main categories: the managers of the various theatrical and operatic companies which played there ; the leaseholders of the opera houses built on the land; and the owners of the freehold. From the early 20th century the theatre's management tended to be split between a general administrator and a musical/artistic director.
William Henry Schofield Payne was an actor and pantomimist who created much of the stage business connected with the character Harlequin. He was the father of the Victorian era pantomime clowns the Payne Brothers.
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