The Royal Opera House is one of London''s best venues for the opera and ballet. Situated in Covent Garden, the front doors open to Bow Street. Covent Garden tube is just a few minutes walk away. It is the home of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet companies. Originally just a drama theatre, built in 1732, the venue has had a massive refurbishment in the 1990s through money from the National Lottery and is truly a fantastic venue.
There is a large cloakroom area. It is free to keep coats and brollies here and I do recommend it, especially if you are in the cheap seats as there is not a lot of legroom. After a quick trip to the spacious and posh lavatories, we went up the stairs to the Paul Hamlyn bar. The glass fronted part of the opera is now a superb sleek and modern restaurant and champagne bar.
We were seated in the Amphitheatre aka the Gods with reasonably priced tickets, and this can be accessed by escalator from the Hamlyn Hall level. There is another bar and a smaller restaurant up here as well as several sets of toilets. In the amphitheatre the rows are quite narrow and you don''t have armrests, so although you have individual seats, your arms and elbows may be in contact with your neighbour. There is also limited legroom, less than a on a budget airline, so if you are in the middle of the row you are pretty much stuck there until everyone else has moved. The seats were well padded and comfortable, but I felt a tad achy at the end, because of my subconscious effort to hold myself upright, with my arms close to my sides, so I didn''t touch my neighbour, and I am only petite. It is worth remembering that the seats are well tiered here, so you won''t have your view down obstructed by other people''s heads. It is a long way down and opera glasses maybe a good idea. Tickets vary in this section and can start as little as GBP 5 for standing room. Mine were GBP 30, including booking fee through an independent organisation but you could probably get them cheaper direct. If you want to sit in the stalls or the front of the grand circle you are looking at about GBP 95 to 185 depending on the production. I would certainly like to try a nicer or closer seat another time, if I was feeling flush.
The building is very ornate within the auditorium, and looks amazing. The contrast with this baroque style theatre and the super, modern bar and restaurant area makes this a really interesting building to visit and my friends and I spent half our time cooing at the decor. You can also do backstage tours for GBP 12 which I fully intend to do one day.
As an aspiring opera singer I am keen to get to see as much opera as I possibly can and to get the best experience I can for the least amount of money possible! The Royal Opera House is almost certainly the most well known opera house in Britain and I look forward to every production I see there, knowing that it will be a real treat for the ears and the eyes!
- Booking tickets -
First things first, how to book tickets. You may be under the impression that tickets for the opera are hugely expensive and yes, for certain seats they are - for the big Wagnerian productions the best seats will go for upwards of £200! However, seats in the Ampitheatre are far more reasonably priced (around £22-30) and if you're willing to stand then tickets can be as low as £5 (I stood last weekend and it's really not as bad as it sounds, in fact the view I had was much better than if I had been sat, being a bit vertically challenged!)
Booking can be done in person at the box office, or online via the website, https://www.roh.org.uk/. Booking opens to the public about 3 months before a production, although Friends/Donors receive priority booking. For popular productions you'll be placed in a queue on entering the website and once you've reached number 1 in the queue you will be able to choose your seats and then pay for them. Tickets unsold 4 hours before a performance are available for £15 to those on Income Support, ES40 holders, members of the ROH Access List and those in receipt of benefits due to disability, under-18s, students, Westminster ResCard-holders, Registered Disabled, WC2 residents and Senior Citizens on Income Support.
- Your visit -
The ROH is located in Covent Garden (nearest tube is Covent Garden on the Picadilly line, or walk up from Charing Cross/Waterloo) and is the most fantastic building. The third opera house to be built on the site (the previous two both having been burnt to the ground), it went under extensive renovation in the late nineties, reopening in 2000 after a 200 million refurbishment. On entering you are struck by the huge scale of the building, the huge ceilings, the massive pillars - it's a building of real architectural impressiveness. On the first floor is the Floral Hall with its tall ceilings and champagne bar in the middle and if you head up to the Amphitheatre level there is a huge glass window allowing you to look down over the Floral Hall. If you fancy something to eat you have a choice of restaurants, the Amphitheatre Restaurant, the Paul Hamlyn Balconies Restaurant, and the Al Fresco Restaurant, or if you want to get yourself a drink there are numerous bars. Personally I get something cheaper to eat elsewhere before heading in, it seems to be pretty expensive to me! Restaurants will normally need to be booked, and you can even do this on the website when booking your tickets!
Dress Code is pretty flexible - I'm rarely seen out of my jeans and I certainly don't feel the need to do that to watch the opera here. Of course you will see some people in full length evening dresses, but that's not really the norm, apart from on special nights (and you will be warned about these when booking your ticket!)
Programmes can be bought for £6 - pretty pricey but they are beautifully produced with programme notes, bios, and lots of information crammed into them. Personally I prefer to give these a miss - I can look up biographies online afterwards! There is also a shop where you can buy opera CDs, DVDs and books but again, you will probably find these cheaper elsewhere!
The theatre itself is horseshoe shaped , fully air conditioned and has 2156 seats - but don't worry, there are lots of very helpful staff around to help you find yours! There are 4 levels - Stalls, Grand Tier, Balcony and Amphitheatre. Seats are pretty comfy with a generous amount of leg room - having been to some theatres where you're knees can be crammed into the seat in front!
There are surtitles for operas not in English so that you can follow what's going on and if you're seating in a position where you're not able to see the surtitles then you will have a little screen in front of your seat displaying them there - a lovely touch.
The sound itself is wonderful - I believe a lot of work was done in the refurbishment to ensure that the acoustic properties of the theatre were the best they could possibly be and I certainly have no complaints. Even right up in the Gods I've never had a problem hearing the singers. The singers themselves are world class and you know you're going to be in for a treat. The orchestra is one of the best I have heard and the productions are generally pretty traditional but very lavish. On seeing La Boheme last week I was particularly taken by the beautiful set, complete with gently falling snow in Act 3.
I absolutely adore every visit I have made to the Royal Opera House - the venue is beautiful and the singing and productions are among the best you will see in the UK. The productions they put on I would say are fairly conservative - the usual "classics", Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Wagner - but the addition of the Linbury Studio has allowed them to programme more 20th Century and new works alongside the works that they know will fill the theatre - the most recent example being Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's Monkey: Journey to the West. There are also recitals (often at lunchtime) from the Opera House's Young Artists which are well worth going to, so there is always something going on!