On This Day - December 7th

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The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, central London, first opened on 7th December 1732. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden". It is the home of The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

The current building is the third theatre on the site following disastrous fires in 1808 and 1856. 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 15th 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 11th December 1858 and took up residence at the theatre on 20th December 1858 with a performance of Michael Balfe's Satanella and 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.

What is the seating capacity of the ROH?

Find out here...

The ROH has a seating capacity of 2,256.

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