Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is a theatre for opera and ballet in Covent Garden, situated to the immediate north of the piazza.
The first Covent Garden Theatre opened here in 1732. After this was destroyed by fire a new incarnation of the theatre opened in September 1809, charging higher prices to help cover the cost of the rebuilding. As soon as the national anthem had been sung the audience began to shout “old prices, old prices”, and the chant continued throughout much of the performance of Macbeth. A posse of Bow Street officers was called and magistrates read the Riot Act but the crowd did not disperse until after midnight. Similar disturbances took place for more than two months, after which John Philip Kemble, the theatre’s owner-manager, relented.
Sir Michael Costa established the Royal Italian Opera at the theatre in 1847, when the auditorium was remodelled to suit its new purpose.
In 1857 the theatre again burned down, and the present-day Royal Opera House (known to devotees as ‘Covent Garden’ or ‘the Garden’ and to insiders as ‘the House’) replaced it a year later. The building was extensively redesigned and modernised in the 1980s and 1990s, but it retains its classical entrance portico in Bow Street, shown in the photograph below.
Despite the tribulations of underfunding and recurrent criticism of its artistic standards, it remains one of Britain’s flagship cultural venues, home to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.