The Royal Opera House, situated in Covent Garden, is one of London’s major performing arts venues; dating back to 1732, it’s the home of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.
- Join one of the ROH’s Family Sunday events which let you and your children get creative and watch live music and dance performances
- Sample some of the great fizz and cocktails on offer at the Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar before a performance
- Head into the main auditorium, which might be small but which has a hugely stunning impact
What to see and do
Eat, drink and absorb the atmosphere
You don’t have to be going to a performance to visit most of the restaurants, cafés or bars at the Royal Opera House. The Piazza Restaurant is open to everyone, although you will need to book, and the Royal Opera House Café is open to anyone who likes great coffee, cakes and light meals. The Paul Hamlyn Champagne Bar is open to ticket holders only, but that’s only more reason to see a show.
Take one of the several tours on offer
The ROH runs several tours throughout the day and one of the most popular is the Backstage Tour because you never know what you’ll get to see. You could see the orchestra rehearsing or the ballet company warming up – it all depends on what’s going on. There’s also the Covent Garden Legends and Landmarks Tour which explores the history of the ROH and its surroundings. For a more up close and personal experience, the Velvet, Gilt and Glamour Tour takes you into the main auditorium, explains the architecture and also lets you visit the Royal Retiring Room.
Splash out at the gift shop
There’s a bit of an emphasis on dance and ballet – don’t forget, the ROH is also home to the Royal Ballet – but as well as gifts for budding ballerinas, you’ll also find DVDs of performances, books, jewellery, notebooks and cards.
Did you know? (3 Interesting Facts)
- The Royal Opera House was the venue for the first-ever public piano performance in England. On May 16 1767, a Miss Bricker sang a song from Handel’s Judith with Charles Dibdin accompanying her on the novel instrument.
- In another first, the ROH was the first theatre in the world to use limelight for illumination of its sets and actors. “Limelight” is produced when an oxyhydrogen flame is directed at a block of calcium oxide, or quicklime. The quicklime gives off a bright incandescent light before it melts away and although we now have electricity to brighten up the stage, we still refer to famous people as “being in the limelight”.
- Every old theatre has a ghost or two and the Royal Opera House is no exception. It’s believed that a poltergeist haunts the theatre and it likes to throw tools about or rattle sets. Some people think it’s the ghost of actor and dramatist Charles Macklin; he’s a very busy ghost as he’s also believed to haunt the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane…
- 1732: Actor-manager John Rich built the first Theatre Royal in Covent Garden with the money he made from The Beggar’s Opera. At this time, only one other theatre was allowed, by Royal Patent, to put on drama productions in London. This other venue was the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and a rivalry soon sprang up.
- 1734: The theatre presented its first ballet, Pygmalion, and Marie Sallé dispensed with the more traditional corset and danced in flimsy robes instead.
- 1735 onwards: The theatre’s first major musical works started in this year, with lots of Handel operas and oratorios being performed there until Handel’s death in 1759.
- 1787: An extensive rebuilding and refurbishing programme started and ended in 1792.
- 1808: A fire destroyed the theatre and 23 firemen were killed when part of the building fell on them. Rebuilding started immediately and the theatre was back in business only eight months later with a production of Macbeth. Ticket prices rose to recoup the rebuilding costs, but customers rioted until they returned to normal!
- 1846: The theatre, after a remodelling of the auditorium, reopened as the Royal Italian Opera.
- 1856: Another fire destroyed the theatre and rebuilding work started the following year. The new venue featured design by EM Barry, who added a glass and iron Floral Hall which was intended to be a flower market that occasionally held balls.
- 1892: The theatre was renamed as the Royal Opera House, with winter and summer seasons of ballet and opera. In between seasons, the venue held films, cabaret, dancing and lectures.
- 1946: After World War II ended, the theatre opened with a gala performance of The Sleeping Beauty.
- 1980s: The Royal Opera House was starting to seem old-fashioned and so plans were made in 1984 to redevelop the theatre. Work only started in 1997 after the National Lottery awarded ROH £58.5 million towards the costs.
- 2000: The new, transformed theatre opened, with new technical and rehearsal facilities, refurbished foyers and a refurbished main auditorium. The old and neglected Floral Hall was transformed into a public area with bars and cafés.
Facilities and accessibility
The ROH is wheelchair accessible throughout, from the ground floor café to the accessible seats in performance spaces.
There are accessible toilets at ground floor level, as well as on the Linbury Foyer level, next to the Level 5 bar and also on each level of the main auditorium. These toilets are unisex and they all have an alarm pull.
You can borrow a wheelchair if necessary and if you need help transferring from your own wheelchair to a seat, call the box office on 02073044000 in advance of your visit.
If you need large print programmes and synopses then copies are available from the Duty House Manager’s desk in the main foyer.
Assistance dogs are welcome throughout the theatre and if you want your dog to stay with you during a performance, let staff know when you book. Otherwise, your dog will be looked after by front of house staff.
For people with hearing and visual impairments, there are sign language-assisted performances, as well as audio introductions and assisted-hearing facilities.