You are on page 1of 2

Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House 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 faade, 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

The foundation of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden lies in the letters patent awarded by
Charles II to Sir William Davenant in 1660, 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 Opera House until shortly after the First World War, when the document was
sold to an American university library.

The first theatre


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.[3]
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.[4]

In 1734, Covent Garden presented its first ballet, Pygmalion. Marie Sall discarded tradition and
her corset and danced in diaphanous robes.[5] 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 premire 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[6] 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.