21 July 2011 at 2.51pm | 3 Comments
Did you know that The Royal Opera House is usually open daily to anybody who is just curious to pop in? Monday to Saturday bars and restaurants are open to the public 10am to 3pm. There are conducted tours, exhibitions and archive displays and free lunchtime recitals in the Linbury Studio Theatre. It’s a fascinating building, with lovely open spaces, a good place to escape the hubbub, or just dodge the rain for an hour. Don’t be bashful; you can enter either from the Piazza side or any of the doors on Bow Street. If you're coming far, you can check with Switchboard (020 7240 1200) to see if the house is open.
A few suggestions for a DIY tour of the ROH
Admire the Paul Hamlyn Hall
This mini Crystal Palace was built in 1860 and is a feat of Victorian engineering and ironwork. In its day, the hall was used as an exotic flower market and in the evening was converted into a ball room or concert hall. In fact, the very first promenade concerts took place here - well before such events in the Royal Albert Hall. In 1965, after around 300 years, the flower market was moved out of Covent Garden to south London. The hall was left in disrepair for many years before being incorporated into the Opera House’s main scheme. It was completely dismantled and then raised up to accommodate the new spaces underneath. The hall now also displays costumes and other artefacts from our Collections department which runs exhibitions throughout the building.
Ascend the Grand Stairs to the Crush Room
(Just off the Bow St entrance or off to the side of the Paul Hamlyn Hall)
Stop to pay homage to two divas of 19th-century theatre. On the left is a bust of Dame Nellie Melba, the Australian soprano who was the leading lyric soprano at Covent Garden at the turn of the century (famous also for the peach and icecream dessert created for her at the Savoy Hotel, Peach Melba). On the right is the Italian coloratura soprano Adelina Patti who had remarkable success at Covent Garden from the 1860s onwards. Her diva-like status was evidenced by the fabulous gown created for her as Violetta in La Traviata, encrusted with 3,700 diamonds.
Ride the escalator
When first unveiled in 1999, it was the longest escalator in the world. It gives magnificent views of the Paul Hamlyn Hall and is an excellent spot for some surreptitious people watching. It will take you up to the Amphitheatre Bar.
Have beetroot cake and coffee in the Amphitheatre Bar
This glamorous long bar is perched halfway up the Opera House and has a special floor-to-ceiling-viewing balcony that looks down into the Paul Hamlyn Hall below. Art lovers can take a seat beneath David Hockney’s marvellous 1971 portrait of Sir David Webster. It was the first ever portrait commissioned from Hockney, who usually choses his own subjects. Seen side on, Sir David appears almost to be weightless suspended by a modernist 60s chair. He retired as General Administrator for the Opera House shortly after this painting was finished, and passed away shortly after. There are many more works by leading modern and contemporary artists dotted all over the building. Have a wander down our corridors and foyers, or seek them in our Collections database.
Gaze at the London skyline from the terrace
If you exit the amphitheatre bar by the revolving doors you can peer over the terrace wall to watch the hoards of tourists in Covent Garden, or look out to the monuments on the skyline. You can see The London Eye, Nelson’s Column, Westminster Cathedral, Waterloo Station and numerous spires, towers and skyscrapers way off into the distance.
Find out more:
- Short History of the site: The very first theatre here was built in 1732 by the actor-manager John Rich. The current building is the third on the site. Both previous ones were destroyed by fire.
- Book a guided tour to see the auditorium and go backstage.
- Listen to a podcast tour: Collections manager Francesca Franchi takes you around the Front of House.
- Watch a video tour: