We recognise that everything we do has an impact on the environment – at our home in Covent Garden and at our sites in Thurrock in Essex and Aberdare in Wales. This includes events and activities led by The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet, as well as our nationwide education programmes. Our audiences, staff and artists have an effect too. We are making changes now to reduce this impact, and clearly communicate the steps we are taking.
Modular scenery increases the use of reused and recycled materials, with the aim of reducing the quantity of raw materials bought for a show and the associated carbon footprint. Modular scenic elements that can be reused and shared between shows are becoming increasingly popular in Opera Houses across Europe, as the industry works towards a more sustainable model for making productions.
The Royal Opera House has formally recognised the climate and ecological crisis and made a commitment to create productions that work towards a more sustainable production model as outlined by the Theatre Green Book. The Theatre Green Book was an initiative set up in 2020 by the theatre sector in partnership with sustainability experts Buro Happold. It sets standards for making productions, theatre buildings and operations more sustainable.
To work towards this goal, the Scenic Construction Team at the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop in Thurrock are currently working to expand their selection of modular scenery for opera and ballet productions that take place on the Main Stage. They have developed a stock of stretch frames which are typically used for walls and background features in set and scenery. Each stretch frame is made up of a variation of three components - edge, triangle and flat pieces, all available in different dimensions to create various sizes of stretch frame for production designers to choose from. Specially built components made for last season’s Samson et Dalila and Wayne McGregor’s Untitled, 2023 are included in this stock for future reuse. A selection of these modular stretch frames were used for Das Rheingold and will be used in Jephtha amongst others throughout the 2023/24 Season.
The team are also developing larger modular scenic elements to be shared across productions. This includes a large construction (known as an in-fill) originally made for the staging of La traviata. The in-fill is designed to be lowered on stage so that the top is level with the surrounding stage, creating space for substage access for performers or equipment. It has been created with a set of components that can be reconfigured in many different ways. As well as for La traviata, it will be reused throughout Barrie Kosky's upcoming Ring cycle.
Importnatly, these guidelines do not limit vision and practice but instead create a framework on which a production design may be constructed, helping the Royal Opera House and the wider industry to work towards a more sustainable model for production design.
The Royal Opera House worked with local school, St Clements Danes CofE Primary School, to create bunting for the Coronation
celebrations created from costume and props materials previously used in Royal Opera House productions.
The Royal Opera House costume and props department spent a day with the children at local St Clements Danes CofE Primary School teaching them skills in creating and decorating for a very special project making celebratory bunting for the King's Coronation on 6 May 2023.
The costume department donated bags of fabric left over from costumes that have graced the Royal Opera House Stage and gave the schoolchildren the opportunity to work alongside members of the team and learn how to cut patterns, design individual pieces and create unique sustainable Coronation bunting. The unused pieces of fabric were cut to shape with each child designing their own letter, with the bunting spelling out ‘King Charles Coronation 2023’.
The Coronation bunting will be on display at St Clements Danes CofE Primary School as part of their celebrations to mark the King's Coronation, as well as displayed throughout The Royal Opera House across the Coronation weekend.
In 2019, the Royal Opera House costume department discovered over 2,000 front of house staff uniforms no longer in use. Wanting to extend the life of these quality items, we partnered with London-based charity Suited & Booted to provide smart workwear for vulnerable, unemployed and low-income men, helping them enter employment and move their lives forward.
The Royal Opera House provided 1,929 items – including jackets, trousers, waistcoats, T-shirts and shirts – to men preparing for job interviews. By reusing quality clothing, the project has saved 17 tonnes of CO2E (the equivalent of 17 hot air balloons) from being released into the atmosphere, had the items gone to landfill.
Most importantly, the service provided by Suited & Booted has boosted confidence and changed lives. The partnership has enabled service users to move forward following chaotic life experiences, which include addiction, prison and homelessness. We look forward to continuing this work across 2022-2023.
Suited & Booted is a charity that helps vulnerable, unemployed and low-income men into employment by providing interview clothing and interview advice. They aim to make a difference so that people can move forward with the ability to succeed and find their own way in society.
You can find out more about their work on the Suited & Booted website.
Richard Robinson began as executive chef of the Royal Opera House in the summer of 2021. As well as revamping the menu to include more seasonal produce, Richard has been changing how we use and reuse products that would normally go to waste. We caught up with him to talk about his sustainable approach.
From using artisan suppliers to repurposing used coffee grounds to make cakes, the steps we are taking across the restaurants and cafés improve the sustainability of our food services and reduce the waste we make.
Inspired by his childhood in the countryside, where he learnt the value of organic growth, Richard made the switch to Nature’s Choice as our main fruit and vegetable supplier, providing us with a delivery of surplus produce from other companies. “Surplus usually means wonky, but I don't mind! We use wonky vegetables in all our smoothies, juices and cakes. It is a great challenge for me too. I have to design the weekly menu around what is delivered, not the other way around.” This also generates a great seasonal menu, as well as more vegan and vegetarian options available across the café and restaurants.
All ingredients come from within 40 miles of our kitchen. We use Social Pantry to connect with smaller, artisan suppliers in and around London. They work together to ensure all the deliveries are made in one movement, which hugely reduces the carbon footprint of each of our dishes. And it's not just the food we source sustainably, our gin suppliers use completely sustainable botanicals, and with the Tonic water on tap fonts installed in the Level 5 bar we are also reducing the amount of glass coming on to site.
And while we do our best to use as much as we can in-house any usable surplus is donated to City Harvest, a London-based food waste charity, delivering free surplus food to families who need it. When we had to close during lockdown, we were able to send our surplus to be donated to others via food banks across the city.
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation, a charitable company limited by guarantee incorporated in England and Wales (Company number 480523) Charity Registered (Number 211775)