25 May 2012 at 10.56am | Comment on this article
In a recent surreal experience, I found myself in the Royal Opera House's Amphitheatre Bar at 3am staring at the ceiling trying to work out how to eat popcorn quietly. My only light source was an illuminated display case containing one of The Royal Ballet's costumes, worn originally by Monica Mason, and the only sounds were a faint whir from the fridges and a comical counterpoint of snoring. One hundred others were with me, tucked tight in their sleeping bags after an enlightening and exciting evening of activities.
The Royal Opera House recently hosted the first ever sleepover in an opera house in the northern hemisphere. As soon as the evening’s audience had made their way into the main auditorium to watch La Fille mal gardée on the main stage, our guests arrived to joined us to experience Covent Garden after dark. This was our contribution to European Opera Days - an event when hundreds of opera houses across Europe open their doors to new and existing audiences, allowing them to experience opera in new ways. As the evening's activities began, I wondered how many of my European colleagues would be starting their activities at such an unconventional time.
The event began with an action-packed introduction to opera with 12 members of the Royal Opera Chorus. Two singers and two stage directors then put our guests through their paces, singing and staging short extracts and helping them to devise their own music. After a quick mid-evening snack, we raced down to the auditorium to see what happens on the main stage at Covent Garden when the audience has gone home for the night. There we were offered a mesmerizing peek at the stage machinery and members of stage crew removing of the ballet set and re-setting for the general rehearsal of Falstaff the following morning. I was reminded of the famous aria 'Nessun dorma' – 'None shall sleep' – seems about right for the Royal Opera House stage crew!
We reconvened upstairs in the ballet studios to rehearse the short pieces we’d been working on and perform them to one another before moving on to the Amphitheatre Bar and Restaurant to set up camp. It was strange to see chairs, tables and theatre-goers replaced with sleeping bags, pillows and people in pyjamas! After some gripping operatic bedtime stories, everyone all snuggled down and eventually dozed off.
In the morning, we trooped up to the Staff & Artists canteen at the top of the building for breakfast. After this there was a surprise workshop before our guests collected their certificates, confirming they had survived a whole night at the Royal Opera House before heading home. The question on everyone’s lips is when we’re holding the next sleepover. I don't know the answer to that question; but I must say that I haven't yet found a way to eat popcorn quietly.