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The ultimate VIP pass: Go above and below, as well as backstage, at The Royal Opera

Our new interactive experience allows you to see parts of the ‘Opera Machine’ usually hidden from audiences.

By Kasper Holten (Former Director of Opera, The Royal Opera)

8 July 2014 at 9.06am | 19 Comments

Try The Opera Machine here

When we are in the audience for an opera we are aware of the artists on stage and in the pit, we are hopefully caught up in the drama of the performance and pulled in by the power of the music. What is invisible – unless something goes wrong – is the team working behind the scenes to put the production on stage; managing and driving what could be described as the ‘opera machine’.

Behind the scenes, stage crew, technicians and stage managers come together with the artists in an often pressurized, always carefully coordinated, way to enable the performances and deliver the spectacular theatrical effects.

This staff is usually unseen and often unsung, but we are tremendously proud of having some of the best teams you could possibly imagine. The artists know how important they are - and we now have a way to let you glimpse this part of our world.

Our new project, The Opera Machine, offers an extraordinary multi-angled view of all that is involved: a flaming helix, trap doors and a two-ton spinning wall all feature in this performance of Act III of Wagner’s Die Walküre. In one tense moment, the Stage Manager works with colleagues to fix a crucial flaming prop for bass baritone Bryn Terfel, who sings the role of Wotan, delivering it just seconds before Bryn takes to the stage.

Decide how you would like to experience the opera: jump between cameras at will, or watch the director’s cut (featuring footage from each of the 17 cameras) all the way through. It’s possible to listen to the music alone, hear it with the backstage radio or overlay with commentary from BBC Radio 3’s Suzy Klein. You can also dig deeper by following the prompt book, used by the Deputy Stage Manager, to get a sense of what it’s like to coordinate such a large team during a performance.

Or if you want to understand even more fully why we think Antonio Pappano is the best Music Director in the world, watch him conduct the whole act through a camera in the pit capturing his every gesture and expression.

This project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Deloitte, who enabled us to film Die Walküre ahead of Deloitte Ignite 2013. We’re looking forward to seeing what The Royal Ballet have in store for Deloitte Ignite 2014 this September, which takes the theme of myth as a starting point.

Have fun with The Opera Machine – enjoy it for two minutes or play around with it for hours.  I learnt several things that I didn’t know about how things work backstage watching this being filmed myself, so we think you will never be able to quite watch an opera performance again in the same way after visiting The Opera Machine.

By Kasper Holten (Former Director of Opera, The Royal Opera)

8 July 2014 at 9.06am

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Backstage, behind the scenes, Die Walküre, stage, Stage management, technical, The Opera Machine, The Royal Opera, Wagner

This article has 19 comments

  1. Geoff responded on 8 July 2014 at 11:21am Reply

    Looks good. I had a quick spin through the options: is there a way into seeing what happens in the prompt box, the part of the action I have always been most curious about?

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 8 July 2014 at 3:13pm

      Hi Geoff

      Glad that you like it. The prompt box isn't one of the options - so much going on in a theatre that 17 cameras aren't enough!

      Best wishes


    • Kasper Holten responded on 8 July 2014 at 6:05pm

      Geoff, we don't have a prompt box for the Ring cycle, so afraid not...

  2. Ivis Bohlen responded on 8 July 2014 at 1:10pm Reply

    Wow, this looks terrific! I love finding out as much as possible about the backstage workings of opera and can't wait to try this out. Thank you and Deloitte for making this possible.

  3. r.a. responded on 8 July 2014 at 2:13pm Reply

    This looks like fun! I'm looking forward to trying it. I was also wondering whether you had any plans to offer a service like the Met, where you can subscribe to watch past performances on demand? I'm very sad to think that in a few hours the live recording of Manon Lescaut will no longer be available on BBC iPlayer. Could Pappano's wonderful conducting of this Puccini masterpiece not be made available on CD or DVD? Please make this possible.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 8 July 2014 at 3:01pm

      Hi there

      We have discussed making performances available to stream online but we have no plans for the immediate future.

      There are discussions ongoing about the release of Manon Lescaut on DVD, and once we have a definite answer we will share it.

      Best wishes


  4. John responded on 8 July 2014 at 7:18pm Reply

    I'm not sure we really want a DVD of Covent Garden's Manon Lescaut! I'm not sure it's a production I want to see again. However, I've enjoyed listening to the audio streaming of it on the BBC iplayer (which will "disappear" later today) and it would be great to have a permanent audio record of the performance - so what about a CD release of the performance. Now that IS something I would invest in!

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 8 July 2014 at 9:17pm

      Dear John

      The same applies for a CD - if one is released we will share the news here and on social media.

      Best wishes


    • r.a. responded on 9 July 2014 at 2:41pm

      'I'm not sure we really want a DVD of Covent Garden's Manon Lescaut!' Who is 'we'?There are lots of people who actually enjoyed the production of Manon Lescaut, including myself and several members of the audiences on the occasions I saw it, and who would like to see a DVD brought out. Producing an opera is not like solving a mathematical puzzle - there is no right or wrong answer, it is a creative interpretation. If you didn't like the interpretation, you are entitled to your personal opinion. We live in a country with freedom of expression and freedom of choice - if a DVD comes out, you don't have to buy it, but your opinion shouldn't veto a DVD appearing for the many who would like it.

  5. Allyson Jenkins responded on 9 July 2014 at 2:40pm Reply

    Living so near London and able to get to the ROH for performances, I don't go to the cinema screenings. Friends who do always talk about how good the interviews are and all the information given before the start and during the interval(s). Is there any way to access these after the event? Would you consider putting them on the web site in full?

  6. W J Owen responded on 11 July 2014 at 9:08am Reply

    LOVE it and makes you really respect those working behind the scenes at the opera. What a brilliant idea. MORE please!!!

  7. Nick Edwards responded on 15 July 2014 at 11:56am Reply

    Slightly off topic but following on from the DVD/CD comment above... I've noticed that quite a few of the operas in recent years have made their way to DVD. I'm not very interested in watching opera DVDs at home but love listening to them on CD. On the assumption that you've already gone to the effort to get copyright, permission from the artists' record labels and mastered the sound for the DVD etc, would it be possible to start releasing live CD recordings as well as DVDs? Potentially a good extra revenue source using the work completed for the DVD?

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 15 July 2014 at 4:14pm

      Thanks for your suggestion Nick, I've passed that on.

      Best wishes


    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 17 July 2014 at 5:46pm

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comment. The rights are secured for a Blu-Ray/DVD release, but we'll take your comments on board for the future.


      ROH Content Producer

  8. lawrence bradley responded on 22 July 2014 at 2:58pm Reply

    the opera machine is terrific. I can see that even more hours will now be spent crouched over that little screen. But it really is the most brilliant idea. As an aside, the Manon Lescaut, I thought, was as thrilling a production as a musical event. It is about some pretty unpleasant things and thank God there wasn't a powdered wig in sight!

  9. Joe Berry responded on 16 September 2014 at 8:12pm Reply

    Hi There,
    Is this content still working/online?
    I cant find it anywhere! I watched it last year and it has seemed to vanish. I tried contacting the switchboard to hunt it down and they didn't even have a clue who to transfer me to regarding this...

  10. Joe Berry responded on 22 September 2014 at 4:19pm Reply

    Hi Chris,
    Got it. I couldn't find it a few days ago but it looks like its back now. Thanks!

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