I think it isn’t going too far to say that the Royal Opera House is one of my favourite places in the whole world (on a list that includes the British Museum, my parents’s settee, and my own bed). I have fallen in love here, cried here, discovered new favourites, and generally been emotionally overwhelmed by some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. (That’s not to say I haven’t sometimes seen performances that haven’t blown me away – I have mentally planned tomorrow’s dinner, or wondered what I’m doing at the weekend, or played out imaginary arguments, during an occasional boring Act).
I’ve lived in London for just over 5 years and have been attending the ROH basically since I moved here. It’s taken a bit of trial and error to work out my favourite place to sit that combines good price with not-too-terrible view or uncomfortable seat. These trials included a seat that meant I missed an entire scene sung atop a horse, or forcing my sister to stand with me for 4.5 hours of Berlioz on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I have rarely spent over £25 for a ticket – and sometimes as little as £4 – and generally go for the Upper Slips (the view above is from seat DD4, but don’t be stealing my seat!) which offers a good enough view for the ticket I can afford.
Some highlights in the past 5 years have included (but are certainly not limited to):
- An astounding production of Verdi’s Don Carlo, starring Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros and Mariusz Kwiecien. It is the best opera I have ever seen.
- Having my heart in pieces after seeing Michael Fabiano sing Lenksy’s aria in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (my favourite opera).
- A whole ton of Wagner – Parsifal, Der fliegende Holländer, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, but most especially Tristan und Isolde
- Not being able to breathe but also crying during Puccini’s Suor Angelica
- Feeling fancy sitting in a box for Turnage’s Anna Nicole
- Not being able to speak after Berg’s Wozzeck
- Being taken by surprise at enjoying Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Rossini’s La Donna del Lago as I really didn’t think they were my cup of tea.
- Many others that I couldn’t stop singing or listening to for days and weeks after – Gounod’s Faust, Verdi’s Rigoletto, Strauss’s Elektra and so so many more
There’s been a theatre on this site since 1732, but building that stands there today was built in 1858 after previous incarnations burnt down (why do they always burn down?!). In this building Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso sang together in Puccini’s La Boheme – just imagine how that would’ve sounded – Dhiagilev brought a Russian opera company to perform Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and Richard Strauss visited with a Dresden company to conduct Ariadne auf Naxos. But unlike most of the places I’ll blog about, it’s the present that excites me about ROH rather than the past.
My top tips for visiting the Royal Opera House
- If you can find out in advance what’s on, get your tickets on the booking opening day. There are four booking days per year, one for each of the seasons. Get online as soon as you can so you can get the best tickets for your budget.
- If you don’t mind a bit of a restricted view, the Slips offer great value. Pick a seat as far back from the stage as possible (towards the Auditorium) for the best view.
- If you want a full view of the stage, pay a bit more and sit in the Auditorium. Just make sure you get a seat on the end of a row – the seas aren’t very wide so you’ll need to get friendly with your neighbours!
- Do not worry about dresscode. Wear whatever you want. If I’m going at the weekend I might wear a nice dress or be a bit fancier if I feel like it, but most of the time I’m going after work and may well even be wearing cycling gear.
- You don’t need to buy a programme to find out about the production. You can get useful free handouts from the stewards outside the hall (see picture, right) that give a good, brief intro to the opera and have the cast list etc.
- If you want even more info, you can usually get a wikipedia plot synopsis, or Houston Public Media make a great podcast called Opera Cheat Sheet.
- If you’ve never been to an opera or concert before and not sure what to do during the performance, it’s just common sense. There’s not a code of conduct, but think how you’d behave in the cinema. Would you be annoyed if someone was playing on their phone or talking? Yes. But would you mind if someone coughed or laughed out loud at an appropriate moment? No. To be sure, just do what those around you are doing.
- For your first opera, it can be fun to go to something where you might recognise some of the music. You can’t go wrong with Verdi or Puccini. The Royal Opera House website itself has lots of information about the productions, including running times. (These can be anywhere between 70 minutes to 5.5 hours!)
- Just give it a go! You never know, you might LOVE it.