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London Opera

Don't know your Madam Butterfly from your Madam Jo-Jo? Then read our guide to the London Opera Scene.





Opera has been performed in London since the early 18th century. Many of Handel’s operas were first heard in Covent Garden, on the same site on which the Royal Opera House stands today. But is opera stuck in the 18th Century? Is a night at the opera an elitist and dull pastime for wealthy geriatrics? Are you more familiar with ‘popera’ than the opera?

Popular opera has come a long way since Italia ’90 when everyone was humming the Nessun Dorma theme tune, sung by the rotund Three Tenors. Now we have the sexier Il Divo, described on their website, ildivo.com, as a "cosmopolitan quartet of pop/opera crossover singers", and the fresh faced G4, g4site.com, bringing opera to mainstream entertainment. G4, four classical musicians who trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, were thrust into the limelight after appearing on TV’s X Factor.

Popularising Opera

If popularising (arguably ‘dumbing down and sexing up’) opera breaks down barriers and stimulates interest in a genre predominantly perceived as inaccessible then groups such as Il Divo and G4 must be welcomed. Both have enjoyed spectacular commercial and chart success with a mixture of operatic and pop classics but is purchasing an Il Divo CD so far removed from experiencing a live operatic performance that it does not actually increase accessibility at all?

Unfortunately, the perception that opera is dull remains but opera is not dull nor is it elitist. It is a powerful, exciting art form incorporating some of the most dramatic plots and passionate music ever written. It is the combination of the visual elements of theatre, striking costumes and scenery, with live orchestra and voice. In addition, London’s two main opera houses have stunning auditoriums which provide a perfect setting.

The Royal Opera House, royalopera.org, is one of the world’s greatest opera houses and was re-opened in December 1999 after a £178 million renovation. It is an impressive building located in the heart of London’s Covent Garden so there is a huge selection of places to eat, drink and shop on the doorstep. The Opera House’s floral bar has been magnificently restored and is one of the most beautiful places in London to treat yourself to a glass of champagne.

The home of English National Opera, the Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane, eno.org, has also recently undergone a four year restoration programme. It too has a fantastic location in the hub of London’s west end which makes it ideal for pre and post opera wining and dining and provides great transport links for getting home.

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