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,, as a "cosmopolitan quartet of pop/opera crossover singers", and the fresh faced G4,, 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,, 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,, 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.Expensive Ticket Prices?

It is a common misconception that opera is extortionate but in reality there are plenty of reasonably priced seats available.

Both the ROH and ENO offer reduced prices to encourage wider audiences. Yes, you can pay £180 for a ticket at the ROH but you can also pay as little as £4. Admittedly, you won’t get the best seats in the house for the price of a pint (and the upper slips are best avoided if you suffer from vertigo) but why not try the Travelex £10 Mondays scheme?

One hundred of the best seats available are offered for £10 each and the scheme is open to anyone. Students can sign up for the Travelex £10 Student Standby and will be notified by text and email of any unsold tickets a minimum of 24 hours before a performance.

Booking is now open at the ROH for performances until the end of May 2006. If you want something lighthearted opt for Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Smetana’s Bartered Bride or Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. For romance there’s Verdi’s La Traviata or for tragedy Verdi’s Macbeth or Berg’s brilliant but heart-wrenching Wozzeck.

ROH 2 aims to promote "New Artists - New Audiences - New Art" in its smaller theatres and increase the diversity of the repertoire offered in the main auditorium. Be sure to check out ROH2 for details of premieres, workshops and free lunch time recitals.

ENO launched Sky Seats in May 2005 in which 12,000 dress circle seats are available each season for £20.00, a saving of £25 on each ticket. You can usually get regular priced tickets from £10 each. Operas this season include Verdi’s Rigoletto, Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love, Offenbach’s La Belle Helene and Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

Click the following link to view a range of Opera Tickets in London.

So, ticket prices can be reasonable but once you’re inside it is expensive. In much the same way you get ripped off when you buy pop corn and coke at the cinema, drinks and ice cream don’t come cheap. A useful money saving tip is to remember to Google and print out a synopsis and details of the production company. I was chuffed to get stalls at the ROH for £10 recently but incensed to discover that a programme for that particular opera cost £8. If you want an official programme as a memento, check under the seats after the performance. You won’t look particularly dignified scrabbling around on the floor but you can usually find one that someone has left behind!

Other Perceived Barriers

Another perceived barrier to opera is that few are written in English and if your Italian is limited to little more than a ‘ciao’ and a ‘grazie’ you won’t have much idea of what’s going on. The ROH now uses surtitles for all foreign language operas. Surtitles are similar to subtitles on a foreign film and the translation is projected on a screen above the stage. As its name suggests, English National Opera performances are sung in English.

Appropriate Dress

If you think you need to dig out that tux or ball gown from the back of your wardrobe and get it dry cleaned you’re mistaken. Some people do get very dressed up, particularly at the ROH, but then who doesn’t make some effort for a night out? You wouldn’t go clubbing in a tracksuit would you? You will probably find that the majority of opera goers are fairly smartly dressed but don’t expect to get noticed just because you’re wearing your faded 501s.Alternative and Outdoor Operatic Events

Summer may seem a long way off but if you love the outdoors and fancy opera in a unique environment then check out Opera Holland Park, This summer festival features opera performed under a canopy in a beautiful setting in the middle of Holland Park. The 2006 festival comprises six new productions including Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. Booking opens to the general public in early April.

The ROH screened a series of outdoor Live Screen Relays during the summer of 2005. Onegin was screened live in Trafalgar Square and Victoria Park and Tosca was broadcast in the Covent Garden Piazza and Canary Wharf. These popular events enabled thousands of people who would not normally go to the opera to enjoy a free live showing in a fantastic atmosphere. Keep an eye on the ROH website for details of events in 2006.

So, next time you’re looking for something different to do on a night out, don’t rule out the opera. The only way that the stuffy image surrounding this brilliant form of entertainment can be broken down is if it is enjoyed by people like you.

Author: Sophie Hampton

Useful Links:

- - Royal Opera House Website
- - English National Opera Website
- - Opera Holland Park Website
- Opera Tickets in London - All In London's souce of Opera Tickets

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