About Time You Saw… The Royal Opera House’s Backstage ToursBy Gilly Hopper
Attention opera aficionados, ballet buffs and Curious George-types: if you want to know what Rolls Royce, Sainsbury’s and Borough Market have to do with the daily happenings inside the Royal Opera House, then their Backstage Tours are a must. Home to The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, this Grade I-listed building, which has resided in Covent Garden since 1732, has long served as a landmark for opera fans, lost tourists, and aspiring performers alike. The current building, built in 1858 (after the previous theatre burnt down), houses multiple theatres, rehearsal spaces and workshops areas, making it an ideal site for fervent investigation.
The standard 75-minute tour costs £12 and includes an introduction to the colourful history of the theatre, an insight into the redevelopment of the building and a look at certain aspects of current productions. The promised ‘behind-the-scenes access’ can translate as anything from interrupting orchestral rehearsals, bypassing a ballet dancer’s warm up session or finding a seat amidst haberdashery, sketches and mock up models in the wardrobe department. While a visit to the auditorium is not guaranteed, the variety of experiences on offer (due to the working nature of the opera house) mean that no two tours are exactly alike.
Presented by exuberant and highly knowledgeable guides, the ROH’s historic narrative blends scandalous tales of promiscuous and skittish performers with practical developments in opera-going realms. From the ‘be seen’ mentality of bygone audiences to the evolution of set design, there is something to whet every theatre fan’s appetite. The auditorium’s Victorian interior and the Paul Hamlyn Hall (fondly dubbed the ‘floral hall’ having previously formed part of the old Covent Garden flower market) provide an oasis in which to reflect on performances past, present and future.
Seeking to surprise, enlighten and propel interest in the genres of opera and ballet, the ROH’s Backstage Tours offer an enjoyable prologue to a potentially fruitful relationship with the ‘high arts’. For those who occasisonally find their weekends reduced to being jostled along Oxford Street or slurping a Costa coffee between museums, this opportunity to take a peek behind the curtain of one of the world’s most famous theatres presents a welcome alternative, showcasing the dramatic, the practical and the down right obscene, all under one gold-gilded roof.