FEATURE: Royal Opera House Covent Garden Tours

 

 On the morning before coming home from one of my previous trips to London I decided that instead of wandering aimlessly around even more shops, I’d indulge in another “cultural” experience. This time it was a backstage tour of The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  The phenomenally well informed and engaging guide started with some history of the building and its architecture followed by a tour of the glorious auditorium, most recently seen in the BBCs coverage of this year’s Olivier Awards.

By sheer chance there was a rehearsal for Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette on set beginning behind us and as we left, the opera buffs were getting excited as the calls to stage had gone out for opera super dooper star and all round nice guy Alfie Boe – they had to be forcibly removed before he appeared.

At the time of the trip, other than being aware of his name and the stir he was creating in the opera world, I didn’t really know anything about Alfie Boe. (I have subsequently seen him in the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert, the full production of Les Mis at the Queen’s Theatre and in concert, as well as the countless appearances he has made on TV). He was apparently discovered singing on the shop floor of the TVR car factory in Blackpool, went to The D’Oyly Carte and then trained at the Royal College of Music.

 

The tour then took us backstage to the design departments to see the process of taking an opera from page to stage. The 3D models of the sets were just magical, like those wonderful, atmospheric toy theatres much beloved by the Victorians. As we passed backstage there were racks upon racks of hampers full of the most glorious, highly detailed and extravagant costumes – and all completely hand made. How some of the dancers manage to move under the weight is amazing. It was the kind of sequin filled dressing up fantasy of ever little (and this big) girl fulfilled.

The highlight of the tour was the visit to the ballet studio where most of the principal dancers were being put through their punishing paces. The most eye-opening thing I learned was that dancers start their day at 10.30 am and dance through until 5.30pm on a performance day and 6.00pm on a non-performance day and on performance day the curtain will fall at 10.30 – 10.40pm. I think they should tell this to all those little girls who dream of life as a ballerina.

Alina Cojocaru and Edward Watson

Gary Avis

Lauren Cuthbertson

Leeanne Benjamin

Steven McRae

The tour took over 2 hours and at the time the admission was £10 – a fantastic glimpse into how the magic on stage is created with blood, sweat, tears and talent by a massive army of dedicated people.