Tags: Music, Theatre, Italy
The Royal Opera House, home of Britain’s oldest national opera and ballet companies, began its existence as the Covent Garden Theatre, opened in 1732 by John Rich. It served for plays, pantomimes, and opera. The first musical works to be heard at Covent Garden were the operas of Handel. From 1735 until his death in 1759 the latter gave regular seasons, and many of his operas and oratorios had their first performances here. During the 1840s Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, was the centre of ballet and opera. After a dispute with the management in 1846 its conductor Michael Costa transferred his allegiance to Covent Garden, bringing most of the company of singers with him. The auditorium was remodelled to designs by Benedetto Albano, and the theatre reopened as the Royal Italian Opera on 6 April 1847 with a performance of Rossini’s Semiramide. On 5 March 1856 disaster struck and the theatre was destroyed by fire. Work on the present theatre started in 1857 and the new building opened on 15 May 1858 with a performance of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. In 1869 Michael Costa was succeeded by Luigi Arditi. The Royal Italian Opera went under in 1884 and was replaced in 1888 by what came to be called the Royal Opera Company, but the repertoire remained largely Italian opera. The theatre became the Royal Opera House in 1892, gradually loosing its Italian domination as the performance of French and German works increased.