What to expect from a Royal Opera House Backstage Tour in London

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is Britain’s leading opera house. It is home to The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera. The Royal Opera House Backstage Tour gives an insight into the behind-the-scenes areas as well as the Front of House and the elegant Paul Hamlyn Hall.


Your Guide will explain about the history of the building and how much has changed during the major refurbishment between 1997 and 1999.
As this is a working theatre every tour varies. You will hopefully get to see inside the auditorium and possibly see The Royal Ballet in class or rehearsing.
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Exterior of Royal Opera House in London.
Floral Hall
The tour will introduce you to a hidden gem. The Amphitheatre Bar has views over Floral Hall inside the barrelled roof and the Terrace overlooks Covent Garden Piazza outside. It’s great for a light lunch, coffee and cake, or a glass of wine. If you would prefer a full afternoon tea this is available in the Paul Hamlyn Hall, also known as the Floral Hall. This glass and iron structure was completed in 1860 and was used as to sell exotic flowers when Covent Garden was a flower market. As well as afternoon tea, the Floral Hall is also used for award ceremonies and the like.
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Backstage Tour Review
Tours start from by the Cloakroom area for a good reason. It can be very hot backstage as the ballet dancers cannot let their muscles cool down so do put your coat in the free cloakroom.
Your Tour Guide leads the group through the Front of House areas and explains the history of the theatre. This is actually the third theatre on this site. The first was a playhouse, not an opera house, in 1732. Sadly, it burned down and took two years to rebuild. The second opened as an Italian opera house but that too burned down during a masque ball in 1808. The theatre was rebuilt, on time and under budget and opened in 1858. By 1892 the theatre gained royal status.
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Interior of Opera House in London.
The 1997-99 refurbishment kept many of the Victorian features but also introduced up-to-date technology to allow the theatre to function more efficiently. Previously each set had to be dismantled and carried to storage across the road for a different show but now three sets can all be ready to use on a stage that can rotate them into place.
While there’s no guarantee you will get to go into the auditorium I was lucky enough to get inside the 2,268 seater space. We sat high up yet the view was still fantastic as there is a steep gradient meaning the seats in front never obscure your view. We also saw that the orchestra pit is on hydraulics.
Rehearsals take place on the stage every day until 3pm and there is then 4 hours to get that night’s set back on stage for the performance.
The Royal Opera House shows 50% ballet and opera and has an opening night every 7-9 days.
There are 7 to 9 new productions (or new versions) each year. The rest is revival productions.
It costs around £1 million to put on a new opera and it doesn’t break even until the second or third time it is put on. Many operas will be planned up to 6 years in advance.
One thousand people work for the Royal Opera House but not all are based at the Covent Garden building.
The Royal Opera House stores everything for each production – sets, props, costumes, etc – in their storage facility in Wales. There are over 100 production sets there and nothing is used on another production.
We visited the Costume Production Rooms where we saw costume sketches and finished garments. The Royal Opera House has its own armoury too.
We went to the Ballet Rehearsal Studios and saw a ballet dancer doing sideways splits while resting on her elbows and having a mobile phone conversation during her break!
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A backstage tour at the Royal Opera House.
And we saw right behind the stage and the incredible amount of set props that were there for the productions that were running that week. To help us understand we watched a short film that explained how the rotating stage works.
Address: Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London WC2E 9DD
Important Notes
– There is quite a bit walking on the tour but the tour route is fully accessible to wheelchair users.
– Photography is not permitted.
– Tours are not suitable for children under 8 years old.
– Tours available Monday to Saturday.
– Tour duration: 1 hour 15 minutes maximum.
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