Covent Garden at Home and on Tour

2.  Meistersinger
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3. Bury 2
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4. Bury Tristan 1
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 Aida 1957
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6. Trojans
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1. Britten
1.  
Edward Benjamin Britten, OM CH (1913 - 76)

Date: 1964
Photographer: Unknown.  ¬©The Trustees of the Britten-Pears Foundation


2.   Final Scene (Prize Song) from Wagner's opera 'The Mastersingers of Nuremberg', Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Date : 1957
Photographer: Unknown


3.   Opening night of the Royal Opera House main stage production of 'Tristan and Isolde' by Richard Wagner; Producer Peter Hall; designer John Bury; lighting by John Bury.

Date : 1971
Photographer: Unknown


4.   Opening night of the Royal Opera House main stage production of 'Tristan and Isolde' by Richard Wagner; Producer Peter Hall; designer John Bury; lighting by John Bury.

Date : 1971
Photographer: Unknown


5.   Ballet scene from Margherita Wallmann's production of Verdi's 'Aida', Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 1957

Date : 1957
Photographer: Unknown


6.   Scene from the production of Berlioz's opera 'The Trojans', Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.  Designs by, Nicholas Georgiadis

Date : 1969
Photographer: Unknown





Covent Garden

After serving as a dance hall during World War II, the Royal Opera House reopened in 1946 as the National Theatre for opera and dance. Sadler's Wells Ballet moved in as the resident ballet company and plans were made to set up a permanent British opera company that could also play host to the great international opera stars.

Over the next ten years, the first generation of British and Commonwealth opera singers emerged - Geraint Evans, Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers. Alongside them appeared the great international singers like Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi and Luciano Pavarotti.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Royal Opera was noted for its high production standards. Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Tosca' gave Maria Callas one of her greatest performances. Lucino Visconti's productions of Verdi's 'Don Carlos' in 1958 and his black-and-white production of 'La Traviata', set in the 1890s and inspired by the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley. are partiicularly notable.  It was in Zeffirelli's 1959 'production of Donizetti's 'Lucia di Lammermoor' that Joan Sutherland became famous overnight.

In the post-war period, Britain at last produced opera composers of international standing. The Opera House commissioned operas from British composers, including Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett and Harrison Birtwhistle. The Opera House continued to develop exciting new singers of international standing, including Kiri Te Kanawa and Thomas Allen.

In 1969, Covent Garden marked the centenary of Berlioz's death by staging a magnificent production of his epic opera 'The Trojans'. It told of the fall of Troy, of Aeneas' escape to Carthage, his love and eventual desertion of Queen Dido and her death.

The spectacular designs were the work of Greek designer Nicholas Georgiadis. He made a visual distinction between Troy and Carthage. Troy was classical, linear and sombre against  a dark sky. Carthage, as seen in this photograph, was bathed in a golden light with elegant, splendidly rich costumes.

The Arts Council (successor to CEMA) was sensitive to the charge that since 1945 far fewer opera performances had been given in the provinces. The small Carl Rosa Opera Company toured constantly, but the Covent Garden company visited only those few cities with theatres big enough to accommodate it.

In the mid-1950s renewed calls were made for a reorganisation of Britain's opera companies. There were proposals for a new home for Sadler's Wells on the South Bank of the Thames near the Royal Festival Hall, but these fell through because the government was unwilling to fund the building. Once again there was serious talk of merging Covent Garden and Sadler's Wells.  In the event, Sadller's Wells took over Carl Rosa's touring commitment and retained a significant and growing presence in the capital, leading to the formation of English National Opera.

Although the Covent Garden company may be seen as an international company securely based in London, there was a period in the mid 20th century when, like Saddler's Wells, it was expected to provide performances in the provinces.  This short-lived experiment took the company to provincial theatres in the north and north east of the country, notably Leeds and Manchester.

It would appear that the touring activity was based on  scratch crews and singers or understudies from the main house.  In the period when Covent Garden and Saddler's Wells were competing for public funds, the Garden was aligned with the metropolitan audiences while Sadller's Wells, later English National Opera, concentrated on touring opera in English.

[Text based, in part, on Information published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, and other material in the public domain.]