The Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera HouseOn 5 March 1856 disaster struck again. For the second time the theatre was completely destroyed by fire. Although rebuilding was felt to be imperative, financial considerations delayed matters. Work on the third and present theatre eventually started in 1857 and the new building opened on 15 May 1858 with a performance of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots.

The theatre became the Royal Opera House in 1892 as the number of French and German works in the repertory increased. Winter and summer seasons of opera and ballet were given. In between seasons the theatre either closed or offered such diverse fare as film shows, cabarets, lectures or dancing. During World War I the theatre was requisitioned by the Ministry of Works for use as a furniture repository. During World War II it became a Mecca Dance Hall. There was a possibility that it would remain a dance hall after the war but, following lengthy negotiations, the music publishers Boosey and Hawkes acquired the lease of the building. David Webster was appointed General Administrator and Ninette de Valois’s Sadler’s Wells Ballet was invited to become the resident ballet company.

They reopened the Royal Opera House on 20 February 1946 with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty in a sumptuous new production designed by Oliver Messel, which did much to dispel the post-war gloom. There was no opera company suitable for transfer to the Royal Opera House, but David Webster, with his music director Karl Rankl, immediately began to build a comparable resident company. In December 1946 they shared their first production, The Fairy Queen, with the ballet company. On 14 January 1947 the Covent Garden Opera Company gave its first performance of Carmen, conducted by Rankl, directed by Henry Cass and designed by Edward Burra, and with a largely English cast of principal singers.

The Sadler’s Wells Ballet was a well-established company, with a varied repertory and a loyal audience built up during extensive touring during the War Years. Founder-Director Ninette de Valois continued to expand the repertory, encouraging choreographers from within the Company but also bringing in works from abroad. In 1956 the success of de Valois’ work was recognised when the Company was awarded a Royal Charter and became The Royal Ballet. De Valois’s vision has been built upon by successive directors, by none more so than Monica Mason, Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet since 2002.