The New York Times review the opening up of Royal Opera House

The New York Times review the opening up of Royal Opera House
The New York Times review the opening up of Royal Opera House

The New York Times article by Alex Marshall

LONDON — “A bit like having open-heart surgery while going for a run,” Alex Beard, the Royal Opera House chief executive, said on Wednesday, describing a $66 million renovation that took nearly three years.

The revamp, which included the London venue’s second stage, the 406-seat, three-tier Linbury Theater, faced challenges because the building is recognized as having historical importance, Mr. Beard said. And then there were considerable practical and financial considerations.

“We couldn’t afford to lose a single rehearsal, let alone a single performance,” Mr. Beard said at a news conference from the Linbury’s stage.

“We had meetings every day where we’d work out the little windows of time we could make noise,” Alan Stanton, co-founder of the architecture firm Stanton Williams, which designed the project, said in an interview. “You’d have Plácido Domingo rehearsing in the main space and, of course, performers like him are sensitive to noise, dust, vibration. We couldn’t have jackhammers.”

The Royal Opera House staged almost 1,000 performances during the construction and renovation work.

The upgraded Linbury is perhaps the most notable change. The theater was previously little more than a black box into which audience members crammed themselves, Mr. Stanton said. “It was done as a relatively cheap theater, almost like an enhanced rehearsal space,” he said.

The redesign arranged seats in a horseshoe shape to bring the audience closer to performers and improved the acoustics. Warm colors and materials were chosen to give an intimate feel.

The Linbury’s season will open with a run by the ballerina Alessandra Ferri in January 2019, with Herman Cornejo of the American Ballet Theater, accompanied by the pianist Bruce Levingston. The dance company Rambert had been slated to open the theater in December, with a new fairy tale called “Aisha and Abhaya,” but the show’s director became ill and the staging has been postponed. A film program will run instead.

Another highlight of the dance program will come from the British company Lost Dog, which is to present “Juliet & Romeo” in April, in which the Shakespeare characters survive and find themselves in a midlife crisis in their 40s. The Royal Ballet will present works to music by the young electronic composers and musicians Mica Levi and Anna Meredith.

The Linbury’s opera program was also revealed on Wednesday. In February, it will stage “The Monstrous Child,” a new opera by the British composer Gavin Higgins, based on Francesca Simon’s young adult novel of the same name. It tells the story of a teenage girl who becomes goddess of the underworld.

In June, Ivo van Hove, the Belgian director, will stage a production of Janacek’s song cycle “The Diary of the One Who Disappeared.” And in July, “Engender,” a weekend festival, will celebrate women in opera, in a nod to the #MeToo era. Other notable performances in the Linbury’s new season include a staging of Handel’s “Berenice,” returning to Covent Garden, the site of its 1737 premiere.

But the most important changes to the Royal Opera House, Mr. Stanton said, were in the public spaces, where the architects tried to entice new audiences: The foyer is much larger; the lobby is fronted by windows, allowing people on the street outside to look into the building, and it houses a cafe that will open daily from 10 a.m. The basement has also been opened up, to hold weekly performances that can be viewed from above.

“It’s no longer a slightly introverted institution that just opens its grand doors in the evening,” Mr. Stanton said.

The opening up of the foyer was helped by one major change, Mr. Stanton added: moving the women’s bathrooms from the lobby (where the men’s remain) to the basement. “Spatially that was a key move,” he said, quickly adding that women would now have more stalls available to them than before.