The Royal Opera House Covent Garden is London's main opera venue. It is known primarily for the quality of singers it attracts, and many legendary reputations have been forged here. Theatrically it tends towards the conservative, with artistic as well as musical matters under the ultimate control of its Music Director, Antonio Pappano. The house's origins are in Italian opera, which remains its main strength.
The ROH website addresses some of the issues below, albeit briefly, so it should be your first port of call for the 'official' line. Following a recent update it does not work well with certain older browsers - check its Help page if you are having problems.
*IN THE HOUSE*
Is there a dress code?
No. Most people dress fairly smartly (in the week, many come straight from the office), more so in the more expensive seating areas. But you won't be thrown out for wearing jeans, and many dress casually. A small number of people wear evening dress, but these days it's unusual. It's much less dressy here than most opera houses in continental Europe.
Temperature control is not great, so it's best to wear layers you can take off in summer or add on in winter.
What can I bring into the auditorium?
You can take in your coat and small bags, though you may prefer to leave these in the cloakroom, which is free of charge and rarely has a queue of more than a minute or two. Large bags, suitcases, rucksacks, etc are not allowed in and you will be asked to leave these in the cloakroom. Nothing can be left in aisles or on front row fingerboards - this rule is strictly enforced for safety reasons. As most seats are cramped, it's best to take in as little as possible.
What about eating and drinking?
No food or drink is allowed in the main auditorium, though you can generally get away with a small bottle of water.
Queues for interval drinks are generally not too bad, though of course it saves some time if you pre-order.
Dining options are listed on the ROH website, but the food is nothing special, and far from a bargain. With so many great restaurants in the area it's better to eat elsewhere. You can pre-order sandwiches for the interval at around £12 for two rounds if you need something to tide you over. The bars also have very nice cakes for around £4, and sometimes hot pasta at £5-ish before the performance. Technically you're not supposed to bring in your own food, but some people eat sandwiches in the amphitheatre corridors during intervals.
Can I take pictures or record the opera?
You probably know the answer already. Both are strictly forbidden, and I've seen ROH confiscate recording devices until the end of the performance. People do sometimes take pictures at curtain call - this is best done quickly and unobtrusively and without flash.
What happens if I arrive late, or want to leave during the performance?
The ROH website says later arrivals will not be admitted until 'a suitable break'. In practice, this means at the first change of scene, which might be between the overture and the first act, or may be a lot later, depending on the production. Be aware that it could easily take ten minutes to get past the ticket check and find your seat.
People generally don't leave their seats during the performance. If you do, you won't be readmitted until 'a convenient break' - that usually means the interval.
A list of the current season's productions can be found on the Productions page. You may be unable to see the whole season (which ends in July) if you are using an older browser that the website does not support, in which case check the 2012-13 season announcement (some cast details have changed since).
How far ahead can I book?
The ROH season is split into 4 booking periods. Booking for each begins around the start of the previous period. To find the exact date for any particular production, locate it on the Productions page and click on it. All currently bookable productions are shown on the Events page.
The most in-demand seats (generally, the cheapest) sell very quickly as soon as public booking opens. By joining the Friends of Covent Garden you can buy seats in advance of public booking. However a proportion of tickets (across all price bands) are held back from Friends booking, ensuring the general public have a chance even for the most popular shows.
Are there any cheap seats?
Around 400 seats are priced at £5 to £30, with about half of these under £10. These are all distant or restricted view or standing only. They nearly always sell quickly and are worth booking as far in advance as possible.
A few productions each season may be cheaper than average, with top price tickets £65-ish rather than the more usual £175+. These are generally the very operas most likely to appeal to a younger customer, so it all works out rather nicely. In 2012-13 these are Birtwistle's The Minotaur and George Benjamin's Written on Skin.
Standby seats may be available 4 hours before a performance, at half price for the general public, or less for students, unemployed, etc. If the performance is unlikely to sell out at full price, there will generally be standbys available, but the majority of these will be top price stalls tickets, which are £80-ish even at half price. Phone the box office no more than 24 hours before the performance for information about standbys.
There is a £10 student standby scheme for which you need to register in advance on the website. The ROH will then email you on the day (or shortly before) to let you know about any productions for which the £10 tickets will be available (ballet comes up more often than opera).
If you create an account on the ROH website, or become their Facebook friend, you can join the mailing list and be notified of occasional offers. These are generally reduced prices on the most expensive seats for productions which are selling slowly - usually modern operas, second cast nights or poorly-reviewed productions.
Sometimes newspapers and discount websites (travelzoo.com, lastminute.com and so on) have ticket offers. These are usually for stalls seats, and they will be publicised individually here when they appear.
Note that standbys, discounts and special offers are only ever available on shows that aren't selling well.
How do I get seats for a sold-out performance?
Call the box office on 020 7304 4000 or check the website regularly in the week or so before the performance for returns. The box office sometimes have seats which are shown as unavailable on the website.
67 Day Seats are available from the ROH from 10am on the day of performance for most shows. The website's Tickets page has details. The seats are in the upper amphitheatre (rows U to V) and side stalls circle (row C). Most have distant or restricted views, and are typically priced around £20 to £30 (amphitheatre), or £30 to £50 (side stalls circle). There are also a handful of standing places at around £10 to £15. These seats are often popular, and you might need to start queuing at 8am or earlier to be sure of getting one. Phone the ROH box office for queuing advice the day before. Note that, contrary to myth, day seats are not discounted, so they are no cheaper than regular seats.
People (including the occasional tout) may sometimes offer tickets outside the Piazza entrance before the performance, but this is not as common as in some other countries, so don't count on it.
Ebay, Gumtree and other resale sites may have tickets, but the usual warnings about fakes apply.
Ticket agencies are a last resort - they generally hold the most expensive seats only, and often charge double or more the face value.
How do I get tickets for a dress rehearsal?
These are available to Friends of Covent Garden (Friends membership costs £85 pa and upwards) on a limited basis at a price of £4-15. Demand tends to exceed supply, and Friends membership doesn't guarantee a ticket.
Otherwise try the ROH Press or Education departments if you have a good story.....
Which are the best seats?
This is a matter of choice. None are perfect. Those with an unobstructed view tend to be distant from the stage and/or have less than perfect sound.
Although the ROH have taken the trouble to photograph the view from every single seat in the house as part of their recent website update, for some reason there is no complete interactive seating plan. The only way to see the view from a particular seat is to go through the booking process for a show (any show). On the Select Tickets page, you can see the view from any unsold seat by clicking on it in the 'map'. A photo of the seat itself will appear in a box on the left. Click on this photo to see the view from the seat. It's not possible to see the view from seats once they've been sold.
The photos were taken in an empty theatre so they don't indicate which views may be obstructed by the head of the person in front. This problem arises mainly in the stalls (especially rows B to E) and the rear row of each box. Other areas have a better rake. The seats with the best view are probably the front centre stalls circle and grand tier though both are rather distant.
Sound seems fine to me from all seats, but I'm not an acoustician, or even particularly fussy. Amongst those with more refined ears, the Royal Opera House is noted for its dry acoustic - this affects all seats. Some people believe the front few rows of the amphitheatre have the best sound; others say the upper slips.
Front rows in all sections have less legroom than rows further back. Legroom generally is distinctly average, and tall people will do best with boxes or the loose seats in the stalls circle and balcony (which are like bar stools with a backrest). The website booking process displays seating details for any seat you select - those without armrests are narrower than those with, and the broad-beamed (or those sitting next to them) may find them inadequate. The bench seating is not generously proportioned either.
If you want to be first in the bar queue at the interval, or the cloakroom queue at the end, sit on the left hand side of the auditorium and scope out your exits beforehand.......
Are there any reading seats*?
No, and no seats are lit during the performance. If you want to follow the score, one option is to buy a Stalls Circle standing place on the right hand side of the auditorium, then stand or sit on the floor in the corridor area behind the stage side seats. This is lit, and open to the seated area, though the sound is not terrific. The stage side seats themselves or the slips seats upstairs are another (more expensive) option, but only if you have 20/20 night vision. *Hörer/Partiturplatz
How do I find out if [insert diva] has cancelled?
If you've booked a ticket, the ROH will generally email you to let you know if any of the scheduled singers are no longer appearing. Otherwise, you can check the News section of the website. They tend not to announce cancellations until a replacement has been found.
What's showing at the cinema?
The ROH now has a dedicated cinema website with full details of all planned showings.
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