Covent Garden: A History of the Theater

Covent Garden: A History of the Theater

The first performance at the Covent Garden Theater in London was given on December 7, 1732. We are going to tell you how the theater has changed since then.

Beginning of an almost 300-year history

289 years ago, the audience saw The Way of the World, a comedy of manners based on the play by William Congreve. The theater was initially established as a drama theater, but two years after the opening, they started staging operas and ballets in it.

In 1734, spectators got an opportunity to appreciate the first ballet production Pygmalion, in which the performer of the main role - the French ballerina Marie Sallé - danced without a corset for the first time.

In those days, the great composer George Frideric Handel was writing operas and oratorios especially for Covent Garden. 

Two fires

The history of the theater building was not an easy one. Its construction started in the 1720s on the site of a city park at the initiative of director John Rich. The fire destroyed the building completely twice - in 1808 and in 1856. Each time, a new theater was built at the same place.

During the First World War, the Covent Garden premises were used as a military warehouse; during the Second World War, as a dance hall.

After the war, the building was returned to the theater; and in 1946, Covent Garden reopened to the public. The Sleeping Beauty ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky staged by Oliver Messel became the post-war premiere. 

From the 18th to the 21st century

At the late 1990s, the building and all internal premises underwent major reconstruction. Part of the adjoining territory of the old market and the Flower Hall was attached to the theater. This created two entrances symbolizing different eras in the Covent Garden history. 

Now, the auditorium of the London theater can host up to 2,268 people simultaneously. All conditions were created so that people with reduced mobility could attend the performances easily. 

Royal patronage and London liberty

Covent Garden is home to the Royal Opera and Ballet. The Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain are their patrons.

Despite this, Covent Garden has a very democratic attitude towards the dress code:  

“There is no formal dress code. We want everyone to feel comfortable and able to engage with what is happening on stage, and so we encourage audiences and visitors to wear whatever they feel comfortable wearing.  We only ask that feet and torsos are covered.”  

The Royal Ballet, whose home theater is Covent Garden, is Britain's largest and most renowned dance company. It combines classical traditions with a search for a new, contemporary movement. Since 2012, the Royal Ballet has been headed by Kevin O’Hare. The company's performances are very popular not only among Londoners and guests of the capital, but also all over the world.

Russia and Covent Garden

The Royal Ballet company currently employs two Russian dancers - principal Vadim Muntagirov, a graduate of the Perm Ballet School, and principal Natalia Osipova, a famous graduate of the Moscow State Academy of Choreography.

The first major acquaintance of Covent Garden and the English public with Russian ballet took place in 1956 during the legendary tour of the Bolshoi Theater. Back then, the audience and critics were all literally in shock after the performance of Galina Ulanova!

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, tours of Russian artists at Covent Garden and of the Royal Ballet at the Bolshoi Theater are organized regularly. 

To the Royal Theater - via the Internet

Before 2020, it was possible to visit Covent Garden not only for a performance, but also for an excursion: you could get backstage to see how a performance is being made and how artists are rehearsing. Now, when almost all the borders are closed and strict quarantine measures are applied everywhere, there is still a chance to watch live streams on the Internet and we highly recommend not to miss it.