Anyone can sing at the Royal Opera House in London. I also reserved a dinner table and got tickets for a grand opera performance. In this post, I’ll answer some Frequently Asked Questions about a night at the opera in Covent Garden, based on my personal experience.
- How to buy opera tickets for the Royal Opera House?
- What is the dress code for the Royal Opera House?
- Where to stay in London near the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden.
But first, let me explain how I ended up singing at the Royal Opera House with absolutely no musical talent of my own. And you can, too!
Sign Up to Sing at the Royal Opera House
This monthly event takes place during the regular opera season. And the bargain price for a ticket? Only 10 British pounds (about $12). Get the exact dates and sign up at the website page for Sing at the Royal Opera House. It’s best to check a few months in advance. There were a few last-minute seats available when we went in October, but the tickets for December had already sold out.
Sing at the ROH is suitable for ages 14 and up. But the crowd for our session skewed toward senior citizens. It was also 95% female. The choir director cheerfully encouraged the women to categorize themselves as sopranos or altos. The small group of men was classified as tenors, despite a few obvious baritones in the bunch.
What Music Will You Sing at the ROH?
Most of the participants were native English speakers. So we didn’t attempt an original opera score in another language. We were given sheet music for “The Slaves’ Chorus” from Verdi’s opera Nabucco with lyrics translated into English. We also belted out a classic of the American musical theater: “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
A few bars of each piece allowed the more accomplished singers to harmonize. Mostly, the group sang in unison. The choir director coached us to deliver the feeling of the piece along with the notes. The optimism of the American cowboy in Oklahoma! contrasted with the despair of the enslaved captives in Nabucco.
After almost an hour of rehearsal, we sounded like this:
No doubt that our efforts had Verdi turning over in his grave. Among other things, we weren’t singing the original Italian lyrics. The English words like “hooomeland” and “peeeople” sounded weird to opera purists. For comparison, here’s the real thing, as performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York:
If you’d like to learn more about the opera Nabucco and how Verdi wrote the Slaves chorus, check out Andrew’s opera talk on his YouTube channel, here.
Get Tickets for Opera or Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London
We were able to combine our singing adventure with an actual performance of La Forza del Destino, one of the less frequently performed operas by Giuseppe Verdi. The official ROH website is your best source for performance dates and times. You can also sign up for a backstage tour.
How much does it cost to see an opera or ballet in London? We paid 221 British pounds each($268 US) for some of the best seats in the house. Pricey, but comparable to what you’d pay for opera in the US and less than we spent at Teatro la Scala in Milan.
What is the Dress Code at the Royal Opera House in London?
Unlike the “anything goes” atmosphere of the West End theater district, smart afternoon casual or festive evening attire is the norm at the Royal Opera House. The website only asks that you be fully clothed but I didn’t see anyone in jeans. No need for formal dress except for some galas or premieres.
Do NOT Arrive late for the opera or ballet: Latecomers will miss all or part of the first act. Allow a bit of extra time to line up for the required security check of your handbag. Larger bags and backpacks must be checked. Have your ticket printed out or show it on your phone. But then silence your phone and don’t take pictures during the performance.
What NOT to expect at the Royal Opera House: Your ticket does NOT include a printed program. Look up the story of the opera or ballet online before you go. The theater does post a QR code with information about the performance and the cast. Environmental concerns have eliminated paper programs. Even the sheet music from “Sing at the ROH” was collected after the event and re-used.
Dining at the Royal Opera House in London
Today’s Royal Opera started out as as the Covent Garden opera company after World War II, but the tradition of grand opera in England dates back more than 260 years. The present-day theater was built in 1858. The adjoining modern pavilion is a splendid place for drinking or dining, even if you don’t have tickets, from noon most days until 10 pm or the end of the evening’s performance.
Arriving at 2 pm for “Sing at the ROH” and staying until the opera ended at 11 pm, we made a full day of it. Many thanks to our new friend Emondo from Argentina, who treated us drinks on The Piazza Terrace, overlooking the rooftops of Covent Garden. He also contributed photos to this post.
Our ticket purchase allowed us to reserve a table for a pre-opera dinner in the Paul Hamlyn Hall. Its airy high ceilings give the impression of an indoor garden room. Visitors must order their food ahead of time online. Not cheap but reasonable for the convenience of the location. Expect to pay with a credit card at the cashless ROH.
Where to Stay Near the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden
In addition to the opera, we saw three West End musicals. Click here for more on planning a theater weekend in London. The nearest tube station to the ROH is Covent Garden, providing easy access from anywhere in the city. We had already done the tourist things in London, so we decided to stay as close to the theaters as possible.
Get ready for some sticker shock when booking a London hotel. We found a nice rental apartment on peaceful Red Lion Square, not far from the elegant Rosewood London Hotel. The Accor hotel chain offers some mid-priced options like the Mercure London Bloomsbury Hotel. Thanks for clicking on these Trip Advisor links to start browsing the reviews and book your hotel. It supports this blog at NO additional cost to you.
Terry’s Travel Tips
If you’re headed to Venice, check out my tips for going to the opera at Teatro La Fenice. And you can see two operas in two different opera houses in one weekend in Paris!
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