A New Experience

One evening a very long time ago, I climbed flight after flight of stairs to the very top of the auditorium, passed the entrance to the amphitheatre and then climbed on up to the balcony also known as ‘The Gods’. I and my two roommates were at the opera to see ‘The Magic Flute’ at Covent Garden. (Yes, you didn’t misread that, it was two roommates, as in those days, 1980, it was two or three to a room and only mature students were allocated a single room in the large, women-only student house where we lived.)

The two memories I have of that evening over 40 years ago were, firstly, the wonderful singing by Kiri Te Kanawa as Pamina and, secondly, the exhaustion of the sit/standing arrangement and straining to see the performers from the very, very back. So, why, oh why did I find myself at the Royal Opera House on Monday morning in ‘The Gods’ again? It was the triumph of considered, thought-out optimism over ever-fading, vague-ish memories.

Programme for The Magic Flute not from ‘The Gods’ visit of April 1980, but from another occasion in July 1989.

In the past, when I lived in London, I used to belong to the Friends of Covent Garden and, interestingly, I notice from a 1989 programme, basic membership back then was £25 a year. Needless to say that has gone up over the intervening decades and it is now £115 for an annual membership, but if you are able to attend the daytime rehearsals I think it’s worth it.

Advertising for new members. 1989

Attending dress rehearsals is one of the benefits of belonging to the Friends along with priority booking. Now I am semi-retired I can finally attend a daytime rehearsal in London. It is something I’ve always wanted to do. However, when I bought my ticket for the dress rehearsal of ‘The Barber of Seville’ only restricted view seats in the upper slips were still available.

And, what of my new experience? I think I’d say it was a mixed bag. The dress rehearsal was musically and theatrically wonderful. The younger vocalists, Aigul Akhmetshina (Rosina) and Andrzej Filończyk (Figaro), gave it their all and sang all the flashy fireworks so beloved by Rossini with no marking to save their voices. The mighty-voiced Bryn Terfel offered the most charming and amusing performance of Don Basilio with the expected superb singing. The other more mature members of the cast gave good performances, but I felt they were perhaps holding back vocally just a little with their eye on this evening’s Opening Night.

Information boards in the foyer provided performance details for the dress rehearsal. 2023

And, the downside? If I found it physically draining as a young student to be up in ‘The Gods’, then as an oldie it was always going to be challenging. My knees, neck and back did not appreciate the two and three quarter hours running time despite stretching my legs with a walk down to the Paul Hamlyn Hall during the 25 minute interval.

Left, the view from The Gods, opera glasses would have been useful. Right, zoomed in on the orchestra pit.

The lessons I’ve learnt from this new experience are, firstly, it is definitely worth being a member of the Friends if you live in the London area or can make a day trip to the capital. Secondly, if you find it difficult sitting at awkward angles to watch productions, then it is essential to note the day and the time booking for rehearsals goes live and login before all the front-facing, comfortable seats are sold out.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

9 thoughts on “A New Experience”

    1. Thank you for your positive comment. Of course, we are lucky these days as when we can’t travel to the venues, often there are screened live performances at the cinema and, eventually somebody will upload it to YouTube.

  1. I like seeing plays ( or did before the pandemic) and I’ve sat in seats as you describe. Now I won’t go if I can’t get good seats because I just don’t enjoy it. The theater sure looked beautiful though.

    1. Yes, I have come to the conclusion that I will go less often and have a better seat. For me you can’t be close enough. In 1988 my mother and I saw Eartha Kitt in Follies in London, from the second row!! Her performance was electric and my mother was absolutely thrilled. It is one of the best memories I have of time spent with my late mother, she was so happy.

      1. Wow, I wish I could have been with you, I love Eartha Kitt! I’m agree, I like to be as close as I can get to the stage. I remember many million years ago a customer giving me tickets to a ballet performance at an outdoor amphitheater, that I had been to quite a few times before but only could afford the free seats outside on the lawn (a picnic blanket, actually, and not under the covered portion with real seats). Really far away, the stage was from out there. Anyway, I went, it was about the third row center, and I could see everything. Even the dancers breathing. I still remember this.

  2. Not having lived in London since I left school, my theatre memories there are entirely of the Gods, and your atmospheric pictures took me right back there. As a young person, I found the height dizzyingly thrilling … but that was then It looks as if you’ve learnt how you will have to game the system. Good luck!

    1. According to my daughter the key is to be set up and ready when a ticket site goes live and keep refreshing until you get on. A fast broadband connection is very useful of course and that is frequently in the lap of the gods.

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