Spinning through the air with an ease and artistry which is truly beguiling, the dancers were not disturbed by our presence.
The ballerinas of London’s Royal Opera House were preparing for their next performance.
This was my third tour of a European opera house after visiting the famous venues of Milan and Budapest — three of the world’s most influential artistic institutions where, for generations, the world’s leading operas, plays and ballets have been staged.
I was gobsmacked by the majesty and history of Italy’s most-revered opera house, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Hungarian State Opera House is one of the busiest in Europe.
In London, my backstage tour allowed me to see the dancers rehearse, explore the Opera House’s cavernous lighting warehouse, meet artistic directors, inspect beautiful sets and witness the stage being prepared for a performance.
Many of Europe’s leading opera houses offer similar tours. Even for cultural plebs like me, there is great joy in seeing the extraordinary architecture of the buildings and having an appreciation and understanding of the effort that goes into the productions.
This incredible preparation was obvious as our tour group went through the backstage hallways of the Royal Opera House. A heavy rumbling sound drew our attention — the stage was being moved on its hydraulic supports which allows for swift set changes. These more technical aspects of the opera house were intriguing but my tour group was most impressed by the building’s plush private boxes.
We were allowed only to look from afar at the box reserved for the Royal family but this didn’t diminish the experience.
As beautiful as this opera house was, it could not compete aesthetically with the Teatro alla Scala. With its deep red velvet seats contrasting against golden balconies, this 241 year-old building in the heart of Milan is the epitome of what I adore about Italy.
Its interior nimbly treads the boundaries between grand and grandiose, ornate and gaudy.
My well-informed guide filled me with facts and figures about the opera house during the 45-minute tour. I absorbed few of them because I was too distracted by my surroundings. If the Royal Opera House was an enlightening experience, this tour was an inspiring one.
To be honest, my expectations were lower when I arrived at Budapest’s Hungarian State Opera House but I was shocked by this magnificent neo-Renaissance building opened in 1884.
Like Milan, it had a 1200-seat auditorium splashed with red and gold, and embellished by an enormous chandelier.
It is sold out regularly across the opera house’s massive schedule of performances. Guests enjoy the incredible acoustics which are said to trail only Teatro alla Scala and the Paris Opera House.
Several members of my group decided to loosen up their vocal cords. The acoustics were fantastic but not good enough to improve the off-key warbling of this journalist, so I kept my mouth closed.
Europe’s opera houses are too spectacular to be messed with by a rank amateur.
- The London Royal Opera House runs up to three backstage tours daily. But the tours book out quickly, particularly during peak season, so book ahead at Royal Opera House.
- The Hungarian State Opera House has four tours a day in English at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm. Go to Hungarian State Opera House.
- Tailor-made guided tours of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala must be booked well in advance at Teatro alla Scala.
Published under license from Well Travelled