Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Open Up the Royal Opera House

The Royal Opers House Open Up project starts in May. Plans were announced ages ago and now, a new section on the ROH website gives more detail. Open Up addresses the use of space within a historic site hemmed in on one side by the Covent Garden Piazza and on the other by Bow Street.

Thankfully, the revolving doors on both sides will go. They slow down entry and exit.  The Bow Street facade will be enlarged and glazed over, to make more space inside. it's good that they're improving the Bow Street entrance.   It's a primary point of access, so it would be extremely inconvenient to force patrons into the overcrowded Piazza area, when they might avoid it altogether. The ROH doesn't necessarily cater for the tourist and busker crowd! Intelligent use of wasted space on Bow Street and a nice new terrace above. Hopefully there will be more places to sit when waiting, though I appreciate that nonticket holders can colonize them, the way the old Box Office toilets became public use.

More urgently, there'll be a revamp of the Linbury Studio Theatre, which is so cramped that it's a no-go area for many. Like the Sadler's Wells Theatre it was built for dancers. Which is fine if you're under 30 and as flexible as a dancer. Most of us aren't. The seats in the present Linbury are so cramped that they drive away patrons who might otherwise enjoy being part of the audience. The industrial metal fittings will go, too, to be replaced by more acoustic-friendly wood.  Hopefully capacity will be improved, too.

More controversial is the suggestion that part of the Ampitheatre terrace will be enclosed to extend the restaurant. But isn't Covent Garden already packed with restaurants? What will a few extra covers add? And at what cost to opera-goers   If ROH restaurant goers don't like mixing with hoi polloi who go for music, that's their problem. Unfortunately, the rich expect privileges, but not all of them are actually opera lovers and many won't turn into donors.  In any case giving in to that kind of donor is dangerous. One of the mantras in arts admin is the idea that cafés are more important than performance space, hence the idea of turning the Coliseum foyer into a sandwich shop.  It's a silly short-term notion, into which companies are forced because funding bodies don't understand that the cost benefits of art don't lie simply in balance sheets.

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