A night at the other royal opera
When friends from overseas with the slightest interest in music ask for recommendations about what to see in London, I always come up trumps. Boastful but true. In fact, even friends who’ve lived in London all their lives are impressed when I suggest a night of opera at the Royal College of Music’s Britten Theatre.
Normally, that’s because they’ve never heard of it, never mind not knowing where it is or what it does. And what it does is the key. For this is the stage on which some of the best young singers in the world prepare for stellar operatic careers, and it’s where you and I can listen to them in supreme comfort for a fraction of the cost of a ticket to the Royal Opera House. We’re talking talent of an extraordinary kind, talent that bristles with the confidence of youth, talent not yet tainted by prima donna histrionics or big money strops, and all on show at one of the most intimate opera venues anywhere.
It’s tucked down the back of the RCM’s magnificent Victorian building in Prince Consort Road behind the Royal Albert Hall. It has its own unassuming entrance via some tinny stairs and along an unglamorous, poorly lit passageway. The foyer is made of glass as if you’re in a functional conservatory. But step into the tiered 400-seat theatre (complete with the standing-room-only gods) and you’re enveloped by red velvet as plush as anything you’ll find in La Scala. Well, almost.
Designed by the great Hugh Casson (and named after former RCM student Benjamin Britten), it was opened by the Queen in 1986, while she was patron of the college (a role now taken by the Prince of Wales). As it happens, my
Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music