A night at the other royal opera

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - MARK PALMER

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

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