Theatre Royal, Covent Garden


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Venue Type & Location


Site Name: Theatre Royal, Covent Garden
Location: London
County: London (city-county)
Location Type: Town - in town at determined location


  • Address: Bow Street, Covent Garden (West side, Just south of Hart Street, at the North East corner of Covent Garden Market). For a current map, Click Here. For historical maps showing the venue (in addition to the one excerpted at right), Click Here, Here, and Here.

  • Alternate Names: Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden Theatre, Royal Opera House – Covent Garden.

  • Performance Space Description: Information about this venue has not yet been compiled; however, some sense of the performance space may be gleaned by following the links at right. In particular:

  • See the 'Bibliographic Sources' link for a provisional list of venue-relevant resources (both primary and secondary). Wherever possible (i.e. when the pertinent text is relatively short and/or easily condensed) this material has been transcribed, and appears beneath the appropriate bibliographic citation.

  • See the 'Events at venue' link for a listing of blackface/minstrelsy-related events that took place in this performance space (with attached bibliographic references).

    Beth Marquis

  • Troupes at Theatre Royal, Covent Garden

    Events at Theatre Royal, Covent Garden

    Event Date Venue Location Troupe
    Concert 9 February 1846 - 9 February 1846 London, London (city-county) Ethiopian Serenaders (1846-48), Russell, Henry
    Concert 30 March 1846 - 30 March 1846 London, London (city-county) Russell, Henry, Hutchinson Family
    Opera 22 August 1851 - 22 August 1851 London, London (city-county) Tamberlik

    Bibliographic Sources

    • Arthur Lloyd Website. 05/22/2008 (
    • Barron, Michael. Auditorium Acoustics and Architectural Design. London: E & FN Spon, 2000.


    • Black’s New Guide to London and its Environs. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1863.

      “COVENT GARDEN THEATRE (Royal Italian Opera), Bow Street. The first playhouse on this site was opened in 1733. This was destroyed by fire; and another theatre, erected from the designs of R. Smirke, was opened in 1809 the cost having been about £180,000. The prices of admission having been raised, there ensued the famous O.P. riots, which were only terminated at the end of two months by a return to the previous charges. The taste of the public running upon musical entertainments, the theatre was converted into an Italian opera house in 1847. Smirke's building was destroyed by fire in 1856. The present handsome theatre is not quite so large as its predecessor. It was designed by E.M. Barry, and was erected in the space of six months (at a cost of nearly £80,000), being opened to the public in May 1858. When used for the opera it will hold about 2300 comfortably-seated spectators; when otherwise fitted, 3000 or more visitors can be easily accommodated. The statues of tragedy and comedy, and the figures on the friezes in bas relief at the Bow Street front, are from Flaxman's chisel” (212).

      Also gives the following specifics for the theatre:

      Width of the Proscenium - 50’

      Number of Boxes/Tier – 36

      Number Tiers of Boxes – 4

      Width Between Boxes – 63’

      Length (Curtain to Centre Box) – 81’

      Height (pit to ceiling) – 65.5’ (213)
    • Carthalia - Theatres on Postcards Website. 09/14/2008 (
    • Clarke, Henry Green. London in All Its Glory. London: H.G. Clarke & Co., 1851.

      “THE ROYAL ITALIAN OPERA, Covent Garden. This theatre having been destroyed by fire in September, 1808, was rebuilt from the designs of Robert Smirke, Esq. R.A., and opened in the September of the following year, it having been completed in little more than ten months. It is of the Grecian Doric order, having a portico of four columns, supporting a pediment; the columns are large, fluted, without bases, and elevated upon a flight of steps. In niches near the lateral extremities of the front are statues of Tragedy and Comedy, by Flaxman; and over the windows are compartments containing emblematic representations of the ancient and modern drama in basso-relievo. The interior was entirely rebuilt from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr. Albano in 1847, since which period it has been devoted to the production of the Italian lyric drama” (122).
    • Cunningham, P. Modern London; or, London as it is. London: John Murray, 1851.

      ”The ROYAL ITALIAN OPERA, at COVENT GARDEN THEATRE on the west side of Bow-street, Covent-garden, is the second theatre on the same spot. The first stone of the present edifice was laid (1808) by the Prince of Wales, and the theatre opened (1809) at ‘new prices:’ hence the O.P. (Old Prices) Row. The architect was Sir Robert Smirke, R.A., and the statues of Tragedy and Comedy, and the two bas-reliefs on the Bow-street front are by Flaxman. The expenses of Covent-garden Theatre are so very great that it has long been unlet for the purposes of the legitimate drama. M. Jullien held his Promenade Concerts in it for some time, and in 1843-45, it was leased by the members of the Anti-Corn-Law League. Great alterations were made in the spring of 1847, under the direction of Mr. Albano, and on Tuesday, April 6th, 1847 it was publicly opened as an Italian Opera, but with such an extravagance of expenditure, that in 1848 there was a loss of 34,756l, and in 1849 of 25,455l. In one year (1848), the Vocal Department cost 33,349l; the Ballet 8105l; and the Orchestra 10,048l. […] The chief artistes at this house are (1851) Madame Grisi, Madame Viardot, Ronconi, &c. ” (176)
    • Dictionary of Victorian London Online. 07/27/2008 (

      (Under Entertainment - Theatre & Shows - Theatres & Venues - Covent Garden)

    • Elmes, James. Metropolitan Improvements; or London in the Nineteenth Century. London: Jones & Co., 1828.

      ”COVENT GARDEN THEATRE. One of the best views of the front of this theatre is from the opposite side of Bow Street, somewhat to the south of the south-east angle. […] This front, which is the principal, and in fact the only architectural front, if I may be allowed to use the expression, is two hundred and twenty feet in length, and divided into three principal parts, which project from the main body of the building and form its most attractive features. These are the portico and the wings. The former is tetrastyle of the Athenian Doric order, after that of the temple of Minerva Parthenon at Athens, and the latter are formed of antæ after the same example. The columns both in front and flank are equidistant, and have one triglyph and two metopes to each intercolumniation, and the antæ of the wings have the interval of two triglyphs and three metopes between them.

      The entire entablature is carried over the portico and the wings; but the architrave, frieze, metopes, and mutules are omitted in the intervening portions of the front, to make room for the sculpture. The portico is crowned by a pediment surmounted by acroteria. The cornice of the wings and main building are surmounted by a blocking-course and parapet, crowned by a surbase moulding, like that which the same architect has used in the United Service Club House. Behind this, the lofty walls of the body of the theatre rear themselves in stern simplicity, and form an admirable architectural back ground to the ornamental façade below. […]” (144-5).
    • Fitzgerald, Percy Hetherington. A New History of the English Stage, from the Restoration to the Liberty of the Theatres. London. Tinsley Brothers: 1882, .

      Chapter 5 (pp72-86)

    • Howard, Diana. London Theatres and Music Halls 1850-1950. London: The Library Association, 1970.

      pp. 54-6.

    • Knight, Charles (ed). London Vol. 5 & 6. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1851.

      in London Theatres Chapter, pp273-288.

    • London and its Environs. Leipsic: Karl Baedeker, 1885.

      ”ROYAL ITALIAN OPERA, or COVENT GARDEN THEATRE. on the W. side of Bow Street, Long Acre, the third theatre on the same site, was built in 1858 by Barry. It accommodates an audience of 3500 persons, being nearly as large as the Scala at Milan, and has a handsome Corinthian colonnade. With the exception of the pantomime from Christmas to Easter, the only theatrical representations are Italian operas. From August to November the building is utilised for promenade concerts. During the opera season evening costume is de rigueur, except in the gallery” (37-8)
    • London as it is To-day. London: H.G. Clarke & Co., 1851.

      The information provided within this source is similar to that given within London in all its Glory, also published by H.G. Clarke, & Co.

      In addition, this source also contains the following:

      “The decorations for richness, good taste, and simplicity, are unrivalled. The prevailing colours of the house are white and blue; and the gilt mouldings are, without execution, the most magnificent that have ever been applied to the purposes of theatrical decoration. The curves of the tiers of boxes is as perfect as possible for the combined necessities of sight and hearing, and the painted ceiling, and the chandelier, are remarkably splendid. The undertaking meeting with the success he had contemplated, Signor Persiani, who, with Mesdames Persian and Grisi, and Signor Mario, had seceded from Her Majesty's Theatre, soon retired from the management, leaving Mr. Beale in sole possession. That gentleman shortly afterwards induced Mr. Delafield to join him in the speculation, and ultimately to take the entire management in his own hands, an event, which in a few months terminated in his bankruptcy, after having lost a princely fortune, amounting to £100,000. Since the secession of Mr. Delafield, the affairs of this establishment have been carried on by the leading artistes, upon the share system, with but moderate success, although several operas have been produced on an unexampled scale of magnificence, and at an outlay hitherto unprecedented in operatic annals: here it was that Mdlles. Alboni and Angri, and Signor Tamberlik, made very successful debuts before a London audience. Open from February to August. Doors open at half-past seven o’clock; performances commence at eight. Admission the same as at her Majesty's Theatre" (209-210).
    • The London Stage 1800-1900 (University of Massachusetts). 03/23/2008 (
    • London Theatres Website (Templeman Library, University of Kent at Canterbury). 05/22/2008 (
    • Moody, Jane. Illegitimate Theatre in London, 1770-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.
    • Theatres in Victorian London Website. 05/22/2008 (
    • Timbs, John. Curiosities of London (1868). London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1868.

      “COVENT GARDEN THEATRE, Bow-street, is the third theatre built here. […] The first stone [of the 2nd theatre] was laid by the Prince of Wales, Dec. 31, 1808; and the theatre was opened Sept 18 1809, when the ‘new prices’ caused the O. P. (old prices) riot of seventy-seven nights, since which ‘a London audience has been found more captious than they previously had been’ (C. Dibdin). In 1817 John Kemble here took leave of the public; and in 1840 retired his brother, Charles Kemble. The theatre was subsequently leased to Mr. C. Mathews and Madame Vestris, and Mr. Macready. In 1843-45 it was let to the Anti-Corn-Law League, who held a bazaar here in 1845 (see p. 42). In 1847 the auditory was entirely reconstructed, at a cost of 40 000l., by Albano, and opened as an Italian Opera House April 6. The exterior retained Smirke's Grecian Doric portico, copied from the Temple of Minerva at Athens; statues of Tragedy and Comedy; and two panels of bas-relief figures, by Flaxman. […]

      This theatre was destroyed by fire, March 5, 1856, at the close of a masked ball. The ruins lay uncleared for nearly fifteen months. The façade was saved, and Flaxman's statues and bas-reliefs were adapted in the design for a new theatre, by E.M. Barry, which was opened as an Italian Opera House, in 1858. It is externally nearly 100 feet high by 120 feet broad, and 240 feet long, has a grand Corinthian portico, facing Bow-street, about one-fifth larger than the late theatre, and the same size as the celebrated La Scala of Milan, hitherto the largest theatre in the world […]” (782).

      “ROYAL ITALIAN OPERA, Covent Garden Theatre, was opened April 6, 1847, with Semiramide (Grisi), and M. Costa as musical director. The originator of this second Italian Opera House was Mr. C.L. Gruneisen, with Mr. T.F. Beale as director. In the seasons of 1848 and 1849 were expended 60 0001.; and the salaries of Alboni, Viardot, Grisi, and Mario, were between 40001. and 50001. each” (789).

      Also gives the theatre’s capacity (in 1866) as 2500 (789)
    • Timbs, John. Curiosities of London (1855). London: David Bogue, 1855.

      pp 715, 722.

      The information provided within this source is much the same as that given within the 1868 edition of the book.

      In addition, this edition also contains the following:

      “Covent Garden Theatre, was designed bу Albano, and executed at a coat of 40,000l. The greatest width of the internal area is 62 feet, two feet wider than Her Majesty's Theatrr: the greatest height is 54 feet. The decorations are gold and white; nnd the ceiling is enriched with allegorical figures. There are six tiers of boxes (210) in part divided by caryatides. The house holds npwarJ of 3000 persons. […]

      The Opera Stage at night is an extraordinary scene. Place your back to the dark curtain, waving gently in the draught. Look up, and in the roof you distinguish a misty glare of gas, in which you can discover monstrous beams, extending like the lowest yards of a first-rate line-of-battle ship, and somewhat as loosely, dangling ropes, tackles with pulleys, &c. Blocks are creaking; you hear huge iron windlasses clicking rapidly; and you descry dingy phantoms of scenes, technically denominated ‘cloth,’ majestically rising with a slow motion, like black clouds. These are ascending, one behind the other, in a lurid light; and you see on each side, at some distance, a tall ladder-looking series of deal frames in perspective, black with smoke and grimy with dust, leather hose, gas pipes, bright lights, and brass apparatus; series of brilliant jets, starring in extend line, blue clouds and amber-water, columns with wreaths, [?], and flat-nosed statues; traps and stray rocks are interjectionary in a confused assemblage of carpenters in paper caps and corduroy, dusky gasmen; gentlemen with their hats in their hands, and in black dress coats and white neckerchiefs; pot-boys; fairies with a silver star on their foreheads; burly gods, with broad faces red with ochre, roseate foreheads, raven ringlets, and gimlet eyes; kings displaying superb black whiskers, with crowns on their head, and crimson draperies; one or two dressers in muslin caps, with perhaps a cracked teacup to be seen in the hand; and persecuted princesses in spangled gauze.- Cooks’ Musical Almanack 1851” (722).