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The Royal Opera House has an 18th century production of The Beggar’s Opera to thank, as its profits built it. Constructed in 1732 as the ‘Theatre Royal, Covent Garden’, it got its hands on one of the most precious assets a theatre could have at that time – a theatrical patent from the King, allowing drama to be performed. (The only other theatre with that privilege was the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.)
Still, despite its dramatic leanings, composer Handel took a liking to the place and debuted many of his compositions there in the 1700s, as well as leaving it his organ in his will – too bad the artefact was destroyed in a fire in 1808.
With the drama patents dropped in 1843, the theatre no longer had exclusive drama rights, and chose to rebrand itself as the ‘Royal Italian Opera’. The management took its Italian name so far that even the non-Italian operas were translated into Italian! But this didn’t last forever; it was renamed the simpler title ‘The Royal Opera House’ in the late 1890s, allowing it to expand into French and German operas.
Post World War II, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet company took up residence, and along with the newly formed Covent Garden Opera company took over the space, both earning the titles ‘Royal Ballet’ and ‘Royal Opera’ over the years. And, despite its age, the Royal Opera House is one of the most attractive performance spaces in London thanks to a multi-million pound restoration in the late ‘90s.