Act I: Deborah Bull, Creative Director
One of London’s most glamorous destinations, The Royal Opera House is a gem of Victorian
architecture in the historic Covent Garden area, its famous stucco façade and its gilt and red
interiors are recognizable to opera and ballet lovers the world over.
I first came through the stage door in 1976 for the Christmas performances of The Nutcracker.
Thirty-three years later, I’m still around. Like so many people who work here, I’ve just never found a
reason to leave. There’s a reason why we can probably lay claim to the title of ‘the world’s busiest
opera house,’ presenting around 450 performances each year on three different stages. Every
day, some 900 full-time employees as well as guest performers come in through a stage door that
for over 150 years has welcomed the greatest names in opera and ballet, from Enrico Caruso to
Maria Callas, Vaslav Nijinsky to Dame Margot Fonteyn.
But The Royal Opera House is so much more than it first appears. It was updated for the 21st
century with a multimillion-pound restoration package 10 years ago and now provides a home for
two companies, an orchestra, a contemporary performance program, outreach and education
activities as well as all the craft, production, technical and administrative teams required to
support the creative momentum. Backstage, it’s a maze of office-lined corridors which open up
into vast, airy studio spaces: three for The Royal Opera and six for The Royal Ballet, each one the
size of the main stage.
It’s a world away from The Royal Opera House I joined as a first year corps de ballet member,
in 1981. The ‘rabbit warren’ underground dressing rooms and the vaulted tunnels all disappeared
to make way for the state of the art facilities of the new building. In just a few places, I can recall
the old in amongst the new: the Trust Rooms, one floor down from the main entrance foyer, were
used as extra dressing rooms in the ‘Old House’ and it was there that I first set up my place, age
13, when along with a group of my fellow Royal Ballet School students I was cast as a rat in The
Nutcracker. Today, beautifully refurbished, those rooms are used for meetings and from time to
time, when there’s a lull in the agenda, my mind drifts back some thirty years to the nervous thrill