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Covent Garden - Georgian Theatre

viking london reconstruction

In 1716 there was an attempt to shoot the future King George II during a performance at the Theatre Royal, and in 1800 there was a further attempt here on the life of his Grandson George III.

In 1809 the Theatre burned down for the second time. The manager and playwright Richard Sheridan was at the time busy with his other role as member of Parliament. Having received news of the fire he refused to adjourn the debate, protesting that whatever the extent of the fire it should not interfere with the business of parliament. Upon reaching the Theatre he found it practically destroyed and resolutely sat down at the tavern opposite to watch the flames. When encounted he retorted 'Surely a man may be allowed to take a glass of port in front of his own fire'. Sheridan was ruined by the fire but the Theatre rose again in 1812 and has survived intact to the present day.


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The First Covent Garden Theatre opened in 1732 under the management of John Rich. The Theatre inherited one of the two patents given by Charles II providing official authorisation for the production of plays. The previous Theatre Royal had stood in Lincolns Inn where Rich had achieved notoriety for his production of the Beggars Opera by John Gay; apart from being a major cause of the 1737 Licensing Act, which introduced theatrical censorship, it was said that the production had made Gay rich and Rich gay.

The Covent Garden Theatre and the other Theatre Royal in Drury Lane retained the monopoly of legitimate drama until 1843. By this time the Covent Garden Theatre had seen the first ever ballet, Pygmalion, in 1734; its first Operas by its manager producer, George Frederick Handel; two mass riots, and finally its destruction by fire in 1808 in which many of Handel"s manuscripts were lost along with his organ \default COVE.g2\.






In 1847 the Covent Garden Theatre was bought by the Italian composer, Giuseppe Persian!, who presented Operas and renamed it The Royal Italian Opera House - it was not until 1939 that it became the Royal Opera House. Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor to the Theatre and would park in front alongside the Bow Street Magistrates Court. She did not however believe it correct for her to be seen pulling up outside a Police Station, so she disguised the building by altering the traditional blue lamps for clear glass. The Station still retains its disguise so as not to offend any modern day Opera-goers.