Covent Garden Theatre Opens
The theatre now standing on the Covent Garden site is the third in its line – the previous two having been destroyed by fires in 1808 and 1856, such losses not being uncommon in British theatrical history.
Finance for the first theatre came fittingly enough from the success of John Gay ’s Beggar’s Opera, commissioned by the actor-manager of the Duke’s Company, John Rich. That piece had enjoyed a long and profitable run at the company’s previous home, the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre – helped doubtless by the fact that the company was one of only two officially sanctioned per letters patent given by Charles II to perform dramas in London (their rival company being based at Drury Lane ).
Edward Shepherd designed the new building, whose site was at that time an unusual mixture of Inigo Jones ’s piazza and church built 100 years previously where an old convent garden had once stood, and the fruit and vegetable market, an incongruous blend that with some changes remained until the latter part of the 20th century.
Rich put on Congreve ’s The Way of the World for the opening night, not a bad choice by way of a crowd-pleaser, but his colleagues didn’t wait for the audience’s verdict, carrying their chief in triumph into the theatre before the play began. They were proved right; the place succeeded, soon Handel debuting many of his operas there, the roots of the current theatre’s use.
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