Covent Garden

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Covent Garden. Generally used name for London theatre of which full title is Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (since 1892). So called because site in Bow Street was orig. church property, a convent garden. First th. built there 1732 by John Gay and used mainly for plays, though 3 of Handel's operas were given there for the first time. Destroyed by fire 1808. Second theatre opened 1809, still mixing plays and opera, but became Royal Italian Opera 1847, retaining title until 1892. Destroyed by fire 1856. Third and present building opened 1858. During 1939–45 was used as dance hall but re-opened 1946 with resident opera and ballet cos. which were renamed Royal Ballet in 1957 and Royal Opera 1969. Between 1924 and 1939 prin. opera conds. at CG were Bruno Walter and Beecham. From 1946 to 1951 Karl Rankl was mus. dir., being succeeded by Rafael Kubelik 1955–8, Georg Solti 1961–71, Colin Davis 1971–86, Bernard Haitink from 1987. Gen. Administrators: David Webster 1944–70, John Tooley 1970–87, Jeremy Isaacs 1988–97, Genista McIntosh 1997 (resigned), Mary Allen from 1997. Famous manager-impresarios of the past incl. Frederick Gye 1849–77, and Sir Augustus Harris 1888–96.

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Covent Garden (London). Anxious to restore his dilapidated estate (land belonging to the convent, or abbey, of Westminster prior to the dissolution of the monasteries), the 4th earl of Bedford secured a building licence and commissioned Inigo Jones as architect. Influenced by study in Italy, Jones created a piazza surrounded by St Paul's church and three terraces of tall houses with arcades looking inwards (completed by 1639), the unfamiliar design meeting a mixed reception. The houses became highly sought after, until western developments and the expansion of the fruit, flower and vegetable market (established 1670) made them less fashionable. Shops and coffee-houses proliferated, and its first theatre (now the Royal Opera House) opened in 1732. The area became increasingly unruly and seedy, despite attempted control by the estate authorities and considerable rebuilding. It was eventually sold by the 11th duke (1918), and the market moved to Nine Elms (1974).

A. S. Hargreaves

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Covent Garden a district in central London, originally the convent garden of the Abbey of Westminster. It was the site for 300 years of London's chief fruit and vegetable market, which in 1974 was moved to Nine Elms, Battersea. The first Covent Garden Theatre was opened in 1732; and was several times destroyed and reconstructed. Since 1946 it has been the home of the national opera and ballet companies, based at the Royal Opera House (built 1888).