Opera or Ballet?: I Will Take Both.

Royal Opera House at night
Royal Opera House at night

The world is divided into two groups: those who like opera and others who prefer ballet. I haven’t come across many people who love both in equal measure. Until my daughter started showing her fascination and passion for ballet, I belonged to the first group. Because of her zealous enthusiasm I started making an effort to understand it through her eyes. What element of ballet could have captivated her little mind so powerfully?

Sitting at Royal Opera House, watching Onegin and Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and going to the ENO production of the Nutcracker with my children, I suddenly got it: This is the best way to explain a little girl (or a boy) what elegance and beauty is. There is hardly any need for words to teach youngsters this utterly abstract concept, not when the ballerinas’ intricately embroidered costumes and their butterfly-like movements can magically transport children into the land of fairytales and the ethereal world of imagination. Thus I’ve become a fan of two worlds. And if you want to explore both with your children, what would be more perfect than ‘Family Sunday’ at the Royal Opera House? This well-designed regular monthly programme is especially suitable if you want to have a hands-on experience of everything from singing and dancing to a ‘behind the scene’ tour but don’t want to follow a hectic tour schedule with a mob of people. The monthly event opens most of the Royal Opera House to the public and involves various activities at different rooms between noon and 16:00. You choose whatever event you want first, then move along to another at your own pace. It’s an incredibly relaxing day despite such a wide range of activities. A truly well thought-out programme.

Between activities, grab a table — there’s plenty of seating so competing for a table is unnecessary — at Paul Hamlyn Hall or the Amphitheatre Terrace and lay out lunch that you brought along.  Light food is also available from the bars in these areas. What’s particularly lovely on a warm day is sitting on the outdoor Amphitheatre Terrace sipping a cup of coffee from the bar while your little ones enjoy their snack.

Paul Hamlyn Hall
Enjoy live music and interact with the musicians at Paul Hamlyn Hall. You can also buy food from the bar behind.
view from the Amphitheatre restaurant and bar

Suitable ages:

They suggest 6 years old and over. While there are some activities more fitting for older children, there also are plenty of children much younger than 6. My daughter and her friend, both aged 4 1/2, thoroughly enjoyed the full-day experience.

Very excited on the way to the Royal Opera House
Wet and cold outside – even more perfect for Family Sunday!

Activities include:

1. Join in singing, music ensemble performance and dancing, by the musicians of the Royal Opera House and Royal Ballet dancers.

Singing a fragment from ‘Madama Butterfly’ at Paul Hamlyn Hall. The theme changes every month.
Everyone is invited to dance.

2. Hair and Make-Up Demonstration: You can volunteer for the make-up artist to paint your face, demonstrating stage make-up techniques.

3. Colouring kit is placed on the tables at the Paul Hamlyn Hall Balconies Restaurant. Sit down, relax, colour, and look down at other activities — typically singing or dancing — going on downstairs at the Paul Hamlyn Hall.


4. Make a model box with a designer in the Crush Room. While the children enjoy the creative activity in this fantastically grand 19th Century room, walk around and admire the large oil paintings and the room’s ornate red and gold interior.

The staircase to the Crush Room
Making a model box at the Crush Room

5. Costume dressing up: It’s a big hit for both boys and girls. Walk around the costume rails and tables, trying on beautiful costumes from operas and ballets. This fun experience is set in a spacious room with a plenty of seating and mirrors. The helpful staff hang up the costumes as soon as your little one is done.

short break from the costumes
Dark mirrors and beautiful black and white photographs of ballerinas are hung all around this lovely room.

6. Backstage tours: These are run five times a day so each group has a reasonable number of people. The 30-minute length is just perfect to keep it interesting. The animated guides provide fun tidbits of ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories, such as taking you to the royal box where Queen Victoria used to sit and showing the staircase that Prince Charles uses whenever he visits the opera house. You have a chance to look at wonderful costumes with the names the ballerinas written inside. Some of them date back as far as 40 years. You also get a glimpse of the orchestra pit, as well as the backstage where the sets are placed. If it wasn’t for the tour, we would have never guessed that the motor used to roll the sets onto the stage is manufactured by … (think ‘posh’) Rolls Royce.

The day is over. Time to go home!

Activity ideas and planning arranged by:

Elena, our cultural contributor, who is a ballet enthusiast and a passionate follower of the Bolshoi Ballet.