Guide to the Royal Opera House 2024 season

The Royal Opera House is staging four classic works including the tragic ballet Manon, Puccini's La bohème and Madama Butterfly, and Bizet's Carmen.

Olivia Rook
Olivia Rook

The Royal Opera House, tucked away in Covent Garden in the West End, is an institution in London’s historic arts scene. The venue is home to both The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet, the latter being Britain’s largest ballet company.

In recent years, The Royal Opera has staged approximately 150 performances per season, which runs from September until July, including about 20 operas. Nearly half of these are new productions.

The 2024 season includes four classic works spanning opera and ballet: Manon, La bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Carmen. Find out more about the stories of these time-honored shows and the creative teams bringing them to life.

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Manon

This tragic ballet, which runs at the Royal Opera House until 8 March, shows the struggle of being caught between love and poverty. The alternating cast includes Royal Ballet principals Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé.

What is Manon about?

Manon is a ballet based on the 18th-century tragic novel The Story of the Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut by Antoine François Prévost, which follows young student des Grieux who is led astray by his love for the beautiful Manon. The lovers contend with financial struggles, and Manon is lured into prostitution by an older gentleman – Monsieur G.M. – promising her riches and luxury. When des Grieux finally tracks her down and attempts to steal Monsieur G.M.’s fortune, they are both caught and meet a tragic end.

The ballet premiered on 7 March 1974 and starred dancers Antoninette Sibley, Monica Mason, Anthony Dowell, and David Wall in the lead roles.

Who is in the company of Manon?

Manon features choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, former artistic director of the Royal Ballet from 1970-77, and principal choreographer from 1977 until his death in 1992. The music is by Jules Massenet, while design is by Nicholas Georgiadis, and staging is by Royal Ballet principal Laura Morera. The cast changes depending on the dates of the performance, but it includes Royal Ballet principals Hayward and Sambé.

Who is Manon recommended for?

The ballet includes scenes that may be troubling for younger audience members, including depictions of sexual violence. For this reason, it is recommended that children should be aged 14 and above.

How long is Manon?

Manon has three acts and a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, with two 25-minute intervals.

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La bohème

La bohème, which runs until 16 February, is a tragic tale about two Parisian lovers challenged by poverty and illness. Director Simon Iorio brings composer Giacomo Puccini’s opera to the stage.

What is La bohème about?

Puccini’s much-loved opera is a tragic story about two young, bohemian lovers in Paris. This opera has been performed more than any other at the Royal Opera House and was inspired by Henri Murger’s 1851 episodic novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème. La bohème later inspired the hit modern musical Rent.

When Rodolfo, a penniless poet, meets Mimì, a seamstress, they fall instantly in love. But their happiness is jeopardised when Rodolfo discovers that Mimì is gravely ill with tuberculosis. Unable to afford the medicine that Mimi desperately needs, Rodolfo turns unkind and jealous in an effort to drive her away. They decide to separate, but as her sickness takes hold, Mimì eventually returns to Rodolfo.

La bohème received its world premiere at Turin’s Teatro Regio in 1896 and had its Covent Garden debut the following year.

Who is in the company of La bohème?

The libretto was written by playwright Luigi Illica and poet Giuseppe Giacosa. Six-time Olivier Award winner Richard Jones is director of the production, while Simon Iorio is the revival director. The creative team also includes Stewart Laing (designer), Mimi Jordan Sherin (lighting designer), Sarah Fahie (movement director), and Danielle Urbas (revival movement director). Keri-Lynn Wilson and Evelino Pidò conduct three alternating casts.

Who is La bohème recommended for?

Despite challenging themes of death and illness, La boheme is suitable for all ages. However, the Royal Opera House cannot admit children under the age of 5, and children over the age of 5 must have their own ticket. Children must be accompanied by an adult. The opera is sung in Italian with English surtitles.

How long is La bohème?

The opera is in four acts and has a running time of 2 hours and 35 minutes, with one interval of 30 minutes.

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Madama Butterfly

Puccini’s opera about a geisha rejected by her husband, an American naval officer, opens on 14 March and runs until 18 July. Asmik Grigorian and Hrachuhí Bassénz share the tragic role of Cio-Cio-San.

What is Madama Butterfly about?

Giacomo Puccini’s tragic opera is a tale of unrequited love. Based on John Luther Long’s short story, published at the turn of the 20th century, Madama Butterfly follows 15-year-old geisha Cio-Cio-San (known as Butterfly), who has an arranged marriage with American naval officer Pinkerton. Shortly after the wedding, Pinkerton abandons Butterfly to return to America. Years later, Pinkerton arrives in Japan with a new wife and discovers Butterfly has had a child. After learning that Pinkerton has remarried, Butterfly agrees to give up her son and ends her life.

The opera inspired the musical Miss Saigon.

Who is in the company of Madama Butterfly?

Puccini again collaborated with librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica on Madama Butterly. The opera’s directors are Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, with set design by Christian Fenouillat, costume design by Agostino Cavalca, and lighting design by Christophe Forey. Asmik Grigorian and Hrachuhí Bassénz share the lead role of Cio-Cio-San, with Kevin John Edusei conducting.

Who is Madama Butterfly recommended for?

This production of Madama Butterfly contains depictions of suicide, so parental guidance is recommended. The opera is sung in Italian with English surtitles.

How long is Madama Butterfly?

Madama Butterfly is in three acts, with a 25-minute interval between the first and second act. The full performance lasts about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

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Carmen

Georges Bizet’s passionate opera about jealousy and love runs from 5 April - 31 May. Aigul Akhmetshina and Vasilisa Berzhanskaya share the role of Carmen.

What is Carmen about?

Bizet’s opera is based on the novella of the same name by the Romantic writer Prosper Mérimée. It follows naive soldier Don José, who falls for the fiery Carmen. Don José abandons his sweetheart Micaëla and his army job for Carmen, and joins her and her smuggler friends in the mountains. But Carmen grows tired of Don José, but he becomes obsessive, unpredictable, and possessive. When Carmen turns her attention to the bullfighter Escamillo, Don José becomes violent.

Carmen premiered at the Paris Opéra-Comique in 1875. Director Damiano Michieletto has staged a new production for the Royal Opera House.

Who is in the company of Carmen?

French pair Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy wrote the libretto for Bizet’s opera, their most famous collaboration. Michieletto directs, while set design is by Paolo Fantin, costume design is by Carla Teti, and lighting design is by Alessandro Carletti. Antonello Manacorda and Emmanuelle Villaume conduct an international cast, with Aigul Akhmetshina and Vasilisa Berzhanskaya sharing the title role.

Who is Carmen recommended for?

The production contains scenes of a sexual nature, as well as moderate violence. For this reason, it is recommended the children below the age of eight do not attend the performance. The opera is sung in French with English surtitles.

How long is Carmen?

The opera runs approximately 3 hours and 10 minutes with one interval.

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Photo credit: Madama Butterfly artwork. (Photo courtesy of production)

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