Born in 17th century France and Italy, it took a few centuries for opera to fully materialise in the UK. But today, there are plenty of places to catch the royal art form in all its glory. From the traditional tragedies of Verdi, Mozart and Puccini, to contemporary adaptations and fresh new narratives, opera venues in the UK have a great programme to offer.
If you’re struggling to find somewhere to see your next opera, or maybe you’re looking for a spot to get your first taste of the magnificent form of musical theatre…take a look through our guide to the UK’s leading opera venues.
Jump to: Nevill Holt Opera | Garsington Opera | Festival Theatre | Grange Park Opera | Glyndebourne | Opera Holland Park | Royal Opera House | Buxton Opera House | Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Longborough Festival Opera | Theatre Royal, Bath | Hackney Empire | Grand Theatre | The Lowry | London Coliseum
Great opera venues around the UK
Nevill Holt Opera, Leicestershire
The Observer called Nevill Holt Opera ‘the place that can make opera feel fresh and alive’. The Guardian highlight the venue’s ‘crisp, warm acoustics’ and ‘excellent sight-lines’. It opened in 2018 to become one of the UK’s most intimate and striking venues to see opera.
It has a spectacular theatre designed by Stirling Prize winning architects, Witherford Watson Mann and designers Sound Space Vision. The Nevill Holt Opera works beautifully with the historic setting, radiating character and elegance. The gardens outside offer stunning views across three counties, and won the ‘Best Gardens’ 2017 Leicestershire Tourism Award.
Visitors are advised to arrive to performances early in order to enjoy the grounds and views. You can also bring a picnic, or dine at their restaurant during the interval. The overall experience is very relaxing, and though you can dress up if you want, there’s no strict dress code.
At Nevill Holt Opera, many enjoy the opportunity to see budding new opera talents. The venue purposefully celebrates emerging British talent, as well as the resident Nevill Holt Opera.
Address: Market Harborough, LE16 8EG
Garsington Opera, Buckinghamshire
Garsington Opera is a summer festival described as ‘quintessentially English’. It’s held in Wormsley Park in a charming 600-seat pavilion. Surrounded by greenery, wildlife and a lake, the picturesque surroundings make Garsington Opera a dreamy escape into music. It’s only an hour from the hustle and bustle of London too!
“Garsington Opera presents four productions of great artistic quality during an eight-week summer period each June and July in a setting of outstanding beauty. Performances take place in our spectacular award-winning Opera Pavilion at Wormsley, home of the Getty family, within the rolling landscape of the Chiltern Hills.”Emily Kenefeck, Marketing Manager
Opera shows were formerly held at Garsington Manor, until the passing of the festival’s founder in 2005. It then moved to Wormsley, a site carefully selected to channel the cherished intimacy of the Manor. Long term festival goers have praised the area for still having the warm and charming ‘Garsington atmosphere’.
So if you’re looking for a magical and enchanted encounter with Opera that’s not too formal, consider spending those lazy hazy summer evenings with Garsington Opera.
Address: Wormsley Estate, Stokenchurch, High Wycombe, HP14 3YE
Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre puts on plenty of shows throughout the year, but it specialises in opera and ballet. It’s the city’s longest-running theatre site, and consequently the stomping ground of many legends like Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise and Harry Lauder.
But for opera lovers, the Festival Theatre’s programme offers plenty to be excited about. It is one of the four leading venues for Scottish Opera, where you can catch the national opera company in action throughout the year. It’s also one of TickX’s accessible theatres in Scotland, and a great place to catch accessible opera performances.
Address: 13-29 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9FT
Grange Park Opera, Surrey
The five-storey opera house is based upon the horseshoe-shaped La Scala, in Milan. It was actually built in such rapid time that The Times Arts Award declared it to be the ‘fastest construction of an opera house in history’. It took the team only 11 months to construct the Theatre in the Woods.
Grange Park Opera has become an integral part of the English summer season, held annually in June and July. CEO and founder Wasfi Kani has brought international opera stars – Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside, Sara Fulgoni and Joseph Calleja – to the British countryside.
In the 100 minute interval, the audience settles into the two restaurants: either inside the 15th-century house, or The Walnut Tree Restaurant, or in picnic pavilions in the Crinkle-Crankle garden, on the Croquet Lawn, or in the Rose Parterre.
Then there are those that just fling their rugs down amongst box hedges, unfold picnic furniture and feast in the enchanting gardens.Alexandra Paton, Marketing Officer
Since forming in 1998, the company has staged over 50 performances. Each summer, they celebrate a range of works from the likes of Verdi, Puccini and more.
Staging new opera is the lifeblood of any company and Grange Park Opera’s 2020 season will include the world première on a most controversial subject: the poisoning of a Russian dissident.
The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko – by composer Anthony Bolton, to a libretto by Kit Hesketh-Harvey – will be joined in the season by rarely-performed Italian blockbuster La Gioconda with Joseph Calleja, alongside much loved crowd pleasers La Bohème and Meet Me in St Louis.Alexandra Paton, Marketing Officer
Address: West Horsley Place, Epsom Road, West Horsley, Leatherhead, KT24 6AN
Glyndebourne, East Sussex
Glyndebourne states it is ‘no ordinary opera’. It celebrates with a festival from May to August, before hosting three weeks of performances in autumn which then head out on tour.
At the festival, visitors dress up and witness opera unfold in the opulent, state-of-the-art auditorium. The intervals usually involve picnics outside or three course dining at the restaurant. It’s glamorous and exciting, making an opera into the complete experience. On the other hand, the autumn performances are a little more casual and relaxed.
The opera house is one of the more modern in the UK, opening in 1994 to meet growing demands. It lies in the grounds of 15th century Glyndebourne country house, surrounded by gardens and open space.
Today, Glyndebourne is home to three resident orchestras – including the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It also houses art exhibitions and a shop, letting you spend the whole day immersed in opera and the arts.
Address: New Road, Lewes, BN8 5UU
If you think you recognise Opera Holland Park but have never been, you may have actually seen it in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010). The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts and features many iconic shots of London.
The Opera Holland Park is a temporary auditorium close to Holland House. It’s a spectacular white canopy that seats up to 1,000. Visitors should come comfortable and cosy, ready to embrace Opera Holland Park’s warm welcome. The opera venue is famously one of the friendliest in the UK, and its very community-focused.
“We all know what many people’s impression of opera is but at Opera Holland Park, they break through the stereotypes. Their unique urban setting is not only informal, but affordable and accessible. If you have never tried opera before, there is no better pace to begin. There’s no dress code and there’s even an option for you to bring your own picnic. Alternatively, you can enjoy a crisp glass of wine at the theatre bar.
Opera Holland Park has a reputation for venturing beyond traditional remits of opera, with fresh and insightful productions of both established masterpieces and operatic rarities.”Chloe Bridgen, Marketing and PR Manager
Address: Opera Holland Park Theatre, Ilchester Place, Kensington, London, W8 6LU
The stunning landmark of Covent Garden is one of the best venues to admire opera in the UK. The Royal Opera House is both historical and opulent, and is home to one of the greatest opera companies in the world. If you want to see the highest quality of talent, The Royal Opera company won’t disappoint.
The Royal Opera House is more than just an auditorium. It has a coffee shop, a terrace, a range of tours, workshops and a shop. The venue is also geared towards accessibility, which you can find out more in our article.
The venue opened in 1732, staging Handel’s first opera seasons. Today, the world-famous theatre shows a range of classical operas alongside new productions. They recently launched a series of ‘family friendly’ operas to attract a more diverse audience.
Address: Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD
A perfect example of the ornate and opulent architectural designs of Frank Matcham. The Edwardian building is visually stunning, and a landmark in the city. Hosting the Buxton International Festival and over 450 performances each year, The Buxton Opera House is one of the UK’s leading venues for theatre.
The Buxton International Festival takes place over two weeks in July. It is one of the UK’s biggest festivals celebrating the Opera genre. It produces three operas each year, and always showcases both emerging and prominent singers.
As well as local performers in the festival, the Buxton Opera House welcomes many talented opera companies throughout the year. These include the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, Trent Opera, and the English Touring Opera. While lots of opera venues are only open for summer, the Buxton Opera House is a great option to indulge and escape the cooler months.
Address: Water Street, Buxton, SK17 6XN
As one of ATG’s venues, it’s no surprise that Theatre Royal stages only the best opera and theatre in the UK. It’s home to two talented resident companies; the Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera.
The theatre is in fact owned by the Scottish Opera – ensuring the programme will always host something fantastic for opera-lovers. The company’s diverse members aims to make opera for all kinds of audiences. For this reason, the Theatre Royal may also be a great choice for first-time opera-goers.
The Theatre Royal is the oldest theatre in Glasgow and the longest-running in Scotland. While sporting a dramatic, lavish Victorian auditorium, the theatre has all the modern facilities. It was refurbished in 2014, with improvements to all areas – including a spectacular roof terrace.
Address: 282 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 3QA
Longborough Festival Opera, Gloucestershire
Longborough was inspired by Glyndebourne, but on a much smaller scale. It started as a converted cattle shed in the grounds of Martin & Lizzie Graham’s home. Today, it hosts annual seasons of opera from June – August, which specialises in Wagner.
“Longborough now has a reputation for world-class opera. People come from far and wide for it, some as far as Australia.”Fenner Curtis, Marketing and Press Manager
There’s a warm and informal feel about Longborough. Founders Martin & Lizzie are still very much involved, and their daughter Polly has recently taken over as artistic director. There’s also no dress code at all – where they specifically advocate staying comfortable and warm.
The theatre is intimate and cosy, seating up to 500. This allows spectators to soak in all the drama and passion of opera up close. During the interval, audiences can unwind with a picnic overlooking the breathtaking Cotswold landscape. There’s also a variety of onsite restaurants to feast at should you wish.
Address: New Banks Fee Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0QF
Dating back to 1805, the Theatre Royal Bath is one of the oldest venues to see opera in the UK. It’s also one of the most beautiful, with Georgian architecture that was lovingly refurbished over the years.
The theatre is divided into three areas, made up of the Main House, Ustinov Studio and the egg. Most of its opera performances take place in the Main House and the Ustinov Studio, alongside West End musicals, comedy, dance and cutting-edge new plays.
Many reputable opera companies across the UK come to perform at the venue. The Olivier Award-winning English Touring Opera usually include a night or two at the Theatre Royal Bath while on tour. Their shows are always a hit, which in 2014 scored them the award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Opera’.
Address: Saw Close, Bath, BA1 1ET
Hackney Empire Theatre is another UK venue on the English Touring Opera’s stop offs. It’s also visited by the Scottish Opera and the Welsh National Opera, making it a great place to catch some of the best talent around.
The venue is another Matcham design. Built in 1901, it started out as a concert hall, before becoming a Bingo hall in the 60’s and 70’s. It is now a theatre hosting a variety of shows, including impressive opera performances.
In the early 21st century, the Hackney Empire underwent refurbishment. This included the restoring of a 60-seat orchestra pit to allow the venue to host top opera companies. The interior is also opulent, boasting a red and gold colour scheme and intricate plasterwork. The Hackney is great for opera-lovers, and also serves up great cocktails to get the night going.
Address: 291 Mare Street, London E8 1EJ
The Grand Theatre is one of Leeds’ landmarks. It’s an impressive Romanesque building, bursting with gothic flair. It took much inspiration from European churches and theatres, particularly the spires.
Over the years, famous face have performed on the Grand Theatre’s stage, such as Julie Andrews, Morecambe and Wise and Laurene Olivier. It also became the home of resident company Opera North in 1978, and remains today one of the best UK venues to watch opera shows.
Opera North are a leading arts company who focus on creating bold and innovative work. Their mission is to make opera accessible to all, promoting ‘diversity in artists, repertoire and audiences’. Visiting Opera North at the Grand Theatre will bring certainly bring a more modern experience. The company distinctively aim to create opera for the 21st century.
Address: 46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU
Sitting just outside of Manchester city centre in Salford Quays, the Lowry is one of the region’s dominant theatres. It’s perfectly placed in the bustling Media City, drawing in crowds to its eclectic programme of events.
When it’s not showing touring West End musicals or well-known comedians on the road, The Lowry also stages several performances by Opera North. The leading opera company of the north considers The Lowry as one of its partner venues in the UK. They regularly bring their exciting and creative adaptations to Salford, meaning you can catch opera at any time of year.
The Lowry also hosts occasional activities for children hosted by the Orchestra of Opera North. ‘Little Listeners’ provides a relaxed concert for young children and babies, introducing them early on to different sounds and music.
The venue itself is a great place to catch opera, boasting the largest stage in the UK outside of London. It’s complete with modern facilities and equipment, and has lots of accessible features too.
Address: Pier 8, The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ
The largest theatre in London’s West End and the home of the English National Opera, the Coliseum is a great venue for opera in the UK. It’s also close to Covent Garden and surrounded by bars and eateries, meaning you can wine and dine before catching a show.
Like many of the theatres in the West End, the Coliseum is one of Frank Matcham’s designs. It was described as the ‘people’s palace of entertainment’ due to its size and grandeur. It has a large orchestra pit, and seats up to 2,358 across four levels. Much of the original decor and features can still be seen today.
Formerly called Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, The English National Opera dominate the programme at the Coliseum. Their shows take a fresh perspective of opera, where the ENO hope to reflect the diversity of the community and culture. From baroque to modern repertoire, their performances promise to bring something new.
Address: St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, London, WC2N 4ES
Eager to book your next opera show? Then why not take a look at what’s coming up next…