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ROH embraces season of summer madness in Trafalgar Square

06 June, 2019 — By Michael White

The audience enjoying a big-screen performance last year

THE logistics of presenting opera and ballet can be daunting in the best of places. But to do it in Trafalgar Square, amid the traffic, noise and other problems of major city thoroughfare is tanta­mount to madness. A madness the Royal Opera House cheerfully embraces next week when it takes over the square for a live, big-screen relay of its current ballet Romeo and Juliet. Music by Prokofiev, choreography by Kenneth MacMillan.

Matthew Ball and Yasmine Naghdi performing Romeo and Juliet in 2015. Photo: Alice Pennyfather

It’s the first of three ROH events in the square this summer, to be followed by Carmen on July 2 and The Marriage of Figaro on July 9.

They’re all completely free to attend – no booking, just turn up – thanks to sponsorship by BP. And with an expected audience of more than 10,000 people, they take some organising – which falls to Edgar Kamga-Sande, the ROH’s head of operations and a man who talks about it all quite calmly while admitting it’s a complex business.

“We’ve been doing outdoor screenings for eight years now, but it’s always challenging,” he says. “We have one day to set up the square, one day to take everything down afterwards. We can’t actually close off the space until 4.30pm. And the audience start filing in at 5pm, which is tight.

“The biggest problem is the noise, and we can’t stop the traffic. But we create an acoustic ring around the Square with banks of speakers that enclose the audience. As waste-disposal lorries picking up glass create the worst noise of all, we have a deal with Westminster so they only do it during the interval!”

Needless to say, there’s a lot of security involved – which is why the screenings happen mid-week, to avoid too many revellers. But the great thing is that 50 per cent of the audience have never seen an opera or ballet before. And though it isn’t the most comfortable way to attend a performance, your free entry includes inflatable cushions and rain-hoods. This being Britain, not Italy.

The programme starts with pre-show events at 7pm, but you’re advised to be there by 6.30pm to get settled. And if you felt like taking a Glyndebourne-style picnic, that’s fine – though black-tie would be over-the-top.

Full details on the website:

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