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Royal Opera House: dressing Covent Garden

Royal Opera House. Image credit: Peter Suranyi CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London approached the Wolfson Foundation for sponsorship in late 1970 and it was quickly agreed by the Foundation that a new opera production would be supported. £15,000 was set aside to assist with a new version of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, conducted by Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997) and with artistic direction by Sir Peter Hall. One eminent lobbyist was Lord Justice Leslie Scarman (1911-2004), “a dedicated opera goer” who took time out from his tribunal of inquiry into Violence and Civil Disturbances in Northern Ireland in 1969 to register his interest.

The relationship between the Wolfson Foundation and the Opera House continued beyond what was to be Solti’s final conducting role at Covent Garden and the production’s radio broadcast by the BBC. Sir Leonard Wolfson’s personal intervention to ensure that the Royal Opera received the best quality art paper for its 1978 fundraising appeal shows quite how detailed he was prepared to be. More significantly, the Foundation contributed lavishly to the Development Appeal itself, to the tune of £100,000.

In contrast to the very public-facing sponsorship of Eugene Onegin, the larger grant was for much-needed behind-the-scenes maintenance, specifically for the refurbishment of the Chorus dressing rooms for women performers. The work was part of a huge programme of raising the standards of Covent Garden’s 1858 building and its cramped and failing infrastructure, including performance and rehearsal suites and the addition of a recording studio.

Explore the archives

  • WF/283/1
    Letter from Charles Garrett Ponsonby Moore, 11th Earl of Drogheda, Bracken House, London, 16 July 1970, to Arundell Rea Leakey, The Wolfson Foundation
  • WF/283/4
    Letter from Leslie George Scarman, Baron Scarman, Conquest House, London, to Arundell Rea Leakey, The Wolfson Foundation
  • WF/283/7a, b, c
    Letter from Charles Garrett Ponsonby Moore, 11th Earl of Drogheda, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 23 October 1970, to Arundell Rea Leakey, The Wolfson Foundation
  • WF/283/8
    Letter from Charles Garrett Ponsonby Moore, 11th Earl of Drogheda, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 17 November 1970, to Sir Solly Zuckerman, Cabinet Office, Whitehall, London
  • WF/283/15
    Letter from Sir Claus Adolph Moser, Baron Moser, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 16 November 1978, to Sir Leonard Wolfson, The Wolfson Foundation
  • WF/283/20a, b
    Letter from A P Spooner, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 24 January 1979, to Sir Leonard Wolfson, The Wolfson Foundation
  • WF/283/22
    Letter from Sir Claus Adolph Moser, Baron Moser, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 16 November 1978, to Sir Leonard Wolfson, The Wolfson Foundation
  • WF/283/23
    A list of sponsored gift opportunities…of the Royal Opera House, February 1979 [front cover only]
  • WF/283/27
    Letter from Arundell Rea Leakey, The Wolfson Foundation, 19 June 1979, to A P Spooner, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
  • WF/282/13a, b
    Appeal campaign progress report, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (cover and artists impression of the Opera House only) 19 July 1982