Title graphic: Opera and Opera Companies
Opera and Opera Companies: 1

Before 1914, efforts to promote opera in English at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, ended in failure. Even such a successful plan as that launched by the conductors Hans Richter and Percy Pitt, culminating in the first performance of Wagner's Ring in English (1908), did not lead to the establishment of a national opera. Nonetheless, this period was noteworthy for the London debuts of Enrico Caruso and Luisa Tetrazzini, as well as the first performances in England of Puccini's Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1905), Debussy's Pélleas et Mélisande (1909) and Wagner's Parsifal (1914). Beecham introduced Strauss' Salome and Elektra in 1910, succeeded by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes the following year, but his 1920 season of international opera ended in liquidation, although he was tempted to return to Covent Garden from 1932 to 1939, conducting Concita Supervia in Rossini, Richard Tauber in Mozart, and Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior in Wagner. Meanwhile, German opera had been flourishing under Bruno Walter (1924-31) with such singers as Lotte Lehmann, Elisabeth Schumann and Friedrich Schorr.

After the Second World War plans were adopted to establish Covent Garden as a permanent national home for opera and ballet and to place its running on a firm financial footing. Sir David Webster became General Administrator (1945-70) with Karl Rankl, Musical Director (1945-51), and an annual grant from the newly-formed Arts Council of Great Britain was forthcoming. At first, opera in English was preferred, although by the mid-1950s the original language was often used. During the 1960s Sir Georg Solti confirmed Covent Garden's international status; among the highlights of his period as Music Director was the British premiere of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron (1965). Before succeeding Solti in 1971, Sir Colin Davis directed new productions of Berlioz's Les Troyens (1969) and of Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage (1970), together with the premiere of Tippett's The Knot Garden (1970), one of the ten British operas that had their first performances at Covent Garden between 1945 and 1977. Others included Vaughan Williams' Pilgrim's Progress (1951), Britten's Billy Budd (1951), Maxwell Davies' Taverner (1972) and Tippett's The Ice Break (1977).