London is one of the world’s finest capitals of culture, but buying tickets to attend extraordinary shows in the city’s divine venues can cost a pretty penny. While London’s Royal Opera House leads the pack in terms of quality and price, they have found a way to increase accessibility to their productions: live screenings of shows with the free BP Big Screens programme.  

Photo credit: Alice Pennefather

Royal Opera House BP Big Screens

The ROH BP Big Screens summertime programme, which began in 1987, invites British citizens to complimentary shows that are broadcast live from the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden. Although you don’t need a ticket, attending these special events essentially gives you Royal Ballet tickets and tickets to see the Royal Opera completely gratis.

The Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera productions will pop up in 20+ outdoor venues across the UK in 2019 – from Aberdeen and Manchester to Lincolnshire and Leeds. However, the most iconic BP Big Screens location may well be Trafalgar Square in London, with its massive terrace and huge set of steps leading from the National Gallery. The temporary screen is set by the foot of Nelson’s Column (which tops out just shy of 170 feet) and is flanked by impressive fountains.

An audience watches the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake for free at a BP Big Screens outdoor screening in Trafalgar Square, London
Photo credit: Sim Canetty Clarke

Other London BP Big Screens locations include Hammersmith, The Scoop at London Bridge City, White City, Arena Square Wembley Park and Woolwich. But be sure to check the outdoor screening areas for each production – because not all venues play all shows.

“Outdoor cinema is now one of the nation’s favourite summer pastimes and each summer the Royal Opera House BP Big Screens give everyone access to free culture on their doorstep.”

– Gok Wan, BP Big Screens Presenter 2019

The excitement of watching a world-class Royal Opera House production free of charge is heightened by the open-air cinema experience. The atmosphere buzzes with hundreds of other culture vultures, and British weather is on its best behaviour during the summer months, when the days stretch into light-filled evenings. (Still, it’s always best to bring a ‘mac’ [or ‘rain jacket’], just in case.) Many attendees also pack a picnic to enjoy during the show.

“Over the years, our collaboration with BP has enabled more than half a million people to experience ballet and opera – many for the first time.”

– Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House

Performing arts, like dance and opera, are often labelled as elitist art forms. Costly tickets prevent many would-be art aficionados from participating in the arts community, so allowing people to enjoy art free of charge will help to grow the arts community. And perhaps when more people appreciate dance and opera, these art forms can find space within the larger community – similarly to the film and music industries.

Photo credit: Ruairi Watson

The BP Big Screens 2019 Summer Programme

You can see the Royal Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet on 11 June.

Royal Opera will present Carmen on 2 July and The Marriage of Figaro on 9 July.

If you are not based in the UK, or visiting the UK, you may still be able to catch a performance on the Royal Opera House social media channels, such as YouTube and/or Facebook.

You can learn more about BP Big Screens here: http://www.roh.org.uk/about/bp-big-screens.

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Other ROH Screenings

The Royal Opera House also occasionally screens select shows in movie theatres throughout the year. The ROH Screenings are held at cinemas such as Vue, Odeon and Picturehouse; and admission for these screenings is much more affordable than standard Royal Opera House tickets. You can check the screenings schedule for their live cinema season here: https://www.roh.org.uk/cinemas.  

Photo credit: Sim Canetty Clarke

I fortuitously stumbled upon a complimentary BP Big Screen showing in Trafalgar Square a few years ago, and now I eagerly look forward to seeing the new schedule each year. The line-up typically includes one ballet and two operas. 2018 broadcast the Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake, in addition to the Royal Opera’s La bohѐme and Don Giovanni.

Have you attended a showing, courtesy of the ROH BP Big Screens? If so, what did you see – and where did you view it? Let us know in the comments below.

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