On 8 January 1801, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra, who was staying at Godmersham Park: ‘I think you judge very wisely in putting off your London visit...You speak with such noble resignation of Mrs Jordan and the Opera House, that it would be an insult to suppose resignation required’. By 25 January, Cassandra must have written to Jane to say that she would soon be on her way to the metropolis: ‘I hope you shall see everything worthy [of] notice, from the Opera House to Henry’s [their brother’s] office in Cleveland Court; and I shall expect you to lay in a stock of intelligence that may procure me amusement for twelve months to come’ (Lord Edward Brabourne, Letters of Jane Austen, 2 Vols., Richard Bentley & Son, 1884).
Which Opera House was Jane referring to? According to A Picture of London for 1802, (R. Phillips, c.1802), the Opera House, a ‘magnificent theatre’ was ‘situated at the lower end of the west side of the Haymarket’. It was originally known as the Queen’s Theatre, and was built by John Vanbrugh in about 1705. The Opera House ‘was open in the winter, and till Midsummer, for Italian operas and French ballets’.
However by about 1808, Ackermann’s Microcosm of London rather snootily commented that although the stage scenery was ‘very good’, the stage was ‘not sufficient for the magnificent ballets which the prevailing taste of the day requires’.
In 1837 the Opera House was renamed Her Majesty’s Theatre, in honour of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne.
Images from the author’s collection:
Evening dress. The Lady’s Magazine, January 1827.
The Opera House in 1800. Old and New London Vol. IV, 1878.