The Royal Opera House celebrates Design Challenge winners, and welcomes 24 schools for first Schools’ Matinee


On Friday, the Royal Opera House opened its doors to students, holding the first Schools’ Matinee of the new Season, and hosting a special prizegiving ceremony to celebrate winners of the 10th annual Design Challenge. Both initiatives form part of a wider strategy to engage, inspire and educate a new generation.

From 11:30 am, 1380 students were welcomed into the building to watch a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute – performed exclusively to schools from around the country. For the first time ever, to celebrate the return of the programme, pupils attending the production were invited to sing with both the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus shortly before the start of the second act. Conductor Richard Hetherington led a rehearsal prior to curtain-up and digital learning resources were made available in advance. Over 24 schools were in attendance — including three Special Educational Needs and Disability schools, five schools from our Trailblazer programme in Thurrock, and participants of ROH Design Challenge. Two of those schools travelled over 80 miles to attend, supported by travel grants.

Across the Season, over 10,000 pupils aged 5 – 18 are expected to attend Schools’ Matinees at the Royal Opera House. The programme – which features six stunning productions from the ROH’s first full Season since 2019 – is designed to introduce a younger generation to the best of ballet and opera, forming an integral part of the Royal Opera House’s mission to inspire new audiences and diversify the future of our art forms. Over 298 schools, the majority state-funded, have applied to date.

That same evening, the Royal Opera House held a prizewinning event for winners of the Design Challenge – a competition open to anyone studying Art and Design from GCSE up to Foundation Degree level. Intended to introduce students to the array of offstage careers in theatre, the challenge encourages those that take part to try their hand designing sets, costumes, hair, wigs, makeup or a marketing campaign. Students taking part research, reflect on, and produce prototypes for their chosen abstract, and then relay the narrative of the process in a 90-minute portfolio pitch.

This year’s prizegiving event, in the Linbury Foyer, celebrated the Challenge’s 2020 and 2021 winners – tasked with creating designs for La bohème, Carmen, or Frederick Ashton’s The Dream. Work by all finalists was seen and scrutinized by judging panels of professional designers and creatives at the ROH, and award-winners in each category were announced nationally.

Jillian Barker, Director of Learning and Participation, said:

“On Friday, the Royal Opera House was full of over 1300 young people, many of whom were experiencing world-class opera for the first time. The mass singalong brought the house down, and the performance ended with an incredible standing ovation.

It was also extraordinarily inspiring to see the work produced by budding young designers, and I am thrilled that we had the opportunity to not only introduce them to the production teams at the Royal Opera House, but also celebrate their astonishing achievements with an exhibition. Both the Design Challenge and Schools’ Matinees programme are at the very core of our commitment to widening access to our art forms and inspiring creativity in the next generation. It is a real pleasure to see first-hand the breadth of talent that students across the country will no doubt bring to future productions here.”