Town mouse on Covent Garden

One of the joys of taking a box at Covent Garden used to be the dining arrangements. Alas, they no longer bring smoked-salmon sandwiches or chilled wine to your seat, presumably fearing that something might fall into the French horns. But if you’ve succeeded in booking a table in the Paul Hamyln Hall, the annexe created out of the old Floral Hall, the sense of smugness is much the same. As other operagoers circulate around the bar, anxious that the food will run out, you sit at a white tablecloth already laid with the feast of your choice, with strawberries and cream in the next interval if you like. Paul Hamlyn, publisher, began his career on Country Life, then around the corner from the Opera House, in Tavistock Street.

The hall now named after him does for London what the staircase of Charles Garnier’s Opera House did for 19th-century Paris, providing a constantly moving spectacle on several levels, where viewing the audience is an essential part of the evening. (Note to the man in a builder’s singlet: it’s meant to be an enjoyable experience.) What opera did we see? The new Don Carlo (see page 150), rightly predicted to be so popular that you could only buy two tickets each, or a box. It was sublime.