Royal Opera raise curtain on new empire

The Royal Opera were taking part in final rehearsals yesterday before the opening of the new season and their first performance since becoming homeless in July.

The company will be performing a new production of Handel's Giulio Cesare at the Barbican as part of its new life on the road following the closure of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for renovation.

It will also be the first time the Barbican has opened its doors since undergoing a pounds 1.9m modernisation project to give it two new orchestra pits and a sprung floor.

A Royal Opera spokeswoman, Helen Anderson, said: "This will be a double first for everyone involved and we are looking forward to the occasion greatly.

"It's been very good for the company to work in a more intimate theatre after 50 years in the vast Covent Garden building. It gives us the chance to try things which would simply be too small to put on at the Royal Opera House."

The company will spend the next two years performing in different London theatres and on tour until the Royal Opera House re-opens in December 1999 following its pounds 200m face-lift.