The first public opera house dates all the way back to 1637 in Venice, Italy, which makes sense for a country that has considered opera a popular pastime for literally centuries for both its working class and bourgeoisie. Opera houses serve an important artistic center for the community they’re built within. They can be a place of culture, leisure, celebration, and political defiance. They are also often very beautiful pieces of architecture.
Not all opera houses are built strictly for opera; they can house everything from town events and community dances to plays and music concerts. They can vary is size, seating capacity, lighting features, and acoustic enhancements. Most are in some kind of U-shape, with tiers of balconies as well as boxes and some sort of orchestra pit. They also usually have an intricate backstage area full of dressing rooms, set equipment, and storage units full of objects from past shows. The stages themselves can have parts of the floor that open up or even elevators that allow performers to ascend or descent onto the stage.
Many opera houses are considered some of the most beautiful structures in the world, and their differences make them as beautiful as their similarities. National Geographic recently named their top 10 opera houses. Here’s a little info about each.
1. La Scala, Milan, Italy
The Teatro alla Scala was built in 1778. It’s one of the most famous opera houses and is home to Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. One of its most unique feature is the concave channel located under the wooden floor of the orchestra that enhances the theater’s sound quality.
2. Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, Italy
The Teatro di San Carlo was built by King Charles of Bourbon and inaugurated in 1737, making it the world’s oldest working theater. Many of Gioachino Rossini’s most famous operas premiered on its stage.
3. Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Teatro Colon was completed in 1908. After years of construction through multiple architects, the total area of the Teatro Colon in 58,000 square meters. Many famous composers have crossed the stage including Richard Strauss, Arthur Honegger, Igor Stravinsky, and more. Among the singers, Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Lily Pons, Maria Callas, Titta Ruffo, Leonard Warren, Fyodor Chaliapin, Boris Christoff, to name just a few.
4. The Royal Opera House, London, England
An opera house has stood in this location since the early 18th century, but the current building is actually the third one that has been constructed at the site. The first opera performed in its current construction was from George Handel. He continued to write and perform in the opera house until his death in 1759.
5. The Bolshoi, Moscow, Russia
The Bolshoi opened in 1856, and since then it has survived fire, war, and revolution. This opera house is where Yuri Grigorovich famously choreographed productions of Swan Lake, The Golden Age, and Romanda.
6. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
The Sydney Opera House opened in 1973 with a public performance of Prokofiev’s War and Peace. This opera house is unique because of its layered shell-like exterior and for its breathtaking view of the harbor. The inside is paneled in different types of wood that enhance the acoustics.
7. Paris Opéra, Paris, France
The Paris Opera was built in 1875. The richly ornamental exterior and interior are exemplar of the architectural and decoral trends of the times. In 1962, Marc Chagall added the frescoes that are now prominent in the center of the Palais Garnier’s ceiling.
8. Opéra Royal, Versailles Court Theater, France
The Opéra Royal is located within the palace of Versailles at the northern extremity of the north wing of the palace. Ange-Jacques Gabriel built the theater in 1769 after years of planning, and it has remained a staple venue for important performances ever since.
9. Vienna Staatsoper, Vienna, Austria
The Vienna Staatsoper was built in 1869 and was inaugurated with a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Much of it was destroyed in 1945 when the Allies bombed the city toward the end of World War II, but the grand staircase and a couple small areas were lucky enough to survive and continue to be used today.
10. Lincoln Center, New York, New York
Lincoln center houses three buildings: the Avery Fisher Hall (formerly Philharmonic Hall) which opened in 1962, the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater) which opened in 1964, and the Metropolitan Opera House which opened in 1966. It is home to the world know Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and New York City Ballet.
For opera and performance art lovers alike, these venues are the pinnacle of artistic viewing. Their sound is incredible, their history is rich, and the talent that comes across these stages is unmet by any other place in the world. Viewing performances at these opera houses should be an item on everyone’s bucket list.