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Great Opera Houses of the World

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Entry Data
Entry ID: A567362
Edited by:
Date: 26   May   2001
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Referenced Guide Entries
A History of Opera
The Layout of a Traditional Opera House
La Scala Opera House, Milan
The Vienna State Opera
The Metropolitan Opera, New York
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
The Sydney Opera House
The Paris Opera
Wagner's Opera House - Bayreuth, Bavaria
The Maryinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg

Referenced Sites
Teatro di San Carlo
Bavarian State Opera
La Monnaie
Gran Teatre del Liceu
Bolshoi Theatre
San Francisico Opera
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Teatro Col�n

Please note that the BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites listed.

Most of the content on this site is created by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here to alert our Moderation Team. For any other comments, please start a Conversation below.

Second Draft

Historic premieres, wonderful architecture, far-reaching cultural influence: the truly great opera houses of the world all have many reasons for their fame. The classic features of a traditional opera house can be found in most of the European examples; good examples of more modern architecture include The Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Sydney Opera House. The main links are to related h2g2 articles: all external websites have an English version, unless otherwise noted.


Italy has a large number of interesting opera houses, for three reasons:

  • It was the birthplace of opera. The first public opera house, the Teatro San Cassiano, was opened in Venice in 1637 and survived until 1800.
  • Through much of operatic history Italy was divided into many separate small states. Each ruler or capital city usually built an opera house.
  • Opera was always popular among ordinary people as well as among the rich, so that there was a large audience available.

Some interesting Italian opera houses include:
  • Teatro alla Scala, Milan
  • Teatro di San Carlo, Naples
    Founded in 1737 under the Bourbon King Charles III, the theatre was rebuilt after a fire in 1816 and restored after bomb damage in World War II. In the 18th century, it was the centre of the development of Opera Buffa, the lighter comic style of Italian opera. In the early 19th century, the manager Domenico Barbaia brought Rossini (link Rossini) to Naples, and he composed some of his best work for performance at the Teatro San Carlo. For many years, the Neapolitan audience has had the reputation of b particularly noisy and badly-behaved.
    (Follow this link to the Teatro di San Carlo's own website.)
  • Teatro La Fenice, Venice
    Opened in 1792, "The Phoenix" was so called because it replaced a previous theatre which had burnt down. It rose from the ashes again after another fire in 1832, and staged the premieres of Verdi's Rigoletto and La Traviata . As part of the Venetian Biennale festival, it also staged the premieres of two 20th century English-language classics, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951) and Britten's The Turn of the Screw (1954). It had what was usually considered the most beautiful interior of all the world's opera houses, which was tragically lost in yet another fire in 1996.

Germany and Austria

Like Italy, Germany had a long history of small independent states, so that it also has a large number of interesting regional opera houses. The Austro-Hungarian Empire also had a number of regional centres, and opera in the capital Vienna had a particular social importance.

  • Munich: The Nationaltheater and the Cuvilli�stheater
    Both suffered bomb damage in world war 2; wagner premieres, Mozart
    (Follow this link to the Bavarian State Opera's own website.)
  • Berlin: The Staatsoper (State Opera) and the Deutsche Oper Berlin
    The old opera house in Berlin was the Staatsoper or State Opera. (history) After the 2nd World War, it was in the Russian zone of occupied Berlin, and most of the singers and staff left while they could. During the lifetime of the German Democratic Republic it was a centre for Marxist interpretations of opera, and avant garde production. Meanwhile, in West Berlin, a new opera house was built, which opened as the home of the Deustche Oper Berlin (German Opera of Berlin) in ??. Since reuification, both houses present opera on a regular basis.
  • Bayreuth, Bavaria - The Festspielhaus
  • Dresden: The Semper Oper
    As the capital of Saxony, Dresden had a long and interesting history as a centre of opera performance. Carl Maria von Weber had the post of conductor here in the 1820s, and founded a new movement of German Romatic opera. The Semper Opera House was completed in 1841, named after its architect. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1869 and re-opened in 1878. This house was the scene of many important premieres, including Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander (1843) and Tannhauser (1845), and a number of works by Richard Strauss, including Der Rosenkavalier (1911) and Salom� (1905). In the firebombing air raids of 1943, the Semper Opera House was completely destroyed, along with most of the historic centre of the city. The present building was painstakingly reconstructed to the original plans, and is still known as the Semper Oper after its original architect.
    (Follow this link to the Semperoper's own website.)
  • The Vienna State Opera

The Rest of Europe

Most other European countries have only one or sometimes two internationally known opera houses.

  • Britain - The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
  • France - The Op�ra Garnier and the Op�ra Bastille, Paris
  • Monaco - The Monte Carlo Opera
    Designed by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris opera, this is a small but ornate opera house (capacity 600)which opened in 1879. The Salle Garnier, as it is now called, shares a lobby with the Monte Carlo Casino. Nowadays a backwater, closed for most of the year, it was internationally important in the early years of the century, under the long directorship of Raoul Gunsbourg (director for nearly 60 years, from 1893 to 1961.) Caruso, Gigli and other stars appeared regularly, and the house presented the premieres of works by many French composers, including P�n�lope (1913) by Faur�, L'Enfant et les Sortileges (1925) by Ravel, and Don Quichotte (1910) by Massenet.
  • Belgium - Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels
    The older house (1819) was famous for the successful 1830 rebellion against Dutch rule, which began when the audience rioted after a stirring operatic call to arms. The present theatre was built in 1856 after a fire destroyed the original house.
    (Follow this link to La Monnaie's own website.)
  • Spain - Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
    Recently rebuilt after a fire in 1994, the Liceu is the greatest opera house in Spain, and the centre of a Catalonian tradition that produced many famous singers including Victoria de los Angeles and Jose Carreras.
    (Follow this link to the Gran Teatre del Liceu's own website.)
  • Russia - The Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow Built in , the Bolsoi became one of the glories of the USSR. Unfortunately, the building is now close to collapse. Since there is no money available for restoration, its future looks bleak.
    (Follow this link to the Bolshoi Theatre's own website.)
  • Russia - The Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg

The U.S.A.
Most American opera houses are much larger than their European counterparts, and therefore more of a challenge to singers. While only the Met has a history to rival that of the older European opera houses, the professionalism of modern American opera companies means that the standard of singing and production is among the best in the world.
  • The Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York - usually known as the 'Met'.
  • The War Memorial Theater, San Francisco
    Opera has a long history in San Francisco, with the first performances in 1851. Caruso was singing in Carmen with a visiting tour from the Met only hours before the 1906 earthquake. The present opera house (capacity 3,170)was opened in 1932.
    (Follow this link to the San Francisico Opera's own website.)
  • The Civic Opera House, Chicago
    This magnificent Art Deco opera house (capacity 3,560) is part of a Chicago skyscraper, and was opened on 4th November 1929, just at the beginning of the depression. It is now home to the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
    (Follow this link to the the Lyric Opera of Chicago website)

The Rest of the World
  • Australia - The Sydney Opera House
  • Argentina - Teatro Col�n, Buenos Aires
    The centre of a great South American opera tradition, the present building has a capacity of 2,500, with 1,000 standing. It dates from 1908, and is famous for its excellent acoustics.
    (The Teatro Col�n's own website is in Spanish only, but it offers tantalising glimpses of the wonderful building.)
  • Brazil - Teatro Amazonas, Manaus
    Built in 1897 when the boom in rubber was at its height, this opera house (capacity 800)has a particularly exotic location. The city of Manaus is in the heart of the Amazonian jungle, at the junction of the Rio Negro and the upper Amazon. Visiting singers had to travel a thousand miles up the Amazon by boat.

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