Although opera can now be enjoyed in the smallest and dampest of theaters by anyone with a few dollars, the art was first invented and performed for royalty in the courts of Italy and France back in the 17th century. The first opera houses were, then, palaces, and one could imagine the dress codes were much, much stricter. Opera houses catering to the general public — as they are today — first appeared a century later.
Table of Page Contents
- 10. Teatro San Cassiano
- 9. Margravial Opera House
- 8. The Bolshoi Theater
- 7. Wire Opera House (Opera de Arame)
- 6. Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre
- 5. Metropolitan Opera House
- 4. La Scala (Teatro alla Scala)
- 3. Sydney Opera House
- 2. Vienna State Opera (Vienna Staatsoper)
- 1. Palais Garnier
Setting sights high, here are 10 of the most amazing opera houses in the world.
10. Teatro San Cassiano
Opera’s roots extend even further back than the Real Teatro di San Carlo (Royal Theatre of Saint Charles), which opened in 1737 and is the oldest opera house in existence that is still in operation. The Teatro San Cassiano in Venice, Italy, is actually the first public opera house in the world. Constructed in 1565, the original building was destroyed and rebuilt in 1637, when it hosted its first opera. Set up by the rich merchant families of Venice, the now-demolished opera house inspired others to open public opera houses of their own. More importantly, the Teatro San Cassiano paved the way in making opera accessible and allowing the common people to finally be able to attend the opera — just like kings and queens.
9. Margravial Opera House
Opera lovers who really want to recreate the royal experience should visit the Margravial Opera House in Germany. A UNESCO world heritage site, this is one of the few opera houses of 18th-century Europe that has stood the test of time, as well as the only opera house that can reproduce the visual and acoustic experience of traditional Baroque court opera. Accordingly, it includes the original wood and canvas building materials and seats only 500. Finished in 1748 after just four years of construction, the opera house is highly ornate, with an exterior featuring Rococo design and a contrasting Italian Baroque interior. Despite its glamor, there is something missing from the Margravial Opera House: its original curtains, which were stolen by Napoleon’s marching army in 1812!
8. The Bolshoi Theater
Second only to La Scala as the largest opera house in Europe, the Bolshoi in Moscow is home to the Bolshoi Opera, one of the oldest and highest-ranking opera companies in the world. The ornate building also houses the Bolshoi Ballet, the largest and most prestigious ballet company in Russia. It should come as no surprise that “bolshoi” means big or grand in Russian. Bolshoi Theater has come under both literal and metaphorical attacks throughout history: the invasion of Napoleon, the Russian Revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and multiple fires. Renovations in the early 21st century alone cost $1 billion. There is also a darker side to the theater: in 2013, a mysterious assailant threw acid in the face of an artistic director at the Bolshoi.
7. Wire Opera House (Opera de Arame)
Opera houses don’t have to be as large as the Bolshoi to be impressive! The Wire Opera House in Brazil was constructed out of steel tubes and glass in an old quarry in just over two months. Despite its humble origin, the structure is beautiful. The see-through opera house looks like a delicate white and green filigree cage perched over a lake, across which stretches a bridge where opera attendees can take in the view before the evening’s entertainment. The other side of the building is nestled against lush trees. It is because of the glorious view that the Wire Opera House is listed here instead of the equally amazing Amazon Theatre, an opera house situated in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
6. Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre
Another visual feast of an opera house built in an exotic-sounding location is the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre in the capital of Siberia. Where it differs from the Wire Opera House most drastically is in size: topped with a 200-foot-wide dome, this Greek coliseum lookalike is the largest and most technologically forward theater in Russia, surpassing even the Bolshoi. Completed in 1944, the opera house is also known as the Siberian Coliseum and is decorated with Greek statues to match its name. According to Russian modern legends, below the coliseum are hidden passageways and a secret bunker for Stalin. Maybe an adventurous opera goer will discover them some day. This is one of the few Most Amazing Opera Houses 2017.
5. Metropolitan Opera House
Far removed from Siberia, the original Met building was completed in 1883 as the first and largest opera house in the United States. It was replaced by the building at Lincoln Center in 1966. Carrying on the spirit of its demolished predecessor, the Metropolitan Opera’s current home remains a must-see for all visitors to New York. The structure sees over 200 performances per season and houses hundreds of paintings. Besides being visually stunning, the new building is also the largest opera house in the world. As a bonus, it even broadcasts performances live worldwide, so that audience members in other countries may also marvel at the interior of the Met.
4. La Scala (Teatro alla Scala)
Located in Milan, Italy, and perhaps one of the best-known opera houses in the world, La Scala has nurtured and showcased the work of some of Italy’s finest artists throughout history, including the masters Salieri, Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini. Empress Maria Theresa approved the construction of the building, which was completed in 1778, because the former theater succumbed to fire (an observant reader may be starting to notice a pattern here). Although La Scala is basically the heart of opera in Milan, in its early years, the building was also in part a casino — who says the high arts and the low can’t mix?
3. Sydney Opera House
A relative newcomer in the opera world and a more distinct building than even La Scala, the Sydney Opera House has become one of the most famous landmarks of Australia. Completed in 1973, the building features an eye-catching roof made up of three groups of large, white concrete shells or sails. The shells sit atop a flat base of pink granite covering 4.4 acres of land. The unique design was selected through an international competition and has since won other awards. Not only is it a marvel of structural engineering, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the sites of the 2000 Olympics, the Sydney Opera House may be the only icon that can rival the koala or kangaroo in representing the entire continent of Australia.
2. Vienna State Opera (Vienna Staatsoper)
Although there is no shortage of beautiful buildings devoted to the arts in Europe, the Vienna State Opera stands as a testament to the endurance of art and the human spirit in adversity. Neither of the architects survived to see the building’s completion in 1869 under Emperor Franz Josef. The building saw two world wars and was destroyed by American bombings in 1945; many artists working in the opera house were also persecuted by the Nazis. After World War II, the structure was rebuilt to its original design with American support around the original facade, foyer, and staircase. Today, the Vienna State Opera continues to house top companies and the world’s largest opera repertoire. On a lighter note, the immature at heart will be tickled to discover the opera house’s name in the original German is the Wiener Staatsoper.
1. Palais Garnier
Until the more modern Opera Bastille was completed in 1990, this opera house was home to the Paris Opera, one of the oldest and best opera companies in the world. Also known as the Opera Garnier, it was the most expensive building of the French Second Empire. Napoleon III clearly spared no expense — not only does the opera house look like a Baroque palace inside and out, the main chandelier is composed of seven metric tons of crystal and bronze, while the main staircase is Italian and Swedish marble and actual gems (jasper and onyx). Even those who can’t afford to decorate their homes with gold leaf, though, would recognize the opera house’s claim to fame: Both the musical and the original novel of The Phantom of the Opera were set in the Palais Garnier, with plot elements being inspired by the real-life chandelier crash and ghost stories. Besides spawning the designs of numerous other buildings in the world, the Palais Garnier is also commonly and reverently known as “the Opera.” Which other opera house can compete with that?
Of course, this list is nowhere near exhaustive. No one can overlook the magnificence of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest, Hungary, the significance of the Semperoper in Dresden, Germany — which saw the premieres of works by Wagner and Strauss — or the history of the Operan (Royal Opera House) in Sweden, where a king was assassinated. Since originating in Italy, the beauty of opera and opera houses have spread and continue to spread, and there is now a world of amazing opera houses out there for all to appreciate.