Arts & Culture | Great Opera Houses | Contemporary | Classical
The history of opera is dominated by Italian and Austro-German composers. It is in Italy and Germany that we find the greatest number of opera houses. La Scala in Milan lays claim to be the most famous opera house in the world, and its opening night every season is a major event in the country’s social calendar. The theatre, opened in 1778, has been the venue for the premieres of major operas by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, as well as of Verdi’s last two operas, Otello and Falstaff. Other famous opera houses in Italy include La Fenice (‘The Phoenix’) in Venice, which underwent massive restoration after being destroyed by fire in 1996, reopening in 2003; the Teatro Comunale in Bologna; and the Teatro dell’Opera in Naples.
Since reunification, Germany possesses an even richer variety of opera houses. There is considerable doubt whether Berlin can continue to support three large houses (the Deutsche Oper in former West Berlin, the Komische Oper and the Staatsoper unter den Linden in former East Berlin); for now, the city has access to an unparalleled diversity of opera. Elsewhere in Germany, the most celebrated opera houses are in Munich and at Bayreuth, where Wagner opened his custom-built Festspielhaus in 1876. Only Wagner’s operas are performed in the Festspielhaus, though there is pressure for that to change.
While most opera houses are nineteenth-century edifices, Drottningholm in Sweden is a Baroque building in full working order. Australia’s Sydney Opera House, designed by Jørn Utzon and opened in 1973, has perhaps the most easily recognized architectural profile in the world. Other significant modern opera houses include New York’s Lincoln Center Met (1966) and the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris (1990). Although plans for completely new opera houses in London have been mooted, none has materialized. A redesigned Covent Garden opened in late 1999; a few hundred yards away, the city’s biggest theatre, the London Coliseum, is home to English National Opera. England’s only new opera house in recent years has been the rebuilt Glyndebourne, which opened in 1994. In 2004 Welsh National Opera moved into its new home at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay.
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