Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper)

Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper) (21)

Designed by the tandem of architects August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Null, this authentic temple of opera was built between 1863 and 1869 and emerged as the first major monument erected along the new boulevard Ringstrasse. The architects, however, never got to see the finished work as one committed suicide and the other died of a heart attack a few days later, and all before the building had been completed.

The theatre opened on the 25th May, 1869, with a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni, and since then has continued to offer quality performances to Vienna's theatre-going public. 

While its neo-Renaissance lines did not initially convince the city's residents, when a bombing raid in 1945 severely affected the Staatsoper facilities, the Viennese took it as an attack on one of their symbols. Today it is one of the city's most treasured buildings.

As a result of the shelling the stage and auditorium were totally destroyed along with 15,000 costumes and 120 sets from different operas. On termination of the war rebuilding began immediately and, during the 10 years it took to complete, performances were held at the Volksoper and the Theater an der Wien. Under Nazi occupation many members of the company were persecuted for reasons that were as much political as racial and many representations were censored or banned.

Despite being almost totally ruined, those responsible for the Staatsoper initiated a complete renovation which greatly benefited the theatre as it equipped it with all the sophisticated technology necessary for the operation of a modern coliseum. The reconstruction was quite faithful to the original and retained the red, gold and ivory colours of the interior, though the number of seats was reduced and a pair of columns that hampered the visibility of spectators on the fourth floor were removed. 

Thus, the theatre reopened its doors with renewed strength on the 5th of November, 1955, in this instance with a performance of the opera Fidelio, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

At the main entrance you will see sculptures beneath each of the arches, which are bronze works by Ernst Julius Hähnel representing heroism, drama, fantasy, humour and love.

The lobby is adorned with both beautiful painted scenes by Moritz von Schwind and busts of famous composers and directors, for example that of Mahler, created by Rodin in 1909.

The wonderfully spectacular marble staircase leading to the first floor is adorned with sculptures by Josef Gasser representing the seven liberal arts as well as beautiful reliefs of opera and ballet scenes.

A cutting-edge auditorium on the international opera scene, the Staatsoper boasts opera performances 300 days a year, alternating daily operas with ballets and hosting an impressive average of 70 productions per season, a figure no other theatre in the world can match. In addition, those responsible for the Staatsoper make the unapologetic claim that theirs is the best opera orchestra in the world. 

As if that wasn't enough, the list of artistic directors of the theatre includes names of the stature of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan and Lorin Maazel. True to its policy of being one of the most important operatic arenas in the world, in 2001 the theatre introduced a modern subtitling system which, by means of small screens in the boxes and on seat backs, allows audiences to select German or English text for the opera being performed.

The Staatsoper hosts performances of ballet, opera, operetta... With prices ranging from 10 to 200 €. However, if you are set on not missing out on a performance in what is considered the world's finest opera building and interpreted by the top artists performing today, you can always turn up a couple of hours before the show and stand in line, where you can buy standing-room tickets at just 4 euros. While this may seem uncomfortable, it is, in fact, a pretty good option.

You can also enjoy matinee sessions, exhibitions and guided tours of the building's luxurious facilities. 

As a curiosity, probably the most unique event that the elegant hall of this theatre stages is the Vienna Opera Ball. For this event, which is reminiscent of imperial Vienna, on the final Thursday of carnival, and for one night only, the Staatsoper main theatre is converted into a stage fit for a stately ball. As part of the event, about a hundred young debutante couples in white dresses and formal wear are presented to society. 

This is an important event for the city of Vienna, and every year more than 12,000 visitors and tourists flock to witness the spectacle, which dates back to 1814. Initially dancing was a political event but, with the advent of the republic in 1921, the Opernball became what it is today, a veritable pageant of elegance, art, classical music, luxury and ostentation by the higher echelons of Austrian society and a meeting place for top artists, politicians and businessmen from Austria and abroad.

And by the way, if you've never seen a mermaid up close, now it is your chance, as one of the fountains located near the theatre is home to the beautiful and legendary mermaid Lorelai, who is represented atop allegories of pain, love and revenge in a design by Hans Gasser.

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