Theatres have been an attraction for folks of all social walks of life since as far back as time itself. The actual buildings that house performances have changed dramatically over time. What may have started out as shows in a public square eventually found themselves staging operas, ballets, musicals and dramas on a stage, in a building that was constructed just for the purposes of performances.
These buildings are known as theaters and here is a list of some our most favorite.
First opening its door in the late 1770s the first name of this theater in Milan, Italy was the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala. In English this means the New Royal-Ducal Theatre alla Scala and this original building burned down, not long after it was constructed. Yet, before this devastating event, the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala was the home of its inaugural performance of Europa riconosciuta by Antonio Salieri.
After the destruction by fire, several of the wealthier patrons of the first theater got together and penned a correspondence to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este, who was the Governor of the Duchy of Milan at the time. The letter requested that a new building be constructed and a temporary location be provided as well, while the new theater was being built.
At the first request Giuseppe Piermarini, an accomplished architect, was hired to come up with a new design. His first attempt was rejected by 1776 construction for a new theater was underway. This time the building would be erected where the Santa Maria alla Scala, a gothic church in Milan built in 1381, stood. This ancient building was torn down to make room for the Teatro alla Scala.
An interesting fact about the La Scala theater is that back in the day gambling was permitted in the front hallway. In fact, many theaters at the time had casinos in the foyer, La Scala was no different. Creator of the well-known monster Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, once wrote that she found the gambling distracting and “so that brief and far between are the snatches of melody one can catch.”
Of course, over the years the theater has been improved by moving from gas lamps, to oil, to finally electricity. The last major reconstruction of the La Scala was held during 2002 to 2004. While the theater was being renovated the company continued to perform at the Teatro degli Arcimboldi while the restoration was underway.
The opera performed when the new theater was reopened on December 7, 2004 was a reproduction of the first piece performed at the original La Scala Theater, Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta. The tickets were rather pricey some tickets costing more than two-thousand dollars.
Not quite as old as our last entry, the Palais Garnier was constructed as a home for the Paris Opera in 1861 and would continue to be built for fourteen years. It is named for the architect Charles Garnier but his name was not included in the original moniker. This theater was first named Salle des Capucines due to its location but the current name took shape organically and the first one is just a memory.
Besides the external statues of the mythical Pegasus and composers Rossini, Mozart and Beethoven, among others, sits an auditorium that was designed in the traditional Italian style. Shaped like a horseshoe, which allows the best possible sightline from the stage to the audience, and vice versa. It is metal at its core but the center is covered by stucco, marble and velvet.
Above the auditorium one can take in the magnificent chandelier made of crystal and bronze. This fixture boasts 340 lights and was designed by the architect himself. When it was put in place some patrons felt that it hindered the audience sitting in the fourth level boxes from seeing the stage yet Garnier supported his decision in his memoir Le Théâtre asking “What else could fill the theatre with such joyous life?”
Others claimed the chandelier made it difficult to see the ceiling painting it sits bellow. This painting was first completed by Jules Eugéne Lenepveu but in 1964 Marc Chagall was hired to repaint it but, instead of painting right over the original, frames that are detachable were placed over the Lenepveu work instead. The new painting pays homage to compositions by several composers including Mozart, Wagner, Debussy, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Beethoven and many more.
Between the ornate foyers, the grand staircase and the many statues, there is more to describe then we have room in this blog post. We suggest that you take time to visit the Palais Garnier on your own and take it all in. When there make sure to visit the Library-Museum of the Opera, which is also the National Library of France. There you will find drawings, paintings, pictures and parts of sets used throughout the history of the Palais Garnier.
The program for the 16-17 season at the Palais Garnier is available here!
The Metropolitan Opera
New York City is no stranger to cultural breakthroughs and traditions. This theater, also known as the Met, sits among the most prestigious institutions of the American cultural landscape. It all began in the late 1800s when some men who were friends, and very rich, decided they wanted a theater, yet the very first stage built by these generous benefactors was not exactly up to par.
Still, it wouldn’t change until 1966 when the Met fused with other cultural establishments in New York City creating the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The results were a new theater, with advanced technological features. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was premiered in the United States at the Met and Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West gave its World Premiere at this celebrated playhouse.
An important event in the Met’s history was on December 25, 1931, when the first broadcasted the opera Hänsel und Gretel from the Met and the performance was transmitted across the United States and Canada. Televising operas more regularly forty-six years later in 1977. This time it was a production of La Bohéme and it was watched my millions of people via public television.
Since then dozens of productions have been broadcasted and recorded. In 2006, this theme of bringing the performances to a wider audience than the one that could fit in the theater, expanded with The Met: Live in HD, a program that enabled recordings to be broadcast, while the production was being performed, to movie theaters all over the world in high definition.
The theater itself, is acclaimed for the excellent sound one experiences during a performance. It seats nearly four thousand people with room in the rear of the auditorium for another two hundred people to stand. When the opera company is not performing or producing at the Met the American Ballet Theatre takes up residence for renowned performances.
National Geographic rated this opera house as the third best in the entire world. The acoustics are ranked at number five on the globe. Opening in 1857 but the original building only lasted until the end of the 19th century. It was evident to the Buenos Aires community that a new theater was needed. Twenty years later, on May 25, 1908, the current Teatro Colón opened its doors and stage with a performance of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi.
The lengthy process of constructing a new theater didn’t come without its problems. Francesco Tamburini, the architect hired to create the new building, died n 1891 and his student, Vittorio Meano, who was also working on the project, was murdered in 1904. These more than minor setbacks including financial troubles, caused by the death of financier Angelo Ferrari, and disagreements over where the locale should be, stretched the construction out for two long decades.
Yet, once the doors opened in May of 1908 and Aida was performed the Teatro Colón became known as one of the finest destinations for opera lovers. Unfortunately, time and economic hardship in Argentina has had its toll on the Teatro Colón and it was set to be remodeled over a year and half and the estimated cost was $25 million dollar. The new opening day was scheduled for May of 2008 and the opera that was planned for the special day was Aida, the same opera that had been performed when the Teatro Colón first opened one hundred years earlier.
While this ideology of a new opening a century later was greatly romantic in theory, the renovations took twice as long as expected and nearly four times as much money.
The Teatro Colón finally reopened in May of 2010 with a live concert and three dimensional creative filmography. Instead of recreating the original production of Aida the ballet company performed Swan Lake and the second act of La bohéme. But before the public was able to experience this great show a few weeks’ prior the architects and other employees that worked on the renovations were treated to a private showing of the opening night production. Here’s the schedule for the Fall season at the Teatro Colón.