Opera began in the baroque period, which is during the 17th century. It began, like many other arts, in Florence, and from there its beauty has spread across the globe like an aria pulling at the heart strings.
We want to take some time and look at a few of the houses that wowed audiences throughout the United States.
1. Metropolitan Opera House
Known to most as The Met, this American opera house has housed some of the most inspired and gifted performers, directors, composers, writers, and dancers the globe has ever experienced. First established in 1883, The Met was located on Broadway and 39th Street. It was the dream of several prosperous industrialists.
In the early days of The Met, the performers were expected to sing all operas in Italian. After that they were urged to sing all operas in German. Then they finally adopted the policy of having all works performed in the original language they were written.
The Met held this location for many years, until 1966 when it was moved to the new location at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. This move was important because the old location could not meet the needs of the operas anymore and this new building was equipped with brand new facilities that had the best in technology at the time.
Famous singers when The Met first opened were Christine Nilsson and Marcella Sembrich. They alternated leading roles during The Met’s very first season, the performances that were required to be sung in Italian. When The Met made the move to German, Lilli Lehmann gave outstanding renditions of Wagner’s works as well as many other pieces she enjoyed singing.
Before the turn of the 19th century, Emma Calvé was the starring female alongside brothers Jean and Edouard De Reszke. During this time Emma Eames and Lillian Nordica sang soprano. When the 20th Century came around Enrico Caruso became a regular performer who had sang at The Met more times than all his other performances put together.
The Met is where many United States premieres for international operas are given including works by Wagner, Puccini, Humperdinck, Tan Dun, and Vivaldi.
2. Civic Opera House
Also, known as the Lyric Opera of Chicago this opera hoe se isn’t quite as old as the last being founded in 1954. Their purpose is showcase singers and works from an international arena while expanding the cultural background of a great city like Chicago. First named The Lyric Theatre of Chicago, Carol Fox, Lawrence V. Kelly, and Nicola Rescigno, were the brains behind giving Chicago a reputable opera house that could champion venues that have come long before.
The current name was given to them in 1955 after two founding members pulled out of the project. Carol Fox stuck with it though, and she served as the general manager until 1980. She passed on the next year. Ardis Krainik took her place and worked in that position until she passed away in 1997. The current general director, Anthony Freud, began his time with the Lyric Opera in 2011.
Serving as musical director since 2000 is Sir Andrew Davis, and in 2010 Renée Fleming took on the position of creative consultant, the first position of its kind at the Lyric Opera. He was also given a seat on the Board of Directors serving as the vice president. Fleming is driven to create a new attentiveness to the art of opera, hoping to broaden its reach throughout the Chicago community landscape.
3. War Memorial Opera House
Located in San Francisco, California, this next American Opera House began its construction in 1931. It is joined with the Veterans Building and these two structures, with the Memorial Court in the middle, were once the San Francisco War Memorial. In 1978, the Herbst Foundation gave the opera house a grant for renovations and the Herbst Théatre was renovated.
Arthur Brown, Jr., architect, was called on to design a theatre after he had great success with the San Francisco City Hall. Today, this building is in a handful of Beaux-Arts edifices in the United States. The ceiling is thirty-eight feet high and the auditorium seats nearly 3200 people. There are other events held at the War Memorial Opera House other than opera. It has played host to private events, presentations, lectures, concerts, and our personal favorite, ballets.
This opera house is a wonderful blend of top notch sound and acoustics melded into a classic theater one might find in the early days of opera. And interesting piece of trivia is that following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the theater would black out their windows during shows and the productions were supervised by the local air rad wardens.
Loma Prieta was an earthquake in 1989 that caused some serious damage to the city of San Francisco, including the War Memorial Opera House. A few years later, with the help of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the theater was given a renovation that made it more sturdy during earthquakes.
4. French Opera House
Located in the mystical city of New Orleans, the French Opera House is no longer standing since it was burned down in 1919. The location was on Bourbon and Toulouse Streets in the historic French Quarter, which is the downtown area of New Orleans. It first opened its doors in 1859 The French Opera House, in its day, became a beacon of social gatherings for the wealthy in the Big Easy, it was the symbol of excess and prestige. The total cost for construction as around 118,000 dollars.
As with other opera houses on this list, the French Opera House did not only host operas. It was a central location for gatherings of wealthy people on a social level and professional. It opened its doors for political gatherings, balls for debutantes, concerts, and other live theater productions. It closed for a short period during the First World War and was reopened for only a year before the era ending fire.
The Inn on Bourbon sits where the French Opera House used to be and you can see ghost tours walking by. It is believed that the ghost of Marguerite, who is known as the Witch of the French Opera who lived in that location. It is said she was once rejected by a former love and, in retaliation, she killed herself, which sounds very operatic.
Before burning down the theater sat nearly two thousand people and was adorned in red and white. The design style was Greek Revival and had a loft that soared over the other rooftops in the historic Creole epicenter. The horror and shock of this tragedy hit the city of New Orleans and it’s elite hard.
The Times-Picayune published these words, “into the hearts of the people of New Orleans there has come a great sorrow, a great mourning.” Single ladies were not allowed to have a seat and it was a packed early on cold nights. At the time of this opera house, being verse in the opera was an important part of being socially accepted. The cost of tickets at the French Opera house were five dollars for four seats.
Speaking about ‘opera’ and ‘America,’ check out the Perfect American, by Philip Glass!