Opera house

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Sydney Opera House
Leipzig Opera House

An opera house (short: opera) is a building for musical theater in which mainly operas , operettas and ballets are performed.

As a rule, it is now a closed building (with the exception of open-air theaters such as the Théâtre Antique in Orange or the Arena of Verona , which, however, was not originally built as a theater space) that has a large stage with elaborate stage machinery, an orchestra pit and an auditorium with one or more levels (one above the other or with boxes ). The peep-box theater has established itself as the basic architectural model since the Baroque era and displaced earlier forms - such as the Shakespeare stage, the fair theater or the amphitheater with Greco-Roman characteristics. In the early days of opera , however, the ballrooms of the aristocracy were more likely to be used as a performance venue; The first opera houses were built in the second third of the 17th century, first in Venice , and later in other cities in Italy. The first public opera house in Germany was the Hamburg Opera on Gänsemarkt , which opened in 1678 and was built according to the Venetian model.

Structural development of the opera houses

The Richard Wagner Festival Theater on the Green Hill in Bayreuth

The development of the opera houses from the creation of the genre to the present day was structurally shaped by two decisive tendencies. Firstly, the focus shifted from the auditorium to the stage: in the classic tiered theater , the audience's appearance in the boxes - right up to the royal or royal box - was at least as prominent as the events on the stage; the auditorium was also as brightly lit as the stage. The singing was usually performed on the front stage (or proscenium ); the alley stage behind it served to effectively present changing decorations as a background and in machine theater it was also used to use illusionistic tricks (e.g. with the help of airframes and recesses). In contrast, today's stage sets create a wide variety of rooms that use the stage space from the ramp to the rear wall of the stage; the auditorium is darkened and, in the newer buildings, is arranged in a semicircle so that every audience has an equally good view of the stage. The theaters got bigger and bigger; the New York Metropolitan Opera summarizes z. B. approximately 4000 places.

The second important development concerns the position of the orchestra pit. The musicians were placed in the baroque theater on the same level as the parquet; a conductor was therefore not absolutely necessary, since the connection between the orchestra and the singers was much more immediate than it is today. Over time, the orchestral line-up grew, so that the deeper trench was created. This development took Richard Wagner to extremes in his Bayreuth Festival Theater , which he had built especially for the performance of his works. Here the orchestra pit is completely sunk: it extends deeply under the stage in a stepped arrangement and is also covered by a screen so that the origin of the sound can no longer be determined, which is particularly effective. For concert performances on stage in some opera houses one is concert rooms built.

From the 18th century onwards, the bourgeoisie increasingly saw itself as the legacy of courtly opera . Opera houses thus became representative symbols of the bourgeois establishment (they were no longer called the court theater, but the state opera ) and were attacked as such in the 20th century; Let us remind you of the provocative statement by the conductor Pierre Boulez that all opera houses should be blown up, but this did not prevent him from becoming one of the most prominent opera conductors of our time.

The opera house as an institution

However, the term opera house is usually not only associated with theater construction, but also with the institution. As is customary in the larger houses in Germany , an opera house can have a permanent ensemble; In a broader sense, an opera house also includes the ensemble ( vocal soloists , choir , ballet , orchestra , extras ) and the artistic direction ( artistic director , conductors , directors , dramaturges ). There are also commercial administration, cloakroom and workshops (e.g. for set design). Large opera houses have up to 1,000 permanent employees. In some Western European countries such as Great Britain and France the opera houses i. d. Usually no longer through permanent ensembles. Individual performances are often co-produced and exchanged between the houses. This system also prevails in the USA .

In Austria , the largest and most important opera house, the Vienna State Opera , is equipped with a singing ensemble, but the majority of these are used for the medium and smaller roles and are usually provided with time-limited contracts (contracts for several weeks or months, so-called residence contracts , as well as annual contracts). As in other opera houses of international renown, the major roles are almost exclusively occupied by prominent guest singers who are engaged for individual evenings or series of performances. The conductors, directors, choreographers, stage designers, costume designers, lighting designers, etc. who work at the State Opera are also guests. The ballet performances are also attended by numerous guests. The orchestra and choir, however, are an integral part of the ensemble. The Vienna Volksoper still has its own ensemble of singers, from which the majority of the roles are cast. The Theater an der Wien does not have its own ensemble, neither with singers nor with a choir or orchestra, but engages these bodies for the respective productions; this form of opera house called Stagionesystem derived from the Italian word for the season . The Theater an der Wien shows how Stagione houses in France and Italy, numerous co-productions with other theaters or festivals that are either developed in Vienna or taken over by other theaters.

In Austria , some Vienna theaters are organized in the Wiener Bundestheater-Holding GmbH ; this brings together Theater Burgtheater GmbH , Wiener Staatsoper GmbH and Volksoper Wien GmbH ; A joint facility, Theater Service GmbH ART FOR ART , takes over the workshops, building technology, marketing and administration for these three companies .

According to this model, opera houses in Germany are increasingly being outsourced from the public service and converted, at least in part, into private-sector structures. Thus, for example, January 1, 2004 in Berlin , the Stiftung Oper Berlin (short: Opera Foundation ) was established to which the three Berlin opera houses Berlin State Opera , German Opera and Komische Oper and the Berlin State Ballet belong.

Some selected opera houses



Logo of the Vienna State Opera


Other countries

The Teatro Amazonas in Manaus

Image gallery

See also


  • Leo Beranek: Concert Halls and Opera Houses: Music, Acoustics, and Architecture. New York, Springer, 2004. ISBN 0-387-95524-0 . (engl.)
  • Guillaume de Laubier (photographs), Antoine Pecqueur (text), Annegret Hunke-Wormser (translation): The most beautiful opera houses in the world. Munich 2013. 240 pages. ISBN 978-3-86873-641-0 . (Pictures of stages from 32 houses, originally France)

Web links

Commons : Theater Buildings (Including Opera Houses)  - Album containing pictures, videos and audio files