From the 18th century home of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to the Parisian theater that set the stage for “Phantom of the Opera,” browse through our selection and gain insight into some of the world’s oldest and magnificent theaters.
Teatro alla Scala (or “staircase” in Italian) was built on the same site as the Church of Santa Maria della Scala in Milan, Italy. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini in 1778, this world-famous opera house is where many great composers first performed their masterpieces, including Verdi and Puccini.
Fun fact: The first performance of Puccini’s unfinished title Turandot took place here in 1926. At the end of Act III, Conductor Arturo Toscanini halted the orchestra, laid down his baton and stopped the show — as this was the last scene Puccini wrote before his death.
With more than 8.2 million visits each year, the Sydney Opera House is one of the most recognizable buildings of the twentieth century and is Australia’s number one tourist destination. Construction was expected to only take four years, but completing the opera house took 14 years to finish and involved 10,000 construction workers. Completed in 1973 and opened by Queen Elizabeth II, the opera house’s first production was Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace.
Fun fact: Long before the building was finished, American singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson sang “Ol’ Man River” to construction workers in 1960, making him the first person to perform at the opera house.
Home to the world premiere of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The Estates Theatre was built in less than two years thanks to aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck in 1783. Constructed in the classicist style and characterized by teal velvet inside, it’s among the only theaters in Europe preserved in its near-original state.
Fun fact: The inscription written above the theater entrance, “Patriae et Musis,” means “To the Native Land and the Muses,” which many believe is a testament to the Count’s intention of spreading the ideas of the Enlightenment period.
One of the oldest preserved opera houses in the world, the Drottningholms Slottsteater (or the Royal Theater of Drottningholm) is among the few 18th-century theaters that still use the original stage machinery — a wooden pulley system is operated entirely by hand. The theater closed after King Gustaf III’s death in 1792, but was reopened more than a century later in 1922.
Fun fact: In addition to the original scene-change mechanism, the opera house also features wave, thunder, and sound machines (pictured above) that date back to the 18th century.
Named after its architect Charles Garnier, who won the public competition for the job in 1861, Palais Garnier’s large stage can host 450 people at once. Designed to be grandiose, Palais Garnier is extravagantly decorated with bronze busts, marble and velvet seating, and an eight-ton chandelier.
Fun fact: There is a water tank beneath Palais Garnier! After many failed attempts to keep groundwater out of the building, Garnier and his team finally installed a cistern to hold it all. Rumors of this eerie “lagoon” spread throughout the city, and inspired one Parisian, Gaston Leroux, to write “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Initially built on Broadway and 39th Street in New York City by a group of wealthy business men in 1883, The Metropolitan Opera moved to the Lincoln Center in 1966 for an upgrade in space. Also known as The Met, the opera house hosts 800,000 people each season and continues to run its successful radio series, the longest-running classical music series in American broadcast history.
Fun fact: Soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan will make her Met debut this season, and will appear as Violetta in Palm Beach Opera’s La traviata, our first blockbuster opera of the season.
After two previous theaters were destroyed by fire, the extravagant Royal Opera House opened in 1946 at London’s Convent Garden. By the 1980s, the facilities needed improvement — and after the creation of the National Lottery, the Opera House was awarded enough money to expand and transform the theater as we know it today, complete with a smaller auditorium and restaurant.
Did our list leave you inspired? What are some of the opera houses that you’ve visited… and which is your favorite? Leave comments below.