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Vienna State opera, Vienna, Austria - Famous Opera House
151    Dibyendu Banerjee    24/06/2024

The story of the Vienna State Opera, locally known as Wiener Staatsoper, began in December of 1857, when the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I commissioned the controversial ambitious and expensive Viennese city expansion project and designed by architects August von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll, construction of the opera house commenced in 1861 and was completed in 1869. The building, constructed in the Neo-Renaissance architectural style by the renowned Czech architect and contractor Josef Hlávka, was the first major building on Wiener Ringstrasse or Vienna Ring Road, which was inaugurated as Wiener Hofoper or the Vienna Court Opera on 25 May 1869 with the premier of Don Giovanni, by Mozart, in the presence of the Emperor and Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Unfortunately, none of the architects survived long enough to see the completion of the building, as Eduard van der Nüll hanged himself on 4 April 1868 and his partner August von Sicardsburg died from tuberculosis barely 10 weeks later.

vienna state opera vienna austria

But the edifice of the newly built opera house, equipped with 1709 seats, was not very popular with the mass, mainly because it did not seem to be as grand as the Heinrichshof, a private residence, built between 1861 and 1862 and also located on the Wiener Ringstrasse, which was however destroyed much later in World War II. It was even scornfully referred to as the Königgrätz of architecture, in analogy to the military disaster in the Battle of Königgrätz, in which the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire on 3 July 1866. Moreover, after the construction of the opera house had begun, the level of the Ringstrasse was raised by a metre (around 3;28 feet), making the opera house resembling a sunken treasure box. Nevertheless, the Vienna Court Opera continued staging performances till 1921, when it became known by its current name, the Vienna State Opera, after the establishment of the First Austrian Republic.

vienna state opera vienna austria

As luck would have it, towards the end of World War II, on 12 March1945, the opera was set alight by an American bombardment, which was intended for the Floridsdorf refinery in Floridsdorf, located is the 21st district of Vienna, and as a result of which, the auditorium and stage were completely destroyed by flames, along with almost the entire décor, props and numerous costumes for more than 120 operas. However, surprisingly the front section, which had been walled off as a precaution, the foyer, decorated with frescoes created by Moritz von Schwind, the main stairways, even the vestibule and the tea room remained intact and as it was. During those days of instability, the State Opera was temporarily housed at the Theater an der Wien, located in the Mariahilf district and at the Vienna Volksoper, perched on the edge of the busy Gürtel Ring Road.

vienna state opera vienna austria
vienna state opera vienna austria

In 1946, the advisory Opera Building Committee was set up to discuss about whether the opera house should be restored or whether it should be completely demolished and rebuilt, either on the same location or on a different site, and after lengthy discussions and deliberation it was decided to rebuild the opera house as it had been on the same spot. Accordingly, architect Erich Boltenstern was commissioned for the overall artistic direction of the reconstruction, as well as for the design of the auditorium according to the earlier model, while Ceno Kosak and Otto Prossinger were entrusted with the redesign of the Gustav Mahler Hall and the Marble Hall. Erich Boltenstern decided on a design mostly resembling to the original with the addition of some modernisation and accordingly, the facades were decorated in Renaissance-style arches, with five bronze statues, representing heroism, tragedy, fantasy, comedy and love, installed on the arches above the porch. In the interior, the number of seats in the stalls was reduced, and the fourth gallery was restructured without columns and with the application of red-gold-ivory colour scheme, the auditorium became strongly resembling the design of the 19th century.

vienna state opera vienna austria

Finally, after completion of the project, the Vienna State Opera reopened with a new auditorium and modernised technology on 5 November 1955. Today, the Vienna State Opera, with the capacity of around 1700 seats, and closely linked with Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, is one of the busiest opera houses in the world, staging about 200 performances and producing around 60 operas per year. Every year in the winter, the Opera turns into the most famous ballroom, when the Vienna Opera Ball marks the high point of the season and around 5000 visitors participate at the glamorous event.

The Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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