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Vienna State Opera

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Dating from 1861, and the first major public building to be commissioned on the Ringstrasse, the Vienna State Opera House is one of the foremost operatic venues in the world. As perhaps the world's most important centre of classical and operatic music, it is no surprise that Vienna should boast such a magnificent concert hall, and the building has hosted many famous concerts down the years.

Built by architects August von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll, the building can rival the finest Opera houses in the world, such as the Opera Garnier in Paris to the Prague Opera house. Yet amazingly neither architect lived to see the venue completed, with van der Null committing suicide after initial plans were mocked by the public, and von Sicardsburg dying of a heart attack just months before opening.

Yet the full opulent glory of the building is clear to see today, with a tiered loggia on the main facade adorned with bas-relief sculptures depicting the story of Mozart's Magic Flute, and carved buttresses of Wolldersdorfer stone. From afar the building looks not unlike a Venetian palace, albeit on a much bigger scale, and the lavish interior simply bolsters this impression. The foyer is bedecked in polished marble, and an incredible staircase is accompanied by murals designed by Franz Dobiaschofsky and sculptures from the studio of Josef Gasser. The main performance hall, the straatsoper, is sumptuous in the extreme, with five levels of private boxes, stalls and seats, designed in a typical Baroque manner. Surprisingly, however, much of what you will see inside the Vienna State Opera dates from the post-war era, as American bombardment destroyed much of the original building. Only swift restoration and support from the Austrian public ensured that the building was restored to what we see today.

The Vienna State Opera has held many of the great operatic works down the years, and the orchestra has been conducted by figures as notable as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Jahn and even Igor Stravinsky. It was Herbert von Karajan, however, who pioneered the practice of performing operas exclusively in their original language, a tradition that is continued at the opera house even now. So you may need to bring an Italian or German dictionary with you when taking in a performance.

Some of the greatest sopranos and tenors from the history of music have performed here, for instance Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras, known for a time as the Three Tenors. Other notable names include the likes of Maria Callas, Bryn Terfel, Mexican dynamo Rolando Villazon, and that towering giant of Opera Enrico Caruso. The company produces up to 60 pieces per year, holding more than 200 performances annually, making this one of the most prolific of all concert halls. Composers such as Mozart, Mussorgsky and Strauss are particular favourites of the company.

Those who do not wish to take in an actual performance can also enjoy the Opera House, as a museum inside the building documents its history. Orchestral sheets, programs, photographs, paintings, personal mementos from composers and singers as well as hand written memoirs abound in this museum, a must for any fan of Opera.


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