The Most Beautiful Opera Houses in the World

For those of us who love opera, the experience of what we hear and see on the stage is only part of the pleasure we derive from the experience. Opera houses are far more than simply a venue for the performance. Almost from the birth of the art form in about 1600, opera houses have represented a visual statement about the societies and cultures that nourished opera.

In the era of the great European monarchies when opera began to flourish, an opera house represented a potent display of the power, prestige, and wealth of its royal and noble patrons. A city could hardly be taken seriously as a cultural landmark without a venue that displayed the ruling family’s artistic pretension.  Through war, natural disasters, fires, and floods, the need to restore and rebuild the local opera house often assumed a first priority
The Most Beautiful Opera Houses in the World, originally published in French but now issued in a lavish coffee table format in English, is a magnificent collection of superb photographs by Guillaume de Laubier of some of the world’s most visually striking houses. Some of the featured opera houses are ornate and lavishly decorated, such as the Palais Garnier in Paris or the San Carlo in Naples, while others are in the more restrained, even austere modern style, such as the Aalto-Musiktheater in Essen, Germany.

The smallest city to have a world-renowned opera house, Bayreuth, has not one but two featured houses: the Festspielhaus dedicated exclusively to presenting the works of Richard Wagner and the splendidly baroque Markgräfliches Opernhaus, now undergoing a complete restoration. Some opera house rose again from the devastation of World War II, including, notably, the Semperoper in Dresden, one of my favorite houses, with its magnificent acoustics and location in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Some opera houses, like the Metropolitan Opera in New York, overwhelm by the sheer size of the auditorium.  Others, like La scala in Milan or La fenice in Venice, inspire awe because of the opera history that is bound up with the house. Vienna’s famed Statsoper, also severely damaged during World War II, is now restored to its former glory. Others more recently built, such as Oslo’s gorgeous Den Norske Opera, are placed in a magnificent setting, where picnickers and sightseers can enjoy the view from the roof of the house.

Another of my favorites, the Civic Opera House in Chicago, with its art deco evocations of Chicago’s Midwestern setting, is particularly effectively photographed. Going to the opera is always a special occasion, and seeing some of the world’s great houses in these spectacular photographs evokes some of the delight and magic of the experience of actually being at the performance.

The text capably augments the visual glory of the photographs, and James Levine adds an introduction.  All-in-all, it is a wonderful book, well worth the substantial investment of $60. Leafing through this book, the opera lover’s appetite cannot be but whetted for attending the opera in one (or all!) of these magnificent venues.

The Most Beautiful Opera Houses in the World
by Antoine Pecqueur (Photographs), Guillaume de Laubier (Photographs)
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published by Abrams

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