Theaters around the world: Opernhaus Zürich

At the 2014 International Opera Awards, the Zürich Opera House was selected Opera House of the Year, ranking it one of the best in the world. Since 1891, the Zürich Opera has named the Zürich Opera House home. It also houses the Zürich Ballet and the Bernhard-Theater Zürich. The history of the Zürich Opera House goes back to the Aktien-Theater, which opened in 1834 with Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. The Aktientheater, Zürich’s first permanent theatre, was constructed in 1834 and became the central focus of Richard Wagner’s activities during his exile from Germany. In 1890, the Aktientheater was destroyed by fire.

The Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer designed the new Stadttheater Zürich, which differentiates only slightly from their previous design for the Wiesbaden theatre. It was finished in only 16 months and inaugurated in 1891, making it Europe’s first electrically lit opera theatre. Until 1925, when it was renamed Opernhaus Zürich and a separate theatre for plays was built, it was the city’s main performance space for drama, opera, and musical events. After three years of transition in the Kaufhaus building at Schanzengraben, the Bernhard Theater opened in 1941, the Esplanada building was destroyed in May 1981, and the present adjoint building opened on December 27/28th, 1984. By the 1970s, the opera house was in urgent need of major renovations; when some presumed it unworthy of restoration, a new theater was proposed for the site. However, rebuilding took place between 1982 and 1984, but not without intense local opposition exhibited in street riots. The rebuilt theatre was inaugurated with performances of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Rudolf Kelterborn’s Chekhov opera Der Kirschgarten.

As restored, the theatre is an ornate building with a neo-classical façade of white and grey stone adorned with busts of Weber, Wagner, and Mozart. Additionally, busts of Schiller, Shakespeare, and Goethe are to be found. The auditorium is built in the neo-rococo (or Late Baroque is an exceptionally ornamental and theatrical style of architecture, art and decoration which combines asymmetry, scrolling curves, gilding, white and pastel colors, sculpted molding, and trompe-l’œil frescoes to create surprise and the illusion of motion and drama) style and seats approximately 1200 people. During the refurbishment, the issue of sightlines (visual axis or line of sight is an imaginary line between a viewer’s eye and a subject of interest) was not adequately addressed. As a result, the theatre has a high number of seats with a limited view, or no view, of the stage. This is unusual in international comparison, where sightlines in historic opera houses have been typically enhanced over time.

Read the entire article here, in the 2th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.

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