Vienna, the capital city of Austria, has a long tradition of art and culture. It is not surprising that the city is well known for its opera, theater, fine arts and classical music. There are several popular opera houses that are sought-after in Vienna; one of those is the Wiener Staatsoper, also called the Vienna State Opera. Every year, thousands of tourists come to the city not just for the sights and the structures of heritage, but also for the fine performances staged at the opera house.
There is no doubt that the Vienna State Opera is among the premier and distinct opera addresses globally. The venue is surely a place where anyone can enjoy to the fullest a wide variety of operas, which are at the highest of artistic levels. What is unique and more noteworthy about Vienna State Opera is that the program changes daily. To date, there are about 60 ballet works and operas that are staged for about 300 days every year. The density of scheduled events simply puts the opera house in the first tier.
Popular international soloists, stage designers and directors enthusiastically present art to the very discerning and knowledgeable Viennese audiences. To these professionals, there could be nothing coming better than the instant admiration and rapport performances establish with the audience. In this way, the opera house instantly emerges as a haven and paradise for both the audiences and the performers. In fact, the roster of musical directors and musicians who had staged performances in the state opera includes legends Gustav Mahler, Herbert von Karajan, Richard Strauss and Claudio Abbado.
The beginning of the Vienna State Opera, which is so far the oldest theatrical venue with unbroken record in German-language performances, could be dated back to the onset of the 18th century. Construction of the structure started in 1861 and ended in completion in 1869. The building followed the architectural plans of Eduard van der Null and August Sicard von Sicardsburg, who neither lived to see the completion of the opera house. The Royal-Imperial Court Opera Theater (the original name of the Vienna State Opera), the first ever opera to be built in the Austrian city, was constructed to follow a Neo-Renaissance style. Thus, the opera house classicizes the Italian modes.
During its initial years after construction, the Vienna State Opera was not popular among the public. Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ on May 25, 2869 opened the premiere of the opera houses. In 1920, the opera house was renamed Vienna Court Opera (or k.k. Hofoper). Later on the place was renamed as the Vienna State Opera.
World War II brought damage to the opera house. An American bombardment set fire and ruined the stage and auditorium. Also set in flames were over 120 operas, about 150,000 costumes, decors and props. Only the front section, foyer, frescoes, vestibule, stairways and tea room were spared and remained intact. The State Opera temporarily moved to the Vienna Volksoper and the Theater an der Wien. In the years that followed, there were arguments whether the opera houses would be restored and moved back to its original site or whether it would be totally demolished and reconstructed. As history tells, the Vienna State Opera was rebuilt to attain its original appearance and design at its original site.
After the decision was made in 1946, the architectural competition for the initiative was announced. The original design was retained, but there were several specific touches of modernization to keep up with the then sophisticated designs. Wood was selected as a building material so that good acoustic could be facilitated. Seats were reduced in volume and the façade was restored. The new auditorium was reduced in size for a seating capacity of 2,100. Television broadcaster ORF staged its first broadcast from the opera house. Then, international ensemble was formed.
Fast forward to the present; the opera house is now linked to Vienna Philharmonic, an Austrian orchestra considered the finest in the world. The Vienna State Opera is now among the busiest and most popular opera houses in the world. No other opera house could easily compare to the 50 to 60 operas staged annually by the Vienna State Opera. To date, the place employs more than 1,000 staff. There is a single performance, on the average, every day for 10 months of the year.
The opera house is a tourism magnet, especially for vacationers who aim to appreciate and enjoy artistic performances. Many of the best and most acclaimed directors for all times have actually performed in the Vienna State Opera. Among them are Gustav Mahler and Herbert von Karajan. The latter introduced an innovation by starting the practice of presenting operas in their original language. The move opened the doors for prominent Viennese ensemble to perform in Milan, Italy and perform works by Richard Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Vienna State Opera started opening its doors to children in 1992, under the directorship of Ioan Holender, who has three children who also like watching classical performances. From then on, the opera house took more notice for staging popular children’s productions. Such presentations are staged at the roof tent. Some of the recently performed hit children’s productions are Peter Pan, Aladdin, Bastien and Bastienne, The Dream-Gobbler and Der 35. Mai. Every year, The Magic Flute is also staged specifically for 9- to 10-year old kids.
Because of its new role in advocating for children’s talents, the Vienna State Opera also opened a school for boys and girls aged 8 to 14, who like to learn opera performances. School sessions are held every afternoon, just like in usual schooling. Professional opera performers teach children the dynamics of singing, primarily. The opera school gathers young recruits especially for operas that feature performing children.
For decades, the Vienna State Opera has been an important venue of the annual Vienna Opera Ball. This internationally-renowned event takes place every last Thursday of Fasching, a festive season prior to Lent. The happening gathers numerous tourists not just from neighboring European countries but also from all over the world. The Vienna Opera Ball is particularly attended by prominent people in global politics and business. It also enjoys massive media coverage, making it more popular and highly anticipated each passing year. The opera house is transformed into a huge dance floor, where hundreds of debutante couples in tailcoats and long evening gowns open the ball. Added to the visual delight is the traditional presence of no less than the Austrian Federal President.
The same opera ball was historic, especially in 1968 when the occasion was used as a protest demonstration against elitism. Protesters accused the Vienna State Opera of being elitist, conceited and reactionary. They criticized the management for imposing very expensive ticket prices, for condoning display of opulence and wealth before the media and for upholding a supposedly outdated culture. At that time, there was violence between the police and the demonstrators.
For visitors who find costly tickets unreasonable, there are cheaper tickets sold before each performance. However, guests will be ushered in to the standing place. Such reasonable tickets are sought usually by all age groups. Amazingly, the alternative tickets have established a legendary regular clientele. To the amusement of audiences and spectators, people in the standing room are known for being merciless and mean in indicating their displeasure and dissatisfaction to performances. To the delight of performers, such audience is also loud in voicing approval and admiration.
For international tourists, there are guided tours available for further appreciation of the opera house. You can instantly be guided in taking an access to the displays and art works within the splendid Vienna State Opera. The opera museum is particularly sought after for its insights into the institutions’ history. In the same museum, visitors can also learn more about the prominent performers and musical directors who had staged in the opera house. Opera lovers certainly will fall under the state opera’s spell.
Tourism attractions near the opera house
It is more of a consolation for tourists that there are numerous tourism sites surrounding the legendary Vienna State Opera. The Beethoven Monument stands in front of Akademisches Gymnasium, which is one of the best and oldest humanistic local schools founded in 1552 by the Jesuits. Not far is the Vienna City Park. The park is a usual venue for botanic displays and works of art. It also serves as municipal-park and a historic site.
If your eyes are already full of arts and culture, your appetite for sumptuous food should already be greedy. You can find and buy the finest Austrian baked specialties like Kaiserschmarrn in the nearby Old Bakehouse. Also inviting to tourists is the aroma of bread rolls, fresh croissants and strudel. The Old Bakehouse showcases the unique tradition and culture in Vienna’s gastronomical business. Aside from food, other baking objects are also put on display like old baking ovens, dough troughs, weights and measures, which all date to as way back as 1701. The bakery is also complemented by a café.