An opera house is a theatre building used for opera performances that consists of a stage, an orchestra pit, audience seating, and backstage facilities for costumes and set building.
While some venues are constructed specifically for operas, other opera houses are part of larger performing arts centers. Indeed the term opera house itself is often used as a term of prestige for any large performing-arts center.
The first public opera house was the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice, opened in 1637. Italy is a country where opera has been popular through the centuries among ordinary people as well as wealthy patrons and it continues to have many working opera housessuch as Teatro Massimo in Palermo (the biggest in Italy), Teatro di San Carlo in Naples (the world's oldest working opera house) and Teatro La Scala in Milan. In contrast, there was no opera house in London when Henry Purcell was composing and the first opera house in Germany was built in Hamburg in 1678.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, opera houses were often financed by rulers, nobles, and wealthy people who used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambition and social position. With the rise of bourgeois and capitalist social forms in the 19th century, European culture moved away from its patronage system to a publicly supported system.
Early United States opera houses served a variety of functions in towns and cities, hosting community dances, fairs, plays, and vaudeville shows as well as operas and other musical events. In the 2000s, most opera and theatre companies are supported by funds from a combination of government and institutional grants, ticket sales, and private donations.
The Teatro San Carlo in Naples, opened in 1737, introduced the horseshoe-shaped auditorium, the oldest in the world, a model for the Italian theater. On this model were built subsequent theaters in Italy and Europe, among others, the court theater of the Palace of Caserta, which became the model for other theaters. Given the popularity of opera in 18th and 19th century Europe, opera houses are usually large, often containing more than 1,000 seats. Traditionally, Europe's major opera houses built in the 19th century contained between about 1,500 to 3,000 seats, examples being Brussels' La Monnaie (after renovations, 1,700 seats), Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater (with 1,636), Warsaw's Grand Theatre (the main auditorium with 1,841), Paris' Palais Garnier (with 2,200), the Royal Opera House in London (with 2,268) and the Vienna State Opera (the new auditorium with 2,280). Modern opera houses of the 20th century such as New York's Metropolitan Opera House (with 3,800) and the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco (with 3,146) are larger. Many operas are better suited to being presented in smaller theaters, such as Venice's La Fenice with about 1,000 seats.
In a traditional opera house, the auditorium is U-shaped, with the length of the sides determining the audience capacity. Around this are tiers of balconies, and often, nearer to the stage, are boxes (small partitioned sections of a balcony).
Since the latter part of the 19th century, opera houses often have an orchestra pit, where many orchestra players may be seated at a level below the audience, so that they can play without overwhelming the singing voices. This is especially true of Wagner's Bayreuth Festspielhaus where the pit is partially covered.
The size of an opera orchestra varies, but for some operas, oratorios and other works, it may be very large; for some romantic period works (or for many of the operas of Richard Strauss), it can be more than 100 players. Similarly, an opera may have a large cast of characters, chorus, dancers and supernumeraries. Therefore, a major opera house will have extensive dressing room facilities. Opera houses often have on-premises set and costume building shops and facilities for storage of costumes, make-up, masks, and stage properties, and may also have rehearsal spaces.
Major opera houses throughout the world often have highly mechanized stages, with large stage elevators permitting heavy sets to be changed rapidly. At the Metropolitan Opera, for instance, sets are often changed during the action, as the audience watches, with singers rising or descending as they sing. This occurs in the Met's productions of operas such as Aida and Tales of Hoffman . London's Royal Opera House, which was remodeled in the late 1990s, retained the original 1858 auditorium at its core, but added completely new backstage and wing spaces as well as an additional performance space and public areas. Much the same happened in the remodeling of Milan's La Scala opera house between 2002 and 2004.
Although stage, lighting and other production aspects of opera houses often make use of the latest technology, traditional opera houses have not used sound reinforcement systems with microphones and loudspeakers to amplify the singers, since trained opera singers are normally able to project their unamplified voices in the hall. Since the 1990s, however, some opera houses have begun using a subtle form of sound reinforcement called acoustic enhancement (see below).
Often, operas are presented in their original languages, which may be different from the first language of the audience. For example, a Wagnerian opera presented in London may be in German. Therefore, since the 1980s modern opera houses have assisted the audience by providing translated supertitles, projections of the words above or near to the stage. More recently, electronic libretto systems have begun to be used in some opera houses, including New York's Metropolitan Opera, Milan's La Scala, and the Crosby Theatre of The Santa Fe Opera, which provide two lines of text on individual screens attached to the backs of the seats so as to not interfere with the visual aspects of the performance.
A subtle type of sound reinforcement called acoustic enhancement is used in some opera houses. Acoustic enhancement systems help give a more even sound in the hall and prevent "dead spots" in the audience seating area by "...augment[ing] a hall's intrinsic acoustic characteristics." The systems use "...an array of microphones connected to a computer [which is] connected to an array of loudspeakers." However, as concertgoers have become aware of the use of these systems, debates have arisen, because "...purists maintain that the natural acoustic sound of [Classical] voices [or] instruments in a given hall should not be altered."
Kai Haradastates that opera houses have begun using electronic acoustic enhancement systems "...to compensate for flaws in a venue's acoustical architecture." Despite the uproar that has arisen amongst operagoers, Harada points out that none of the opera houses using acoustic enhancement systems "...use traditional, Broadway-style sound reinforcement, in which most if not all singers are equipped with radio microphones mixed to a series of unsightly loudspeakers scattered throughout the theatre." Instead, most opera houses use the sound reinforcement system for acoustic enhancement, and for subtle boosting of offstage voices, onstage dialogue, and sound effects (e.g., church bells in Tosca or thunder in Wagnerian operas).
One example of the use of this kind of enhancement is the New York State Theater when it was used by the New York City Opera company.
In the 19th-century United States, many theaters were given the name "opera house," even ones where opera was seldom if ever performed. Opera was viewed as a more respectable art form than theater; calling a local theater an "opera house" therefore served to elevate it and overcome objections from those who found the theater morally objectionable.
La Scala is an opera house in Milan, Italy. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778 and was originally known as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala. The premiere performance was Antonio Salieri's Europa riconosciuta.
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The Teatro Reale di San Carlo, as originally named by the Bourbon monarchy but today known simply as the Teatro di San Carlo, is an opera house in Naples, Italy, connected to the Royal Palace and adjacent to the Piazza del Plebiscito. It is the oldest continuously active venue for opera in the world, having opened in 1737, decades before either Milan's La Scala or Venice's La Fenice.
The Teatro Regio di Parma, originally constructed as the Nuovo Teatro Ducale, is an opera house and opera company in Parma, Italy.
A sound reinforcement system is the combination of microphones, signal processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers in enclosures all controlled by a mixing console that makes live or pre-recorded sounds louder and may also distribute those sounds to a larger or more distant audience. In many situations, a sound reinforcement system is also used to enhance or alter the sound of the sources on the stage, typically by using electronic effects, such as reverb, as opposed to simply amplifying the sources unaltered.
The Mariinsky Theatre is a historic theatre of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Opened in 1860, it became the preeminent music theatre of late 19th-century Russia, where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. Through most of the Soviet era, it was known as the Kirov Theatre. Today, the Mariinsky Theatre is home to the Mariinsky Ballet, Mariinsky Opera and Mariinsky Orchestra. Since Yuri Temirkanov's retirement in 1988, the conductor Valery Gergiev has served as the theatre's general director.
Meridian Hall is a major performing arts venue in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and it is the country's largest soft-seat theatre. The building opened as the O'Keefe Centre on October 1, 1960, and it has hosted a variety of international attractions and stars. From 1996 to 2007, the building was known as the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts. From 2007 to 2019, it was known as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. On September 15, 2019, it was renamed Meridian Hall in partnership with Meridian Credit Union.
A theater, theatre or playhouse, is a structure where theatrical works or plays are performed, or other performances such as musical concerts may be produced. A theatre used for opera performances is called an opera house.
The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is an educational and performing arts complex located at 500 S. Goodwin Street in Urbana, Illinois, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Herman C. Krannert, an industrialist who was the founder of Inland Container Corp. and an alumnus of the University, and his wife, Ellnora Krannert, made a gift of $16 million that made creation of the Krannert Center possible. Max Abramovitz, the architect who designed the facility, was also an Illinois alumnus.
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Orchestral enhancement is the technique of using orchestration techniques, architectural modifications, or electronic technologies to modify the sound, complexity, or color of a musical theatre, ballet or opera pit orchestra. Orchestral enhancements are used both to create new sounds and to add capabilities to existing orchestral ensembles.
The Teatro Lirico is a theatre in Milan, Italy. In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was particularly notable for opera performances, including the world premieres of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and Giordano's Fedora. The theatre, located on Via Rastrelli, closed in 1998. However, a restoration project was begun in April 2007, and it was due to re-open in 2009 as the Teatro Lirico Giorgio Gaber.
Acoustic enhancement is a subtle type of sound reinforcement system used to augment direct, reflected, or reverberant sound. While sound reinforcement systems are usually used to increase the sound level of the sound source, acoustic enhancement systems are typically used to increase the acoustic energy in the venue in a manner that is not noticed by the audience. The correctly installed systems replicate the desired acoustics of early reflections and reverberation from a room that is properly designed for Acoustic Music. An additional benefit of these systems is that the room acoustics can be changed or adjusted to be matched to the type of performance. The use of Acoustic Enhancement as Electronic Architecture offers a good solution for multi-use performance halls that need to be "dead" for amplified music, and are used occasionally for acoustic performances. These systems are often associated with acoustic sound sources like a chamber orchestra, symphony orchestra, or opera, but have also found acceptance in a variety of applications and venues that include rehearsal rooms, recording facilities conference rooms, sound stages, sports arenas, and outdoor venues.
Roberto Bolle is an Italian danseur. He is currently a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and a principal dancer étoile at La Scala Theatre Ballet. Bolle also dances regularly as a guest artist with the world’s leading companies, including The Royal Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.
LARES is an electronic sound enhancement system that uses microprocessors to control multiple loudspeakers and microphones placed around a performance space for the purpose of providing active acoustic treatment. LARES was invented in Massachusetts in 1988, by engineers working at Lexicon, Inc.
The Metropolitan Opera House is an opera house located on Broadway at Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. Part of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the theater was designed by Wallace K. Harrison. It opened in 1966, replacing the original 1883 Metropolitan Opera House at Broadway and 39th Street. With a seating capacity of approximately 3,800, the house is the largest repertory opera house in the world. Home to the Metropolitan Opera Company, the facility also hosts the American Ballet Theatre in the summer months.
Irina Iordachescu is a Romanian soprano opera singer.
PierLuigi Samaritani was a renowned opera director/production designer, who began his career at a young age, working alongside some of the greatest names in theatre, opera and ballet, such as Lila de Nobili, Giancarlo Menotti, Franco Zeffirelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev and many more. Samaritani had an enormous talent, which allowed him to take on all the rolls the theatre, opera and ballet demanded, making sure to always be involved in all aspects of his productions even when delegating. From the creation of his "sketches" of the set, which were more like works of art in and of themselves to the smallest change in an extra’s costume, he was a true perfectionist preoccupied with every detail. His productions graced the stage of countless opera houses and theaters, amongst them La Scala di Milano, Teatro Regio of Parma, The Metropolitan Opera House, American Ballet Theatre and the Festival of Two Worlds at Spoleto, where he collaborated for many years, alongside his dear friend, Gian Carlo Menotti. The Teatro Lirico Sperimentale di Spoleto founded in 1947 in Spoleto, by Adriano Belli created a special award carrying the name of Pier Luigi Samaritani, awarded each year to the set designer with the best set design of the opera season.
The Teatro Carcano is a theatre in Milan, Italy located at 63 Corso Di Porta Romana. Although now exclusively devoted to plays and dance, it served as an opera house for much of the 19th century and saw the premieres of several important operas. Completed in 1803, the theatre was commissioned by the Milanese aristocrat and theatre-lover Giuseppe Carcano and originally designed by Luigi Canonica. Over the succeeding two centuries it has undergone several restructurings and renovations and for time in the mid-20th century functioned as a cinema.
The term 'opera house' is indeed misleading, and intentionally so; it provides a veneer of social and cultural respectability and avoids the stigma of the title 'theater.'
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