The opera is one of humanities greatest achievements. Its sounds and sights may not enthral, rivet and charm everyone, but even those people can appreciate the talent and work that goes into them. As with all forms of music, opera has the power to take our emotions on a rollercoaster of which we have no control over whatsoever. We cry with Puccini, we soar with Verdi, and Gilbert & Sullivan are there to remind us that even the most exquisite forms of art can be brought down to the lowest levels (a bit like Agadoo does with pop music).
As with many halls of music, opera houses around the globe have been forced into an eerie silence. The cavernous rooms, designed to capture the acoustics of the orchestra’s textures and the sonic roar of the performers, have had their purpose unfulfilled. Structures that were painstakingly and expertly crafted to maximise the audiences’ experience have been untouched by the intricacies they are used to. But as the world of performing arts begins, with understandable trepidation, to open their doors again they bring some hope to us all. The sciences have, and continue to, ensure lives are saved; now it is time for the arts to fulfil their purpose in giving meaning and joy to make that life worth living.
Opera is just one of many means with which this can be achieved. There are many theatres around the world but for Axerian three particular ones stand out. This article will give a brief history of each and highlight some upcoming shows. After so much heartache and strife it is time to venture out and start enjoying the life that the sciences have afforded us.
Teatro alla Scala- Milan
The Teatro alla Scala (often abbreviated to La Scala) was founded, under the auspices of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, to replace the Royal Ducal Theatre, which was destroyed by fire on 26 February 1776 and had until then been the home of opera in Milan. When the theatre first opened its doors it delighted its audiences with a performance of L’Europa Riconosciuta, conducted by its composer Antonio Salieri. What is interesting to note is that this piece was not performed again at the venue until December 2004, when it was chosen to re-open the theatre after three years of renovations.
From its opening night, this world-renowned theatre has seen many historic moments in the field of music. The virtuoso viola player Niccolò Paganini made his debut here in November 1812, and the maestro Giuseppe Verdi chose to debut his beautiful Otello at La Scala on February 5th 1887. The fact that he chose this venue to house the opening night of his first opera 16 years is a testament to the special place it has within the world of opera. Perhaps the most moving moment in the esteemed opera house’s history came in April 1926 during the debut performance of Puccini’s exquisite Turandot. When the composer had died 2 years previously, he unfortunately left this acclaimed work unfinished. The conductor who took on the unenviable task of overseeing its premier was one of the greatest of all time: Arturo Toscanini. In the middle of Act 3, Toscanini halted the orchestra, laid down his baton and, turning to the audience, announced, “Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died.” With these words spoken, the curtain was slowly lowered.
Teatro alla Scala is still going strong to this day but, according to the encyclopaedia Britannia, it holds a particularly special place in the opera world due to a repertoire that is more varied than that of the other four or five leading opera houses. They contend that it includes a large number of unfamiliar works that are balanced by a limited number of popular favourites. As well as this it should be noted that conductors are given full control of casting and rehearsals. For those readers luckily enough to be within its vicinity, it could be of interest that La Scala, from June 26th to July 1st, is showing a production of Le Nozze Di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Due to current legislation, the hall will reach a maximum of 760 seats out of a possible 3,000.
Opéra royal de Versailles
The palace of Versailles is the personification of the grandiose extravagance that an absolute monarchy can facilitate. Famous for its hall of mirrors and expansive gardens, it is also home to the Opéra royal de Versailles. After all, Louis XIV intended Versailles to be the centre of his court and so it simply would not do to have to travel in order to see the delights of the stage. While the “sun king” may have had the initial idea for the theatre, he was unimpressed by the designs presented to him and so lost interest. It was under his son Louis XV, the French nobility were particularly fond of this name, that its construction properly began. Persuaded by the architectural genius Jacques-Ange Gabriel, the monarch realised that such a venue would be perfect as a backdrop to the future marriages of his offspring. While Gabriel tasked himself with the overall structure of the theatre he entrusted the interior to Augustin Pajou. The latter’s innovation was to achieve this using wood painted to resemble marble; a technique now known as faux marble.
After much effort, the Opéra royal de Versailles was inaugurated May 16th 1770 for the wedding of the Dauphin (the future, yep you guessed it, Louis XVI) and Archduchess Marie Antionette. 19 years later the fires of revolution erupted, signifying one of the most important moments in human history. The extravagance of such palaces as Versailles and the opera house it contained ran counter to the republican ideals of equality, freedom and universal rights. As such the hall remained empty and, despite some activity there under Napoleon, did not reopen until 1837.
After much renovation down the years this Opera house is renowned around the globe for its delightful décor, sumptuous acoustics and incredible performances. On Saturday July 3rd and the following Sunday, the Opéra royal de Versailles is putting on a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. This is often considered to be the earliest surviving opera still widely performed to this day. It is fitting that as we tentatively come out of the darkness, the vacuum of a world without live performance, that one of the most prestigious opera houses would choose this piece. To celebrate the birth of a new world with piece that was the birth of opera.
Royal Opera House London
Axerian is a company based in the United Kingdom, as are many of our clients, and so it might be expected that we picked this one. While it may seem an obvious choice this does not diminish the fact that it is rightly considered one of the most stunning theatres on the planet.
In its infancy, during the 1730s, this venue was home to some of the most celebrated works by George Frideric Handel. Indeed the composer wrote many of his operas specifically for Covent Garden, as it was then known. For instance, his first opera was Il pastor fido, followed by Ariodante (1735), and the premiere of Alcina, and Atalanta the following year. The fact that the site at which the Royal Opera stands was the muse and playground of one of operas finest composers is a testament to why it is so revered to this day.
The original building has seen many renovations and developments since it first opened its doors in 1732. The venue that now stands is the third to be constructed on the site, due to fires in 1808 and 1856. In 1995, sufficient funds from the Arts Lottery and private fundraising had been raised to facilitate a major £213 million reconstruction of the building. These developments took place between 1997 and 1999, which involved the demolition of almost the whole site, including several adjacent buildings to make room for an increase in the size of the complex. The auditorium itself remained, but well over half of the complex is new.
Despite the changes made to it over its long history, the essence of the Royal Opera House remains unchanged. It is still a place that shows off and celebrates ingenuity, it is a venue that showcases beauty and allows performers from all over the world the perfect stage to delight and inspire audiences. What is simply fantastic about this most vital national institution is what it staged June 27th. On this emotional day, the Royal Opera House presented a special performance of Puccini’s opera La bohème. It is one of the best-loved operas worldwide because of its emotion, its swirling melodies and the fact it somehow manages to find beauty in the midst of tragedy. A perfect opera then for the times in which we live. Directed by Richard Jones, it was performed to an auditorium of specially invited NHS staff, including nurses and healthcare support workers. The spectacle came to a close to rapturous applause not from the audience, but from the cast and musicians, who made a show of their appreciation to the NHS workers, both in attendance and throughout the nation.
We live in frightful and uncertain times. The opening up of the performing arts is being done with caution, and a certain degree of apprehension. But it is a necessity to do so. The human spirit is strong, and its endurance has been proven throughout our history, yet it needs sustenance to facilitate its will to keep going. We need beauty, we need passion, we need hope. The sciences have played their vital role in our continuation, now arts such as opera can hopefully perform theirs.