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23 of the World’s Best Opera Houses

Lucie Watt

Magnificent and important cultural institutions, an opera house reflects the style of its city and the traditions of its country. Whether historic in style, such as the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples or the Palais Garnier in the French capital, a structure with an iconic design like the Sydney Opera House and London’s Royal Opera House or architecturally futuristic such as the Copenhagen Opera House or extraordinary Guangzhou Opera House, no two buildings are the same. Some of the greatest cities on earth have opera houses and here are 23 of the world’s best.

1. Sydney Opera House – Sydney, Australia

Recognised the world over, Sydney’s unmistakable landmark was the visionary masterpiece of celebrated Danish architect Jørn Utzon and has been welcoming visitors since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1973. Over 8 million people visit the Sydney Opera House every year and it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list under the world heritage convention.

Sydney Opera House at dusk

2. Glyndebourne Opera House – East Sussex, England

Set in the beautiful English countryside close to the pretty town of Lewes in East Sussex, Glyndebourne Opera House enjoys an idyllic setting in the grounds of a country estate. Glyndebourne is one of the world’s oldest and most celebrated opera festivals and takes place during the summer months. Visitors can picnic in the gardens or dine at an onsite restaurant before enjoying an unforgettable opera experience.

Glyndebourne opera and festival attendees

Photo credit: Herry Lawford

3. La Scala Opera House – Milan, Italy

The Teatro alla Scala is considered by many to be one of the finest opera venues in the world. Opened in 1778 and built to replace a previous theatre that was destroyed by fire, this beautiful opera house is known for its exceptionally high musical standards, elegance and glamour. Italy’s greatest singers have appeared at La Scala and repertoires include iconic Italian operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi and Puccini.

Teatro alla Scala in Milan at night

4. Royal Opera House – London, England

Situated in the heart of London’s West End on Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House was rebuilt in 1858 after the previous building burnt down. Over the centuries the theatre has played host to many famous performers, including the clown Joseph Grimaldi, and was requisitioned during the First World War. Today, the beautiful character and stunning detail is admired by all those that visit for the opera and ballet.

View of the main atrium of the Royal Opera House in London

Photo credit: Fred Romero

5. Teatro di San Carlo – Naples, Italy

This magnificently grand opera house is one of Europe’s oldest theatres with continuous performances since its opening in 1737. The theatre helped to make Naples an important musical centre and numerous famous composers have worked here. Teatro di San Carlo occupies a key location close to the central Piazza del Plebiscito, is connected to the historic Royal Palace and remains one of the city’s main landmarks.

Opulent interior of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples

Photo credit: Carlo Raso

6. Teatro Colon – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Built in 1908, this unique opera house was the creation of many architects and took almost 20 years to complete. With its mixture of architectural influences, Italian marble, French stained glass and Venetian mosaics, Teatro Colon is also known for its dramatic costumes and stage constructions. The theatre is considered one of the world’s best opera houses and praised for its excellent acoustics.

Interior of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires during an opera performance

7. Bolshoi Theatre – Moscow, Russia

Few theatres have the reputation of The Bolshoi and its opera and ballet companies are amongst the oldest and most acclaimed in the world. Originally an Imperial theatre, the Bolshoi was designed by Italian-Russian neoclassical architect Joseph Bové and it remains one of the grandest and historic buildings in the Russian capital. Today, the Bolshoi Theatre is renowned for its world-class ballet and opera performances.

Classical frontage of the Bolshoi Theatre on a sunny day

8. Royal Swedish Opera – Stockholm, Sweden

The Royal Swedish Opera House has been Sweden’s national theatre since it opened its doors in 1773. Founded by King Gustav III, the theatre, known in Swedish as the Kungliga Operan, is an impressive building opulently designed with classic velvet furnishing, marble staircase and elegant gold decoration. Today the theatre is home not only to the Royal Swedish Opera but also the Royal Ballet and Royal Orchestra.

Exterior of the Royal Swedish Opera House in Stockholm

9. Palais Garnier – Paris, France

The Paris Opera is imposing and beautifully ornate – striking even amongst the grand surroundings of the Boulevard des Capucines. Dating back to 1875, this impressive theatre boasts a magnificent grand facade and lavish interior. The Palais Garnier houses a library, museum and permanent art collection and has a fascinating past including a direct connection to Gaston Leroux’s novel ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.

Ornate and gilded interior of the opulent Palais Garnier in Paris

10. Vienna State Opera – Vienna, Austria

Vienna’s stunning opera house is world-renowned and steeped in history and tradition. Each season the theatre stages over 300 opera and ballet performances and the building plays an important role in Austrian life. During the months of April, May, June and September, opera lovers old and new can experience an opera performance under the stars for free on large screens outside the opera house.

Exterior of the grand Vienna State Opera House in Austria

11. Lincoln Centre – New York, USA

New York’s renowned Metropolitan Opera forms part of the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts. This vast complex covers a huge variety of performing arts, attracts over five million visitors each year and is also home to the New York City Ballet, New York City Opera and New York Philharmonic. The Metropolitan Opera was founded in 1880 and is the most important classical and opera organisation in the US.

Modern facade of the Lincoln Center in New York City at night

12. Mariinsky Theatre – St Petersburg, Russia

This beautiful 19th century theatre is St Petersburg’s most important opera and ballet venue. Home of the world famous Mariinsky Ballet, Mariinsky Opera and Mariinsky Orchestra, the theatre has staged important opera premieres by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glinka and a number of notable ballet premieres including Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Cinderella’ as well as Khachaturian’s ‘Spartacus’.

Classical green frontage of the Mariinsky Theatre in Russia

Photo credit: Koichi Iljima

13. Teatro La Fenice – Venice, Italy

It is hard to believe that it was as recently as 1996 that this famous theatre was burnt to the ground. Meticulously rebuilt in keeping with the style of the previous theatre, La Fenice has retained its grandeur and elegance. La Fenice has hosted some of opera’s greats over the years and is renowned throughout the world. If unable to attend a performance at the theatre, there is also an excellent audio guide tour.

Famous Teatro la Fenice sign in Venice

14. Hungarian State Opera House – Budapest, Hungary

This magnificently grand building stands proud in the centre of Budapest on Andrassy Avenue. Originally known as the Hungarian Royal Opera House, this neo-renaissance theatre was designed by Miklós Ybl and took nine years to build opening in September 1884. Remaining virtually unchanged since it first opened its doors, the theatre houses a collection of paintings and sculpture by prominent Hungarian artists.

People standing outside of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest

Photo credit: Thanate Tan

15. Teatro Real – Madrid, Spain

The Spanish capital is home to the Teatro Real – one of the country’s most important cultural institutions. Although the theatre dates to the mid-18th century, the building seen today was founded in 1818 and completed in 1850. Located opposite the Royal Palace, the Teatro Real quickly became one of Europe’s most important musical venues and recently underwent a period of restoration and remodelling.

Statue in front of the Teatro Real in Madrid

Photo credit: Olivier Bruchez

16. Estates Theatre – Prague, Czech Republic

Opened in 1783, the Estates Theatre in Prague is one of the oldest theatre buildings still in use in Europe and, today, showcases opera, ballet and drama productions. The Theatre is also has a strong connection to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart due, in part, for it being the location for the world premieres of two of his operas – Don Giovanni in 1787 which Mozart himself conducted and La Clemenza di Tito in 1791.

Grand interior of the Estates Theatre in Prague

Photo credit: Oliver Beckstein

17. Gran Teatre del Liceu – Barcelona, Spain

An important Catalan institution, the Gran Teatre del Liceu was founded in 1847 and occupies a prestigious location on La Rambla – Barcelona’s best known thoroughfare. One of Europe's leading opera houses, the original building dates to 1847 but, in 1994, was badly damaged by a fire. Rebuilt in 1999, the Liceu was sensitively reconstructed in keeping with its predecessor and remains one of Barcelona’s key landmarks.

Frontage of the Teatre Del Liceu in Barcelona

Photo credit: Tony Hisgett

18. Teatr Wielki – Warsaw, Poland

Originally opened in 1833, the Teatr Wielki stands in the heart of historic Warsaw and has an auditorium which can seat up to 2000 people making it one of the largest in Europe. Bombed during the siege of Warsaw in 1939 and extensible damaged, fortunately the original frontage survived and after the war the theatre was rebuilt. Aside from the Polish National Opera, the Teatr Wielki is also home to the Polish National Ballet.

Exterior of the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw

Photo credit: Fred Romero

19. Zurich Opera House – Zurich, Switzerland

The award winning opera house in Zurich hosts a range of different arts including ballet, opera and classical and is home to both the Zurich Opera and Zurich Ballet. Built to replace an earlier theatre that was lost due to fire, the Zurich Opera House opened to the public in 1891 and was constructed in a neo-classical style. Each year the opera house delivers over 250 performances by numerous highly acclaimed artists.

Exterior of the Zurich Opera House

20. Palacio de Bellas Artes – Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes is a major cultural centre and home to a range of different arts including music, theatre, dance, literature and opera. It also showcases significant exhibitions of photography, painting and sculpture. Instantly recognisable due to its domed roof, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is a grand marble building displaying a range of architectural styles including art deco, neo-classical and art nouveau.

View of the magnificent dome of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico city

Photo credit: Harshil Shah

21. Copenhagen Opera House – Copenhagen, Denmark

With its futurist design and world-class facilities, the Copenhagen Opera House is considered to be amongst the most modern opera houses currently in use. Centrally located in the Danish capital Copenhagen on the island of Holmen, the opera house is a city landmark and designed by the architect to ensure that it can boast not only some of the finest facilities of any performance venue but also exceptional acoustics.

Modern facade of the Copenhagen Opera House

22. Theatre Royal – Glasgow, Scotland

The Theatre Royal in the Scottish city of Glasgow first opened its doors in 1867 and is the longest running theatre in Scotland. The theatre has a fascinating history, has survived three fires, two world wars, a change of use to a television studio then back to a theatre and, finally, a multi-million pound redesign including a new contemporary foyer. Today it is the performance home of both the Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.

Modern entrance of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow

Photo credit: John Lord

23. Guangzhou Opera House – Guangzhou, China

The strikingly modern Guangzhou Opera House in southern China is a state of the art performance venue. Conceived by world-famous architect Zaha Hadid and of a typically memorable experimental design, the Guangzhou Opera House overlooks the Pearl River and was completed in 2010. The 1,800-seat auditorium opened its doors to the public in 2011 and showcases performances with the latest acoustic technology.

Ultra modern architecture of the Guangzhou Opera House in China

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