As a foreigner coming from a country 150 (or so) years old, I can’t ever quite explain the fascination that old things has for us expats. As kids we were more likely to be sentenced to an afternoon on grassy fields playing in sunshine, whilst museums were kept as rainy day back up plans.
Fast-forward 20 or so years and I find myself actively seeking out beautiful places. It doesn’t matter which country we’re in – like a bloodhound, my appetite for gilding and ornate decoration knows no end!
The Viennese State Opera House, or Wiener Staatsoper is no
exception. The moment you walk in (and ignore the excited crowds lining up to
take a tour) you can imagine beautifully coutured ladies sweeping along the
marble halls in their finery, on the arm of a well-dressed beau.
Our tour (I think it was 7 Euros each, no prebooking just wander in around the time listed on the website) took us on an ‘access all areas’ whistle stop tour of history, grandeur, name dropping (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert – who we named one of our childhood cat’s after), the main staircase showing off seven allegorical statues made of Carrara marble, representing arts such as music, dance and sculpture, gilded columnades and a tea room lined with golden silk wall panels especially constructed for Emperor Franz Joseph.
We were told that the Opera House was once the social hub of Vienna – where you went to be seen, and not necessarily bother to watch the performances on stage. That seems a waste to me, but then I’m not an 18th Century dandy!
Solemnly opened on the 25th of May 1869 with a performance of Mozart’s Don Juan, in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth, the ornate building epitomised the cultural standing of Vienna in Europe and attracted classical music prodigies from around the world to study and write in their hallowed halls.
With only the main facade, the grand staircase, and the Schwind Foyer being spared from World War II bombs, the reconstructed building reopened in 1955 and the Vienna State Opera house became a symbol of hope and regeneration for the Austrian people.
Top tip: book your Opera tickets as soon as you’ve booked
your flights, or queue up on the day for cheap standing tickets.
Also, don’t fall prey to a memory card wiping itself…
Amazingly, there will be over 350 performances on the
programme during the 2016/2017 season, including 221 opera performances, 57
ballet performances, 7 concerts, 6 vocal matinées, 10 chamber music matinées, 8
other matinées as well as numerous children’s opera performances, dance
demonstrations by the ballet academy and other events. Whew.
As a result, unbelievably almost each day they deconstruct the set and replace it with an entirely new one for the performance ahead. My favourite facts and figures as we wandered through the backstage is that it’s 27 meters high and 50 meters deep, is twice as large as the auditorium. The performance area features six platforms, and there is a revolving stage at the back of the main stage.
But, my absolute favourite aspect of the tour was the revelation that air is piped through from nearby gardens, so in late summer the auditorium will often smell faintly of cut grass and blossoms. Oh, that and regular attendees of the incredible annual Opera Ball will sneak out during the extravagant evening in full ballgowns and tuxedos to buy hotdogs from the nearby foodstalls because the prices are so exorbitant (bearing in mind that tickets to the ball themselves are £1,500+…)
We were disappointed to not be able to stay for a performance (Mr Kiwi was still poorly with a reoccurring bout of flu – a convenient excuse if you ask me) but when we return for another Vienna city break full of cake and schnitzel I’m definitely going. In the meantime I’ll just have to book another London Opera night…
Have you also got an old buildings addiction or is it just me?