Opera Houses – A Colorful HistoryBy
Opera Houses often have their own colorful and interesting pasts. People picture a night at the opera as one where you dress up in your finest and go out for a night. However, the history of many opera houses is far more dramatic and exciting than a simple night on the town. Riots, fire and ghosts are all a part of some of the most famous opera houses in the world.
Metropolitan Opera House
This wonderful building is often referred to as the Met. The designer of this facility was Wallace Harrison. It can seat 3,800 and has standing room for another 195 people. It first opened its doors on April 11th 1966, with the performance of La Fanciulla Del West. The crowd in attendance was a group of high school students. The official opening night was on the 16th of September. This historical night was also the world premiere of Antony and Cleopatra by Samuel Barber.
Fire was always a concern of opera house owners and fans. A number of opera houses had rooms that contained nothing but full buckets of water in case a fire did break out.
The Met was built to replace the Metropolitan Opera House that was located on 39th Street. The Old Met was demolished in 1967, after 84 years. Often referred to during its time as the “Yellow Brick Brewery”, the house was the first home of the New York Opera company. Unfortunately, the House was severely damaged by a fire in 1892. The fire forced the opera to close for the season and undergo major renovations. However, the new house still featured many of the House’s previous trademarks.
Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House has become one of the most recognized buildings in the world. It was designed by notable architect Jorn Utzon. The building was literally years in the making. In 1955, an international competition was held to find the best design for the new opera house in Sydney. Utzon’s creative plans defeated 233 entries from 32 different countries.
Construction of the building began in March of 1959. The original estimate for the cost of this building was seven million dollars, and it was scheduled to open on the 26th of January 1963. Both of these targets were way off base. The final tally for the building was 102 million dollars, and the grand opening did not occur until 1973.
Every year thousands of people visit this remarkable building. However, many tourists are unaware that the house is a part of the city’s haunted tour. Harry is the resident ghost at the opera house. It is said that he enjoys playing the percussions, sometimes even during shows.
One of the places to go and be seen in the city of New York in the mid 1800s was the Astor House. Astor House was completed in 1847. It marked its grand opening with a performance of Ermani. The house was specifically built to cater to those of high society. The lower class was regulated to a small area of seating and there was a dress code in effect that was strictly maintained. These factors were major contributors to the riot which broke out on the evening of May 10th 1849.
The other major issue was a rivalry between actors. Actors during this time period had very dedicated followers. Fans were extremely devoted and followed in the same way that many sports teams are followed today. The rivalry was between British actor William Macready and American Edwin Forrest. Both men specialized in Shakespeare, and both felt that they were the best. This competition carried over to the fans.
The riot that occurred on this night would see 20 people dead and over 120 injured. This was the worst riot in the City’s history. It marked the first time that militia opened fire into a crowd of civilians. Sadly, the result of this horrible event was the closing of Astor House. The House was never able to regain its favor or reputation. The Opera House did attempt to begin a new season, but was unable to survive financially.
The next time that you plan to spend an evening at the opera, remember that the history of the house may be as colorful as the performance that you are about to see.