State Opera: The first opera house, the Vienna Court Opera, was built as the first monumental building of artistic importance on the Ringstraße from 1861-1869 by A. Sicard von Sicardsburg and E. van der Nüll in neo-Romantic style. The architects were severely criticised, people spoke of a "sunken box" or "another Battle of Sadowa", which caused van der Nüll to commit suicide, while Sicardsburg died of a heart attack two months later. The predecessors of the State Opera were the Kärntnertortheater (situated approximately on the site of today´s Hotel Sacher) and the Hofburgtheater (Imperial Palace Theatre) on Michaelerplatz square (Burgtheater). The State Opera opened with "Don Giovanni" (performed in German) by W. A. Mozart on May 25, 1869.
During World War II (on March 12, 1945) the stage was destroyed by bombs and the building gutted by fire. The foyer and the loggia, with frescoes by M. v. Schwind, the main stairways, the vestibule and the tea room were spared. Almost the entire décor and properties, the equipment for more than 120 operas with around 150,000 costumes were destroyed. The State Opera opened its temporary stages at the Theater an der Wien and at the Volksoper on October 6, 1945.
The reconstruction of the State Opera was carried out from 1948-1955 by E. Boltenstern (auditorium, stairways, cloakrooms, upper lounges), C. Kosak (Gobelin Hall), O. Prossinger and F. Cewela (side passages and Marble Hall), R. H. Eisenmenger (Safety Curtain) and H. Leinfellner (marble inlays in the bar room). The re-opening of the State Opera took place on November 5, 1955 with Beethoven´s "Fidelio" under K. Böhm. The State Opera can accommodate 2,276 people (previously 2,324), offering 1,709 seats and standing room for 567. The stage is one of the largest in Europe.
The members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra are chosen from the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. The Vienna State Opera, one of the most illustrious opera houses in the world, looks back on a long tradition (Opera); the artistic highlights from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are closely connected with its history and its directors (in particular G. Mahler, H. Gregor, F. Schalk and R. Strauss).
Great conductors of the State Opera, some of whom also worked as directors, were G. Mahler, F. Weingartner, F. Schalk, R. Strauss, C. Krauss, K. Böhm, H. von Karajan, L. Maazel, C. Abbado, Hans Richter, B. Walter, W. Furtwängler, R. Muti and others. The era of G. Mahler in particular marked the beginning of an outstanding development: Mahler took on new stars (such as A. Bahr-Mildenburg, S. Kurz and L. Slezak) and, in the person of A. Roller, recruited a stage designer who changed the lavish historicist stage décor into a sparse stage scenery corresponding to Jugendstil (art nouveau) and modern style. Mahler also introduced the practice of having no lighting whatsoever in the auditorium during performances, which was not appreciated by the audience. Mahler´s determined reform policy was continued by his successors (especially by F. Schalk and R. Strauss).
Until the directorship was taken over by H. von Karajan, the high standard of the opera productions was guaranteed by maintaining a permanent ensemble (particularly famous was K. Böhm´s "Vienna Mozart Ensemble"), which was, however, reduced during the 1960s in favour of the internationally common practice of engaging guest stars. Under the management of I. Holender (since 1992) the State Opera began to build up a permanent ensemble again. Since the Austrian Federal Theatres became a holding company in 1999 the State Opera has been run as a limited liability company (Ges. m. b. H.).
The State Opera Ballet is also inextricably linked with the State Opera. Great ballet masters in the imperial service, such as G. Angiolini and J. G. Noverre, influenced the European art of dancing as did the famous dancers of the 19th century, Fanny Elßler and Maria Taglioni. After 1850 Paolo Taglioni introduced the concept of "ensemble spirit" to the ballet company; his splendid ballets remained part of the programme until 1900. The ballet moved into the new opera house on the Ringstraße in 1869 under ballet master K. Telle. His successor, J. Haßreiter, prepared 48 new ballet performances (e.g. "Die Puppenfee" by J. Bayer) and enhanced the status of the State Opera´s own ballet school (today ballet school of the Federal Theatres). One of the outstanding dancers of the 20th century is G. Wiesenthal, famous for her expressive form of classical dance. H. Kröller, who became choreographer in 1924, was responsible for the excellent production of the ballets "Josephs Legende" and "Schlagobers" (by R. Strauss). His successors as choreographers were the soloists T. Birkmeyer and W. Fränzl (famous for his performances of the Viennese waltz) and, in 1942, Erika Hanka, whose work aimed at a combination of classical ballet and modern interpretive dance. A highlight in the history of the State Opera Ballet was the engagement of R. Nureyev who, as dancer and choreographer, worked closely with the Vienna ensemble between 1964 and 1988 and greatly influenced its future development.
Literature: M. Graf, Die Wiener Oper, 1955; H. Kralik, Die Wiener Oper, 1962; F. Hadamowsky, Die Wiener Hoftheater (vol. 2: Die Wiener Hofoper), 1975; 100 Jahre Wiener Oper am Ring, 1969; V. Keil-Budischowsky, Die Theater Wiens, 1983; A. Seebohm, Die Wiener Oper, 1986; W. Sinkovicz and A. Zeininger, Das Haus am Ring, 1996; F. Endler, Karajan an der Wr. Oper, 1997; A. Oberzaucher, Wr. Staatsopernballett, 1997: E. W. Partsch, Die Ära G. Mahler, 1997.
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