September 18, 2014

Opéra Bastille, Paris

There's something a little odd about being an opera fan in England. Although many fine operas have been written in English and about England, they have never seemed to overtake the German, French and Italian classics that still dominate the repertoires of more traditional houses. I love being able to go to the opera and hum along to arias I've known since childhood, but I can't help thinking opera would be more popular here if English composers were given as much programme space as Puccini and Wagner.

Still, the beauty of our close connection to Europe is that nobody needs to go without - whether you're craving an Alpine view, a particular bottle of wine or a little light music, the continent is just 35 minutes away with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. And so, with opera season almost upon us, I thought I'd take you through some of the finest and most interesting opera houses in Europe.

Teatro di San Carlo, Naples

Built by a king of Naples as the jewel in his crown, the Teatro di San Carlo is the oldest continually operating opera house in Europe. Opened in 1737, nothing has been able to slow its output - not even the Second World War. The Allies bombed the Teatro, but reopened it just three weeks after seizing Naples (and won themselves a lot of new allies in the process). Today, fully refurbished and ready for a modern audience, the Teatro offers a wide variety of opera and dance productions from January to June; you'd never know she was nearly 300!

Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna

There's something bold and uncompromising about Austria, and it certainly shines through when looking at the Vienna State Opera. This imposing, bulky building was hated by the public when it first opened, so when American bombs burnt most of it down you might imagine that it moved. Of course not! The unpopular opera was recreated down to the last stone, and today the Viennese have learnt to love it. Ideal for a passing visit, the Staatsoper often has standing tickets available just minutes before a performance, and its selection of operas, ballets and so on aimed at children is among the best in Europe.

 The imposing façade of the Vienna State Opera
The imposing façade of the Vienna State Opera

Opéra Bastille, Paris

I first visited the Opéra de la Bastille as a teenager, shortly after it opened - which makes me feel very old! Built in a dramatic modern style, the Opéra Bastille has never been home to a phantom or theatrical ghost - that's the Palais Garnier, or simply l'Opéra, an even more beautiful building and one which still hosts many performances. However, the Paris National Opera is now largely based at the newer building, which has many times the space of the old. The acoustics are as finely crafted as the opera house itself, and the bold style makes it a wonderful place to watch classic and contemporary performances.

Arena di Verona, Verona

Although not an opera house in the proper sense of the word, the Arena holds an irresistible attraction for those who love opera's tangible connection to history. An open-air theatre housed in a genuine Roman amphitheatre, it attracts more than half a million visitors a year for performances of popular operas as well as contemporary music performances and rock shows. A wonderful choice for those who want an introduction to the pageantry and spectacle of opera.

 The Roman amphitheatre in Verona has stood for nearly 2000 years
The Roman amphitheatre in Verona has stood for nearly 2000 years

I hope these notes have inspired you to investigate some of Europe's splendid opera houses for yourself. And with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle trains running 24/7 and offering a crossing time of just 35 minutes, it's even possible to make it to some of these spectacular venues for a single evening or perhaps an overnight visit. There's never been a better time to explore continental opera.

Photo Credits:
Opéra Bastille Paris
Wiener Staatsoper
Arena di Verona

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