Sydney Opera House / Tooykrub / Shutterstock
The collaboration of dramatic poetry, instrumentation and impressive vocals is what you can expect from a night out at the opera. Not only are famous opera houses often regal experiences that show the finest talent and production of classic works by the most renowned playwrights, but they are invitations that call for your most elegant evening wear and your finest jewels to be donned.
Fashion and entertainment aside, there is even more to be dazzled by than just the performances, like the striking architectural buildings that play host. From contemporary to expressionist, these modern high-design opera houses include one that is considered to be the Eighth Wonder of the World to the largest capacity opera house ever built. Read on for the five spaces we are gushing over now.
From contemporary to expressionist, these modern high-design opera houses include one that is considered to be the Eighth Wonder of the World to the largest capacity opera house ever built.
ICONIC TIP: While we wait out this pandemic, consider adding one or more of these iconic properties to your future travel list, and if you simply can’t wait for your favorite famous operas to debut, tune into The Metropolitan Opera’s classical music performances through their livestream series shared with viewers around the globe.
Sydney Opera House / Hamilton Lund
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE | Sydney, Australia
A trip to the biodiverse and compelling continent of Australia is simply incomplete without a stopover in the country’s largest city. The cultural hub that is Sydney provides travelers with innumerable options of entertainment, including opera houses. The Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic landmarks displayed along the coast. The masterfully-designed performing arts center welcomes nearly 10.9 million visitors annually, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and hosts world-class patrons and performers. Its striking and innovative architecture alone has caught the eye of the world, especially with people who adore opera houses.
Designed by Danish architect and Pritzker Prize winner Jørn Utzon, the project was developed in the 1950s and has been notably celebrated by the legendary Frank Gehry to be a change-maker for twentieth-century architecture. The expressionist-style building of one of the most famous opera houses holds a unique history as Utzon at one point resigned from the project, but not before executing his famous “spherical solution” to achieve the geometrical angles the space is so well-known for.
We love that the Sydney Opera House is committed to addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues, like climate change and inequality, through their community action plans.
Joan Sutherland Theater / Sydney Opera House / Daniel Boud
After 11 years and many design iterations, the roof of the building was completed. Crafted from a system of ribbed concrete shells that seem to soar into the Australian sky and expansive windows built into the archways, the multi-building property is supported by steel and decorated with bronze bars that glint when the sunlight strikes the peaks. The Opera Theatre is home to world-class sound quality set in an elegant theatre seemingly designed for royalty and hosting a plethora of global talent. Make sure to stop over at the Shangri-La Hotel after the show for rooftop cocktails where you can take in one of the best views of the famous opera house.
We love that the Sydney Opera House is committed to addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues, like climate change and inequality, through their community action plans—making your trip to the opera an act of philanthropy.
Santa Fe Opera House / Insight Foto
SANTA FE OPERA | Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Santa Fe Opera House is another one of the best opera houses and ICONIC LIFE’s top attraction to experience while visiting the high desert capital city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Perched just outside the charming town lies the state-of-the-art building with panoramic views of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The contemporary structure of one of our top famous opera houses has evolved immensely since its inception in 1957 with the architects James Stewart Polshek and Partners bringing new life to the space by using traditional building materials that have been executed into a prestigious and internationally-acclaimed theatre.
Santa Fe Opera House / Kate Russell
When driving up to the stately Crosby Theatre, you will notice its sweeping roofline and red-hued color palette that reflect the land from which it was built upon. The curvaceous design allows sound to flow directly from the stage to the audience, while the large roof doubles as a rainwater collection system used to maintain the lush grounds throughout the performance season. With space for 2,226 visitors inside (as well as 106 standing room spaces), the unique space really doesn’t have a bad seat in the house.
When watching performances, there is often a retractable wall on-stage that once opened, reveals the sprawling landscape beyond, a unique approach to opera houses. Opera-lovers will like to know the Crosby Theatre features such impressive commissioned world premieres, like The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs and The Thirteenth Child and future premieres including The Lord of Cries and M. Butterfly. The high-caliber production of the set design is all done in-house for each performance due to the unique size and layout of the stage making this an exclusive opera experience. We are loving the tailgate feature that allows visitors to enjoy a pre-show picnic outside or opt for the preview dinner hosted in the exclusive open-air cantina.
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Metropolitan Opera / travelview / Shutterstock
METROPOLITAN OPERA | New York City
In the city that seems to have it all, we had to include the memorable Metropolitan Opera as one of the must-see opera houses when visiting New York City. ICONIC LIFE’s guide to Manhattan will take you through the best dining and shopping spots across the famed neighborhood, and for those seeking a high-brow evening of entertainment, we recommend a night at the Met. Home to the world’s most creative composers, dancers, stage directors, artists, choreographers and more, the Met is a theatrical experience rivaled by few.
In their early days, when they debuted in 1883, they hosted such world-renowned Italian operas, including Carmen as well as German performances like Faust. Over the years, they decided to commit to honoring works in their original language and sharing the spotlight with a range of diverse performers. Lawrence Tibbett, for example, was one of the distinguished American baritones who called the Met home and sang at the theatre over 600 times.
When they opened their newest location designed by architect Wallace K. Harrison
at the Lincoln Center in 1966, the theatre elevated its status amongst opera houses via its theatrical technology, grand auditorium and impeccable acoustics. Harrison was the man behind the Rockefeller Complex who achieved the execution of this timeless structure with modern elements.
The theatre can accommodate nearly 4,000 people, the largest capacity of any opera house in the world, and is decorated with glittering chandeliers, red-velvet seats, murals by artist Marc Chagall and a gilded ceiling that inspires awe. Consider this your black-tie invite to an unforgettable night in the Big Apple.
Harbin Opera House / Iwan Baan
HARBIN OPERA HOUSE | Harbin, China
Perhaps our most non-traditional choice for striking architectural opera houses around the world is China’s Harbin Opera House. Located in Northern China on Harbin’s Cultural Island, a hub for the arts, lies the white aluminum sculptural opera house that mimics the icy wetlands of the region. Meant to blend into the landscape, the theatre is informed by the ecology around it, as if the winter winds themselves created this masterpiece.
The multi-venue performing arts center was designed by the famous Chinese architect Ma Yansong and founding principal of MAD Architects. Yansong took a lyrical approach to the design process, rooting the center in organic shapes that simultaneously feel otherworldly.
Harbin Opera House / Iwan Baan
The impressive lobby of one of our favorite famous opera houses is a modern expression of crystalline glass, curvilinear staircases and triangular windowpanes that reveal a snowy world beyond. Inside the grand theatre you will discover a massive wooden structure made from Manchurian Ash that creates the stunning stage and theatre seating.
Phenomenal acoustics allow you to immerse yourself fully into the exceptional performances while the interiors are lit by a skylight overhead to give you a sense of the outdoors. Visiting this futuristically designed theatre is an immersive experience that offers guests the chance to tour the artistic spaces, including an observation platform for panoramic views of Harbin city’s skyline.
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You can’t miss this punctuated landmark when visiting the museum-district in the City of Angels as it begs for pause due to its signature Frank Gehry architectural profile.
Walt Disney Concert Hall / Vern Evans
WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL | Los Angeles, California
Situated in the bustling downtown of Los Angeles, lies the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is one of four opera houses located on the Music Center campus. You can’t miss this punctuated landmark when visiting the museum-district in the City of Angels as it begs for pause due to its signature Frank Gehry architectural profile. The famed architect was behind this project that entices a variety of viewers, from design-savvy visitors to audiophiles.
Gehry originally intended this project to be clad in stone, but as he was receiving growing acclaim for his titanium buildings, like the Guggenheim Bilbao, he went with the same choice of material for this center on our list of famous opera houses. Resembling flowing silver sails, the curvaceous buildings are bridged together through careful use of bowed cornices to blend the older buildings seamlessly into the new one. Once inside the lobby, the team decided on extending the metal details to the interior space while punctuating them with the warmth of wooden beams and arches for a “living-room feel in the city.”
Walt Disney Concert Hall / Federico Zignani
The 2,265-seat theatre is ideal for lovers of opera houses, fixed with Douglas fir and an open orchestra that allows guests to have intimate views of the musicians and conductor from anywhere in the house. Take note of the 6,134-pipe organ looming behind the audience that Gehry designed using steep, linear pipes that sound even better than they look.
We recommend arriving early to your show so you can take in the garden views in the public park fixed with an iconic rose fountain made from Delft China, nodding to Lillian Disney who was the founding donor of the concert hall. Home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, one of the world’s preeminent orchestras and presenting the finest in both classical and world music, the Walt Disney Concert Hall calls for a night out in LA that won’t soon be forgotten.
Royal Opera House / Willy Barton / Shutterstock
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE | London
A trip to the iconic city of London may arouse thoughts of royal castles, high tea in historic hotels and indulging in one of the world’s best food scenes. London is also home to one of Europe’s most impressive famous opera houses that has hosted operas like Macbeth, Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly, just to name a few. The orchestra of the Royal Opera House was founded in 1946 when the theatre reopened after World War II as the UK’s permanent home for opera and ballet. Located in the luxurious shopping plaza at Covent Garden, the recently redesigned building now gleams with a glass conservatory that can be seen street-side and adds an element of architectural ingenuity to the concrete landscape.
Royal Opera House / Sim Canetty - Clarke
British architectural firm Stanton Williams took on the project as a way to embody the cultural changes at the opera house. Visitors can now come and sip a hot coffee, dine at the restaurant and enjoy the exhibition spaces that are distinctly modern with dark wood panels complimenting the dominance of white walls and seamless track lighting. Inside the theatre, comfort and character define a regal setting where plush red seating for 2,256 wraps around the stage all set beneath a sparkling glass atrium—making for an unforgettably famous opera house experience in the heart of London Town.