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Vienna State Opera

August Siccard von Siccardsburg, Eduard van der Nüll

alias Staatsoper (State Opera, 1938–1999), Die Wiener Staatsoper, K. k. Hof-Operntheater (Imperial Court Opera Theatre, 1871–1918), K. k. Hof-Operntheater – Neues Haus (Imperial Court Opera Theatre – New Building, 1869–1871), Operntheater (Opera Theatre, 1918–1938), Neues Haus (New Building, 1869)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1857 | architectural competition

In December 1857 Emperor Franz Joseph I ordered that the old city walls and fortifications be pulled down and that a broad boulevard with new imposing buildings be built for the arts and politics. Both Hoft heater theatres (the drama theatre and the music theatre) were to find a new place on the Ringstrasse. The immediate vicinity of the former Carinthian Gate Theatre was chosen for the location of the imperial-royal Court Opera House. The former, a popular theatre dating from 1709, had been pulled down and a competition for the construction of a new opera house was announced, with Eduard van der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg appointed as architects.

(detail)1863 | foundation stone

While Sicardsburg was primarily responsible for the technical and innovative work, van der Nüll dealt mainly with the interior’s aesthetic and decorative work. Sicardsburg and van der Nüll became the trend-setters for late Romantic Historicism in Austrian architecture. December 1861 saw the ground-breaking ceremony and in May 1863 the foundation stone was laid. The front, mainly of Istrian stone, is indebted to the Neo-Renaissance arched style. Sicardsburg and Van der Nüll designed a loggia with five further arches over the main entrance so that the first fl oor would be open over the Ringstrasse.

(detail)25.5.1869 | Opening night
The Vienna Opera was opened with Mozart's Don Giovanni. Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) were present.
(detail)1945 | Fire

During the WW II.,  the opera was bombed. The building burnt for two days. The auditorium and the stage, as well as almost the entire decor and around 150,000 costumes, were destroyed by the flames, while parts of the former royal lounges at the front of the building remained intact.

(detail)40. 's 20. century | architectural competition

As early as 1st May of 1945, under the command of the Russian occupation, the State Opera resumed its programme at the Volksoper (People´s Opera), which had escaped bombing. The Soviet occupation forces had also supported reconstruction of the State Opera so that it could be finished in May 1945. Reconstruction was preferred to plans for erecting a new building elsewhere, since, in the end, it was a question of ‘saving a cultural symbol’.4 The opera construction committee, set up by the Federal Ministry of Trade and Reconstruction, determined the future direction of the State Opera’s reconstruction: the original state was to be preserved combining the opera house’s modernisation with the construction of new buildings for ‘ancillary requirements of the playhouse’s operation’.

The conceptual competition announced on this occasion was open to all architects living in Austria who had neither been members of the NSDAP nor members of any of the defence unions. One of the few architects to meet these criteria was Erich Boltensternm, who had been suspended from the Academy in 1938, and was a colleague and friend of Clemens Holzmeister, who also participated in the competition but whose designs were considered too revolutionary. Boltenstern’s project was preferred with the claim that its author ‘retained the old house’s architectural tradition without resorting to style imitation’

(detail)50. 's 20. century | alteration

Erich Boltenstern suggested a modernised rebuilding of the theatre in the style of the 1950s, a mélange of late Functionalist and Neo-Classical elements. Due to a lack of financial backing and material, however, it was not finished until 1955. In November 1955, the press reported that about ‘260 million Schillings has been collected by the public’, which represented the annual budget for the whole construction. The theatre’s predominant form with its three loges and two open tiers (balcony and gallery) were retained. Owing to security regulations, the stalls were reduced in number, and the former third and fourth tiers (now the balcony and gallery) were built without columns. In the course of the theatre’s reconstruction, the stage area was rebuilt within the still extant outer walls. Architects Otto Prossinger, Ceno Kosak and Felix Cewela designed the lounges on the first tier.

(detail)5.11.1955 | opening
the Vienna Opera was re-opened with Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Karl Böhm. The performance was broadcasted throughout the world as a manifestation that Austria was again an independent and democratic republic.
(detail)90. 's 20. century | alteration
The early 1990s saw the building renovated with new stagecraft.


Felix Cewela |architect
Ceno Kosak |architect
Otto Prossinger |architect
Karl Madjera |painter
Karl Rahl |painter
Karl Swoboda |painter
Josef Gasser |sculptor
(detail)Eduard von Engerth |other

German painter, working consequently in Prague and Vienna.


With a handwritten letter to the Minister of the Interior dated 20 December 1857, the 27-year-old Emperor Franz Josef confirmed his already discussed decision to expand the city of Vienna and for the construction of public buildings. Many participants in the international contest announced on 30 January 1858 for the expansion of the inner city of Vienna planned the new opera house to be near the Kärntnertore, thus close by the theatre it was to replace, which indicates a strong tradition of opera-awareness. The reviewing committee awarded the architects Eduard van der Nüll (1812–1868) and August Sicard von Sicardsburg (1813–1868) first prize. The building was the first major building on the Wiener Ringstraße commissioned by the controversial Viennese "city expansion fund". Work on the building commenced in 1861 and was completed in 1869, following plans drawn up by architects August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll. It was built in the Neo-Renaissance style. This was the first opera built in Vienna.

The Ministry of the Interior had commissioned a number of reports into the availability of certain building materials, with the result that stones long not seen in Vienna were used, such as Wöllersdorfer Stein, for plinths and free-standing, simply-divided buttresses, the famously hard stone from Kaisersteinbruch, whose colour was more appropriate then Kelheimerstein, for more lushly decorated parts. The somewhat coarser-grained Kelheimerstein (also known as Solnhof Plattenstein) was intended as the main stone to be used in the building of the opera house, but the necessary quantity was not deliverable. Breitenbrunner stone was suggested as a substitute for the Kelheimer stone, and stone from Jois was used as a cheaper alternative to the Kaiserstein. The staircases were constructed from polished Kaiserstein, while most of the rest of the interior was decorated with varieties of marble.

The decision was made to use dimension stone for the exterior of the building. Due to the monumental demand for stone, stone from Sóskút, widely used in Budapest, was also used. Three Viennese masonry companies were employed to supply enough masonry labour: Eduard Hauser (still in existence today), Anton Wasserburger and Moritz Pranter. The foundation stone was laid on May 20, 1863. The building was, however, not very popular with the public. On the one hand, it did not seem as grand as the Heinrichshof, a private residence which was destroyed in World War II (and replaced in 1955 by the Opernringhof). Moreover because the level of Ringstraße was raised by a metre in front of the opera house after its construction had begun, the latter was likened to "a sunken box" and, in analogy to the military disaster of 1866 (the Battle of Königgrätz), was deprecatingly referred to as "the Königgrätz of architecture". Van der Nüll committed suicide, and barely ten weeks later Sicardsburg suffered a fatal heart attack so neither architect saw the completion of the building. It was especially tragic that criticism of the building, which started in the autumn of 1868, only ended after the premature deaths of the two architects. Criticised was the style: for in 1861 the opera house had been started in a romantic concept, which however, at the last in 1865 had been replaced by the monumental conceptions of the strict style of historicism. The opening premiere was Don Giovanni, by Mozart, on May 25, 1869. Josef and Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) were present.

Towards the end of World War II, on March 12, 1945, the opera was set alight by an American bombardment, which was intended for the Raffinerie in Floridsdorf. The front section, which had been walled off as a precaution, remained intact including the foyer, with frescoes by Moritz von Schwind, the main stairways, the vestibule and the tea room. The auditorium and stage were, however, destroyed by flames as well as almost the entire décor and props for more than 120 operas with around 150,000 costumes. The State Opera was temporarily housed at the Theater an der Wien and at the Vienna Volksoper.Lengthy discussions took place about whether the opera house should be restored to its original state on its original site, or whether it should be completely demolished and rebuilt, either on the same location or on a different site. Eventually the decision was made to rebuild the opera house as it had been, and the main restoration experts involved were Ernst Kolb (1948–1952) and Udo Illig (1953–1956).

The Austrian Federal Chancellor Leopold Figl made the decision in 1946 to have a functioning opera house again by 1949. An architectural competition was announced, which was won by Erich Boltenstern. The submissions had ranged from a complete restructuring of the auditorium to a replica of the original design; Boltenstern decided on a design similar to the original with some modernisation in keeping with the design of the 1950s. In order to achieve a good acoustic, wood was the favoured building material, at the advice of, among others, Arturo Toscanini. In addition, the number of seats in the parterre (stalls) was reduced, and the fourth gallery, which had been fitted with columns, was restructured so as not to need columns. The facade, entrance hall and the "Schwind" foyer were restored and remain in their original style.

In the meantime, the opera company, which had at first been performing in the Volksoper, had moved rehearsals and performances to Theater an der Wien, where, on May 1, 1945, after the liberation and re-independence of Austria from the Nazis, the first performances were given. In 1947, the company went on tour to London. Due to the appalling conditions at Theater an der Wien, the opera company leadership tried to raise significant quantities of money to speed up reconstruction of the original opera house. Many private donations were made, as well as donations of building material from the Soviets, who were very interested in the rebuilding of the opera.

However, in 1949, there was only a temporary roof on the Staatsoper, as construction work continued. It was not until November 5, 1955, (after the Austrian State Treaty), that the Staatsoper could be reopened with a performance of Fidelio, by Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Karl Böhm. The new auditorium had a reduced to about 2,100, including 567 standing room places. [1] The American Foreign Minister, John Foster Dulles, was present. The television station ORF used the occasion to make its first live broadcast, at a time when there were only c. 800 televiewers in the whole of Austria. The ensemble, which had remained unified until the opening, crumbled in following years, and slowly an international ensemble formed.

Vienna State Opera House or Wiener Staatsoper is the oldest and the longest running opera house in German-speaking world. This building houses the Vienna Staatsoper company, which stages 50 opera and 15 ballets in each of its 300 days season a year. The company is one of the most important opera company in the world. The Vienna State Opera building is a work of art in itself. From the imposing facade to further down with the loggia, which still displays the ‘Magic Flute’ cycle by Moritz von Schwind, this entire spectacle is topped with the two allegoric fountains by Josef Gasser. The building includes a larger structure, which contains the auditorium and its adjoining amenities, as well as a smaller front section that houses the rooms accessible to the public. The interiors, however, are equally opulent. The original foyer still bears the atmosphere of the old opera house, which was demolished by bombs in 1945, so does the stairway and tea salon restored to their previous grandeur. 

The opera’s auditorium, entirely renovated after the events of World War II, is the work of Erich Boltenstern, while the chambers of the first level were entrusted to architects Otto Prossinger, Ceno Kosak and Felix Cevela. Boltenstern made continuous efforts to restore the structure to its initial appearance, but some changes were unavoidable. The hall’s original seating capacity of 2,881 had to be reduced; and while the auditorium’s original red and gilt decoration was retained, one feels that the opulence and excessive splendour has given way to more practical interiors. The numerous paintings and reliefs have been replaced, and the gigantic old chandelier, for safety reasons, has been changed for a much less impressive crystal wreath. The massive lightning structure has some 1,000 light bulbs

From the original capacity of the auditorium, which was 2,881 places, only 2,282 places remain (of which 1,709 are sitting, 567 are standing, four are wheelchair, and four are accompanying places). The reduction in the number was necessary due to stricter building, fire and safety regulations. The fronts of the boxes, constructed from reinforced concrete, were covered with wood for acoustical reasons (the acoustics of this Vienna opera house is of unequalled brilliance). The orchestra pit is 123 m2 can hold around 110 musicians. It is fitted with an adjustable floor so that the height can be varied. The purpose of this is to achieve acoustical effects and to make possible the use of the front stage when fewer musicians are needed in the orchestra pit. Paintings, reliefs, and columns no longer decorate the auditorium and for safety reasons the large centre chandelier was replaced by a lighting wreath made from crystal. This lighting fixture weighs 3,000 kilograms and contains 1,100 light bulbs. This fixture has a diameter of 7 meters, is 5 meters high and has access for a lighting technician to carry our maintenance work on the lighting wreath.

After a massive reconstruction and redesigning this structure was once more open in public in September 1955. In summer 1991 and 1993, this building also underwent a refurbishment. Housing several rehearsal rooms, the building’s biggest rehearsal room is “Eberhard Waechter” Rehearsal Room that has the 400 m2 worth of space opened in 1995. This structure also houses 10 soloist rehearsal room and two ballet rehearsal space.


This text is a compilation of the articles from these web sites:






Tags: Austria-Hungary, Neo-Renaissance


Author: Jan Purkert

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