Vienna State Opera

   Usually under the sponsorship of the Habsburg court, opera performances began in Vienna in the 17th century. Some were the gala extravaganzas so dear to Baroque tastes, such as The Golden Apple (Il pomo d’oro, 1667) by Marco Antonio Cesti. Taking five and one-half hours and dauntingly elaborate stage technology to perform, it allowed the current, and very musical, Emperor Leopold I (1640–1705) to write several arias for the piece. Less grandiose operatic works amused the Habsburg establishment as well. During the reign of Emperor Joseph II, opera took on a more didactic character. Hoping to put music drama in German on a par with the Italian imports that had been traditionally played at the court, Joseph opened the Burgtheater for both spoken and musical performances. One of the most successful outcomes of the emperor’s program was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which had its premier at the relatively new house in 1782. Opera continued to be given in the old Burgtheater as well as in other theaters, such as the Theater an der Wien, where Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio was premiered in 1805. The opening of the present building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse in 1869 made this the headquarters of grand opera in the city. Its heyday was from the latter part of the 19th century through the beginning of World War I, when it was under the directorship of the composer Gustav Mahler. He not only brought major singers into the company, but promoted new techniques of stage lighting adapted from a style that originated in Bayreuth, the German musical center devoted to the operas of Richard Wagner.
   The interior of the Vienna State Opera was badly damaged in World War II. The reconstruction, however, began as early as 1948 and was finished in 1955. It reopened on 5 November of that year with a performance of Fidelio, under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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