- The Royal Swedish Opera was founded in 1782
- The modern-day Opera House was inaugurated 1898
- It has more than 1,000 rooms on 12 floors
- The building is the home of the Royal Swedish Opera as well as the Royal Swedish Ballet
Performing arts are and have long been an integral part of life in major cities around the globe. In its early days, every form of art had to be supported by either a large enough part of society or a few important individuals such as aristocrats and royals to catch on. In Sweden, one such individual was King Gustav III who is to thank for establishing several major artistic institutions in the country including the Royal Swedish Opera whose story we look at in this post.
The institution whose original Swedish name was ‘Kongl. Operan’ was established in early 1773, years before it received its first proper facilities. It was the aforementioned Gustav III who was largely responsible for the first opera house in Stockholm, which as a result carried his name. The so-called Gustavian Opera House was opened in 1782 under somewhat peculiar circumstances.
According to the original plan, the audience of over 900 spectators was meant to enjoy an interpretation of Joseph Martin Kraus’ opera Aeneas in Carthage. However, one of the main female protagonists fled the country with her husband to avoid a creditor and an alternative solution had to be found. Instead, Cora och Alonzo composed by Johann Gotlieb Naumann was performed on the evening of 30 September 1782.
The king’s interest in opera, dance, and theatre not only meant that the royal lodge in the new opera house was located right in the middle of the first row but he also financed operations of the institution from his own pocket. Perhaps, he would even be happy to know that events that he was an integral part of inspired an opera composed by the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, ‘Un ballo in maschera’ (A Masked Ball).
Truth be told, though, the events depicted in Verdi’s opera were not ones the former king would or could have good memories of. Gustav III was shot in his own opera house on a masked ball on the night of 16 March 1792 and died days later of his wounds.
The Opera House itself lived longer than the king but its days have been numbered too. Approximately a hundred years after the tragic incident, the Gustavian Opera House was demolished for being too worn out, unmodern, and most of all, fire-prone. Many have pitied the old building since its façade was almost identical to that of the Arvfurstens Palace (Arvfurstens palats) on the opposite side of Gustav Adolf’s square (Gustav Adolf torg), which made for a nice scenery in a way similar to the famous Maria-Theresien-Platz in Vienna, Austria.
Interestingly, in the nearly 250 years of its existence, the Royal Swedish Opera has changed its official Swedish name 12 times. Considering that in that time it has gotten from ‘Kongl. Operan’ to ‘Kungliga Operan,’ which is essentially the same name, all these changes seem rather insignificant. Among the locals it has always been known simply as ‘Operan’ though.
A few years prior to the demolition, in 1889, a banker Knut A. Wallenberg instituted a consortium which would oversee the financing as well as the realisation of a new opera house. It had been decided that the new home of the Royal Swedish Opera would stand at the very same place as the old one had and an architectural contest had been announced.
Although architect Axel Anderberg had only received the second prize in the said contest, he was the one who was asked to rework his proposal now that the consortium has been established. It is said that Anderberg found a plenty of inspiration for his design in Paris but nearby buildings such as the Royal Palace also helped him create a design that was modern and at the same time in harmony with its surrounding environment.
Something that most of us probably do not think about when visiting an opera house is the technical requirements the building must meet. For instance, the requirements on the ventilation systems installed in the Opera House are very tough, especially since the needs of ballet dancers differ greatly from those of opera singers, let alone the needs of the many valuable musical instruments kept in the building.
Despite several renovations, the ventilation system in the Opera House is still largely original. Its main fan manages to treat as much as 140,000 cubic metres of air per hour and humidity in the house is kept at consistent 35%.
The Royal Swedish Opera House that we can see today was erected between 1892 and 1898. The exterior of the building matches the façade of the Royal Palace as well as the Parliament House standing between the two, creating a uniform scenery on this side of the Stockholm’s Old Town. As was usual during the period in which the building was constructed, most of the materials used were from Sweden and the close neighbour, Norway.
Likely the most representative of the more than 1,000 rooms that you could find on the Opera House’s twelve floors is the one known as the Golden Foyer. It was built with the visitors in mind and with the objective of providing them not only with an enhanced artistic experience but also some practical space. Therefore, the foyer is 28 metres long and 8 metres wide so that there is enough space for the spectators to promenade in two directions while others can still sit comfortably along the walls.
Opera and ballet performances are not the only experiences that around a quarter of a million yearly visitors seek at the Opera House in Stockholm. The world-famous, Michelin-starred restaurant Operakällaren dates all the way back to the Gustavian Opera House where it was first opened in 1787. The new Opera House had hence counted with facilities specially designed for the restaurant which opened its doors in the new building in 1895. The Opera Bar, which its official website describes as a place where ‘artists and intellectuals mix with business people,’ was opened ten years later, in 1905.
I hope that this post helped you learn something new about the Royal Swedish Opera House in Stockholm and that you found some interesting information you would not normally look for. If you liked the post, consider spreading the word by sharing it with you dear ones who might find it interesting, too.
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