Updated: Jun 30
By Alkis Karmpaliotis, High School Student NYC
Founder of AppreciateOpera.org
There are many opera houses across the world, and each one has its unique qualities and characteristics. There is so much to judge when comparing opera companies, including the singers they attract, the repertoire they perform, the strength of their orchestra and chorus, and the acoustics and beauty of their theater. Making a list like this is a huge challenge, as there were many amazing opera houses that I had to exclude. Additionally, each of these companies offers something different and interesting to its audience, so when it comes to ranking them, there's really no single right answer. With that being said, let's jump right into the list.
Teatro la Fenice
Location: Venice, Italy
Many of the greatest operas ever composed, including Verdi's La Traviata and Rigoletto, premiered at La Fenice. For over 200 years, it has been one of Europe's foremost opera companies and is amongst the most beautiful theaters in the world.
Berlin Opera Houses
Opened: Staatsoper - 1743; Komische Oper - 1892; Deutsche Oper - 1912
Location: Berlin, Germany
Berlin is unique in that it is home to three opera houses, each special in its own right. The Staatsoper Berlin is the oldest and has the most traditional building, but the Deutsche Oper and Komische Oper also have very distinguished histories. It is impossible to say which is better except on a production-by-production basis. For music fans, all three are worth a visit. Berlin is a global capital for opera and classical music, so it would be unjust to not include its three amazing opera houses on this list.
Location: Bayreuth, Germany
Bayreuth's unique theater, which includes an orchestra pit beneath the stage rather than in front of it, is home to unmatched acoustics. Its orchestra is arguably the best opera orchestra in the world.
Richard Wagner built the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1872 to showcase his own operas. It staged the premiere of Parsifal. Since then, every summer, it hosts the month-long Bayreuth Festival and exclusively performs Wagner's works. This is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, and the quality of its performances is unparalleled. When it comes to specifically Wagner's operas, there is no better place to be, as Bayreuth's theater, orchestra, and singers collectively produce the ideal Wagnerian sound. Frankly, as a Wagner fan, if I could rank Bayreuth first on every list, I would. However, since it solely performs one composer's work and only operates for a small portion of the year, Bayreuth does not qualify as a full-scale opera company. With that being said, due to its rich history and consistently elite performances, it is certainly worth an honorable mention.
10. Sydney Opera House
Location: Sydney, Australia
Regarded as one of the masterpieces of 20th-century architecture, the Sydney Opera House is one of the most distinctive and unique buildings in the world. The Joan Sutherland Theater, named after Australia's most famous singer, showcases operas as well as musicals, and the opera house also includes a full concert hall in which classical and modern music are performed.
9. Teatro Real
Location: Madrid, Spain
The Teatro Real, commonly referred to as simply El Real, is Spain's most famous opera house, and always attracts the best singers from around the world. Operas and concerts are performed throughout the year. El Real is known for its 'My Opera Player' program, on which viewers can watch full operas from not only Madrid but from theaters around the world. This makes opera more accessible worldwide and gives us a taste of opera from across the globe.
8. Teatro di San Carlo
Location: Naples, Italy
The Teatro di San Carlo is the world's oldest continuously active opera house in the world and was the model for opera houses including Venice's La Fenice and many more. The great opera composer Gioachino Rossini was its artistic director for seven years, before being replaced by another star of Italian opera, Gaetano Donizetti, who worked with the theater for sixteen years. Other great composers such as Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini were associated with the company and contributed to making it one of Europe's premier opera houses.
7. Teatro Colón
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires's main opera house, is an international standard for opera and ballet. Completed in 1908, the theater incorporated many styles of architecture that were also used in European theaters. Music legends such as Arturo Toscanini and Enrico Caruso, as well as Argentinian icons including Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich, have performed there.
6. The Bolshoi Theater
Location: Moscow, Russia
Moscow's Bolshoi Theater has survived fires, wars, and other disasters in its long history. Despite all that it has endured, it remains Russia's greatest theater and continues to stage operas and ballets throughout the year. Its old theater has excellent acoustics and one of the most gorgeous and recognizable façades in the world.
5. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Location: London, England
The Royal Opera has only had six music directors throughout its history, including Sir Georg Solti, Sir Colin Davis, and Bernard Haitink. Singers such as Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers have risen to prominence from the ranks of the company. Though the current building was completed in 1946, there has been an opera house in Covent Garden for centuries. In fact, George Handel wrote many of his operas and oratorios to be performed there.
4. Metropolitan Opera
Location: New York City, United States
With a whopping capacity of over 3,800, the Metropolitan Opera is the biggest opera house in the world. The Met is also the busiest opera company in the world, staging a different opera - and sometimes two - almost every day of the week. The Met is the only theater on this list that is almost exclusively committed to opera, rarely staging ballets or other works. This is because it is located in Lincoln Center, a musical complex that also includes the American Ballet Theater and David Geffen Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic. Under the directorship of Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the Met has been making an effort to increase the diversity of its singers as well as, more importantly, the diversity of its repertoire. In recent seasons, the Met has staged numerous world premieres including several operas by Black composers.
The Met's history of music directors is impressive. Its list of principal conductors includes Gustav Mahler, Arturo Toscanini, and Erich Leinsdorf. The Met Orchestra and Chorus are both world-class, and the company never fails to hire the best singers. Its place amongst the top-tier theaters in the world is indisputable.
3. Opéra de Paris
Opened: Palais Garnier - 1875; Opéra Bastille - 1989
Location: Paris, France
The Opéra de Paris company performs at two theaters: the Palais Garnier (pictured above) and the newer Opéra Bastille. The Bastille has been considered the greater operatic stage in recent years, but the Palais Garnier, which currently mostly stages ballets, is the more majestic of the two buildings, with its interior walls almost entirely covered by the paintings of Marc Chagall. In the eyes of many opera enthusiasts, the Palais Garnier is the ideal operatic venue, as it stages the finest music, is glazed by the most brilliant art, and is the embodiment of classical culture.
2. Wiener Staatsoper
Location: Vienna, Austria
The Vienna State Opera is one of the most respected opera houses in the world. Mozart's Don Giovanni has its premiere here, and conductors such as Gustav Mahler have worked with the company. It is located in the heart of Vienna, the music capital of the world. The company is so committed to filling up the house that it offers free tickets in the hours leading up to each performance. This ensures that all shows are sold out, expands the audience, and guarantees a special and amazing theater atmosphere - with an audience of all ages. The Orchestra of the Vienna State opera is practically unmatched, as most members of the great Vienna Philharmonic also play in it.
1. Teatro Alla Scala
Location: Milan, Italy
La Scala is usually thought of as the ultimate home of opera. Well, that's exactly what it is.
Soon after its inception, La Scala replaced Naples's Teatro di San Carlo as Italy's best opera house. It has since remained the world's grandest venue for conductors and singers alike. La Scala was particularly prominent during the Golden Age of Opera of the 1950s, during which singers including Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Renata Tebaldi dominated its great stage. Among the conductors who have directed La Scala are Arturo Toscanini, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, and now Riccardo Chailly. Operas that had their premieres at La Scala include Bellini's Norma, Verdi's Nabucco, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, and many more.
Alkis Karmpaliotis is a 15-year-old opera enthusiast living in New York. He founded Appreciate Opera in 2019. You can support him by reading through some of his articles and interviews and subscribing.