Also called “Sunken Box” by the Viennese
It was in 1857 that Emperor Franz Joseph I decided to replace the wall around the old town centre with a grand boulevard – the Ring Boulevard. And it was he too who wished for a stately opera house, and commissioned the architects Sicardsburg and van der Nüll.
After eight years the new opera house was completed, but its appearance didn’t please the Viennese at all. They referred to it mockingly as the “sunken chest”, because, while it was being built, the level of the Ring Boulevard had been raised one metre; the result was that the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) didn’t stand regally above the road, but rather seemed to be half stuck in the ground.
“It was very nice, I enjoyed it very much.” Emperor Franz Joseph took the death of his architects so to heart, that for the rest of his reign he refrained from critical statements about art works of any sort, and confined his judgement to this legendary sentence.
The Emperor also didn’t appear particularly impressed, and is reputed to have agreed with his subjects: “The building really is stuck deep in the ground.”
The withering criticism from the people and the Emperor is reputed to have driven the sensitive van der Nüll to suicide even before the opera house was completed on April 4th, 1868. Only ten weeks later Sicardsburg also died, of a stroke. Nevertheless, in spite of the ridicule and the drama, the new opera house, with its capacity of 2000, began its first season, in the unusually cold May of 1869, at a pleasant temperature. This was thanks to 300 soldiers who warmed the building with their body heat, as well as to the successful premiere of “Don Juan”.
The Vienna opera house…
is regarded as one of the world’s most important, due among other things to its large repertoire. Over 35 operas have had their premieres on its stage, and countless others have been successfully restaged. Over 50 productions are staged each year, and for ten months of the year there is an opera almost daily. Each evening musicians and conductor retrieve a treasure from the “sunken chest” and enchant their audience – for the opera an almost atypical happy end.
Text: Nina Lucia Groß, Fotos: Christine Wurnig