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The most famous theatres in Europe

Fancy a night at the opera? No, we're not talking about the film by the Marx Brothers – we mean the real opera. We would like to invite you to dress up to the nines and go on a tour of Europe's historic theatres, to enjoy important operas and contemporary dramas, and even pop concerts. Let's go back in time and take a look at the history of the most famous theatres in Europe. The curtain goes up...

  • 1583: Teatro Español, Madrid

Is this the oldest theatre in Europe? It might well be, based on the first performances that took place here, at the old "Corral de Comedias del Príncipe". In Barrio de Las Letras, a district in Madrid which is closely connected to literature, a statue of poet Federico García Lorca faces the Teatro Español, the hub of performing arts in Madrid. Don't miss it if you love theatre and the arts.

A lift was installed in 1929, the "King's Lift", which was used exclusively by King Alfonso XIII to get straight to his box.

  • 1737: San Carlo Theatre, Naples

San Carlo Theatre, in Naples, was founded 150 years later. This is the oldest active opera house in the world. This stunning building still stands in one of the most important spots in Naples, Piazza del Plebiscito, very close to the port. It is said that the theatres that were built later on used this one as a model.

If you want to get to know all about this theatre and its history from the inside, you can go on an affordable guided tour. It takes you round the seats and to the most luxurious boxes.

  • 1778: Teatro alla Scala, Milan

From the oldest theatre we now move on to the most famous one: Teatro alla Scala in Milan. If you love the opera or you simple fancy finding out more about it, we recommend travelling to Milan during the opera season, which usually starts at the end of the year. This theatre is one of the symbols of Milan and many tourists come here simply to take the obligatory photo outside.

The opera season starts on 7 December, which is the Feast of Saint Ambrose (patron saint of Milan). It never disappoints – La Scala gathers all the glamour of Milan's upper middle class.

  • 1847: Liceu, Barcelona

The most famous opera house in Barcelona can be found on Las Ramblas, the city's most iconic street. It opened in 1847 and reopened in 1999 after a fire in 1994. The Liceu knows how to attract all kinds of audiences, and nowadays its programme includes plays, opera and even pop and rock concerts.

The stage is part of a structure that is over 100 metres high. Thanks to this, the Liceu can alternate two major operas (with their respective sceneries).

  • 1856: Bolshoi Theatre

The Bolshoi Theatre opened in the mid-19th century. It is the most important and famous theatre in Russia ("Bolshoi" actually means "Grand Theatre" in Russian). It was completely refurbished in 2011 and it is also a dance, theatre and opera company. It has preserved the way it looked two centuries ago and it is a place not to be missed when you come to Moscow.

Swan Lake, arguably the most famous ballet of all time, was commissioned by the Bolshoi Theatre not long after opening and was premiered here in 1877.

  • 1871: Royal Albert Hall, London

This is one of the symbols of London : the Royal Albert Hall. Not only because it puts on all kinds of shows, but also because of its distinctive circular shape. However, if you want to visit a theatre with character in London, don't miss Shakespeare's Globe, next to the River Thames, where Shakespeare used to premiere his plays. It's not the original theatre, but it is a realistic reconstruction.

The list of stars who have been on stage at the Royal Albert Hall is endless. The Beatles played there twice in 1963! They even mentioned the famous concert hall in their song "A Day in the Life".

  • 1897: Teatro Massimo, Palermo

In the late 19th century a stunning neoclassical opera house opened in Southern Italy: Teatro Massimo in Palermo, which was made famous thanks to a film: the well-known final scene of "The Godfather Part III" was filmed on the staircase in 1990. It is also the third largest theatre in Europe and is situated in a privileged location in the centre of Palermo, next to Piazza Giuseppe Verdi.

There are guided tours since it reopened in 1997. You can also climb up to the roof, which affords stunning views of the city.

  • 1962: Palais Garnier, Paris

We know we're cheating with this one. Palais Garnier, one of the most important buildings in Paris, actually opened in 1875, but we want to fast-forward to 1962, the year in which Russian painter Marc Chagall completed the ceiling painting. It's a true explosion of colour in such a sober and classical atmosphere.

On the ceiling we can spot, amongst many other things, a tribute to five composers: Mozart, Wagner, Mussorgsky, Berlioz and Ravel.

  • 2008: Oslo Opera House

The last opera house on our list is the most recent of them all, as well as the most peculiar and modern one: we're talking about Oslo Opera House, a kind of white geometric cube, which opened in 2008. It is inspired by the shape of an iceberg and its curious marble structure appears to be rising up from the sea.

This opera house blends in perfectly with its surroundings – so much so that the main stage is 16 metres below sea level.


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