The original theater of the State Opera (known at the time as kk Hofoperntheater, Opera House of the Royal and Imperial Court), a Neo-Renaissance building criticized by the Viennese when it was erected, was built between 1861 and 1869, on a project of the Viennese architects Eduard van der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg. Both architects died before seeing the building finished (van der Nüll committed suicide and his companion Sicardsburg died shortly after a heart attack). Other renowned artists participated in the interior decoration, particularly the painter Moritz von Schwind, who painted the famous foyer frescoes and the terrace. The theater was inaugurated on May 25, 1869 with Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni.
During the Second World War, on March 12, 1945, the building suffered an aerial bombardment and then a fire that completely destroyed the stage and the spectators hall. Almost all the decoration and supports for more than 120 operas with about 150,000 costumes were destroyed. Only the main facade, the grand staircase and the hall with the Schwind frescoes were saved. The State Opera temporarily housed the Theater an der Wien and the Volksoper.
Right after the end of the war, in May 1945, it was announced that reconstruction work would begin immediately. The project contemplated the reconstruction of the room with a design similar to the original, but with decoration more in line with the design trends of the time, although the traditional colors, red, gold and ivory were maintained. The entire room was covered in wood, in order to recover the original bright acoustics. The number of seats in the stalls was reduced and the fourth floor was restructured to eliminate the columns, which reduced visibility. Schwind’s facade, lobby and foyer were restored in their original style.
The reconstructed theater, with 2,284 seats (instead of the original 2,881), was reopened on November 5, 1955, shortly after the signing of the treaty that re-established Austria as an independent state, with the representation of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio directed by Karl Böhm.
Between 1991 and 1993, the entire scenic area was completely renovated, installing hydraulic platforms of the latest technology, as well as new installations for electrical supply, heating, ventilation and fire protection throughout the building. In addition, a new stage rehearsal room was built, called «Carlos Kleiber Room». Among the peculiarities of the building, one can mention the Orgelsaal (organ room), on the sixth floor, which contains a large organ of 2,500 tubes (the largest in the world among those housed in opera houses), whose sound is transmitted directly to the spectator room. The same room is sometimes used for other acoustic effects, such as the sound of anvils in Richard Wagner’s The Gold of the Rhine.1
For decades, since 1877, the Opera House has been the venue for the Opera Ball.