The Vienna State Opera is one of the leading opera houses in the world. Its past is steeped in tradition. Its present is alive with richly varied performances and events. Each season, the schedule features 350 performances of more than 60 different operas and ballets. The members of the Vienna Philharmonic are recruited from the Vienna State Opera's orchestra. The building is also the home of the Vienna State Ballet, and it hosts the annual Vienna Opera Ball during the carnival season.
The 1,709-seat Renaissance Revival venue was the first major building on the Vienna Ring Road. It was built from 1861 to 1869 following plans by August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll, and designs by Josef Hlávka. The opera house was inaugurated as the "Vienna Court Opera" (Wiener Hofoper) in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria. It became known by its current name after the establishment of the First Austrian Republic in 1921. The Vienna State Opera is the successor of the Vienna Court Opera, the original construction site chosen and paid for by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1861.
The opera house was the first major building on the Vienna Ringstrasse commissioned by the Viennese "city expansion fund". Work commenced on the house in 1861 and was completed in 1869, following plans drawn up by architects August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll. It was built in the Neo-Renaissance style by the renowned Czech architect and contractor Josef Hlávka.
Gustav Mahler was one of the many conductors who have worked in Vienna. During his tenure (1897–1907), Mahler cultivated a new generation of singers, such as Anna Bahr-Mildenburg and Selma Kurz, and recruited a stage designer who replaced the lavish historical stage decors with sparse stage scenery corresponding to modernistic, Jugendstil tastes. Mahler also introduced the practice of dimming the lighting in the theatre during performances, which was initially not appreciated by the audience. However, Mahler's reforms were maintained by his successors.
Herbert von Karajan introduced the practice of performing operas exclusively in their original language instead of being translated into German. He also strengthened the ensemble and regular principal singers and introduced the policy of predominantly engaging guest singers. He began a collaboration with La Scala in Milan, in which both productions and orchestrations were shared. This created an opening for the prominent members of the Viennese ensemble to appear in Milan, especially to perform works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Strauss.
Ballet companies merge
At the beginning of the 2005–2006 season, the ballet companies of the Staatsoper and the Vienna Volksoper were merged under the direction of Gyula Harangozó.
From the 2010–2011 season a new company was formed called Wiener Staatsballet, Vienna State Ballet, under the direction of former Paris Opera Ballet principal dancer Manuel Legris. Legris eliminated Harangozós's policy of presenting nothing but traditional narrative ballets with guest artists in the leading roles, concentrated on establishing a strong in-house ensemble and restored evenings of mixed bill programs, featuring works of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Jiří Kylián, William Forsythe, and many contemporary choreographers, as well as a reduced schedule of the classic ballets.
For many decades, the opera house has been the venue of the Vienna Opera Ball. It is an internationally renowned event, which takes place annually on the last Thursday in Fasching. Those in attendance often include visitors from around the world, especially prominent names in business and politics. The opera ball receives media coverage from a range of outlets.