What are the world’s most sumptuous, dripping-with-history, covetable ballet theatres? Take our tour.
The marble Palacio de Bellas Artes, one of Mexico City’s Art-Deco icons, was erected in 1913, but construction – halted during the Mexican Revolution – wasn’t completed until 1934. Famous for its incredible house curtain made from Tiffany glass and its murals by Diego Rivera, the opulent marble structure is so heavy that it’s slowly sinking into the surrounding subsoil. The Ballet Folklorico de Mexico performs here regularly.
With more history than you can poke a pointe shoe at, London’s Royal Opera House – often called Covent Garden after its location – was built in 1732, and has been a stalwart of London’s theatre scene ever since. It hosted its first ballet, Pygmalion, in 1734. The current building, with its imposing Georgian facade, is the third built on the site; fire destroyed the previous two. Its luscious red-and-gold interior features a swagged curtain with the British coat of arms.
This stunning neo-baroque structure, looming over the 9th arrondissement, is about as romantic as they come. Construction began in 1862 and, after several hindrances, the theatre was completed and opened to a joyous public in 1874. It’s home to the Paris Opéra Ballet, so its stages have been trodden by the likes of Rudolf Nureyev and Sylvie Guillem. The theatre seats 2200 and boasts the opulent Grand Foyer, the heavily gilded Grand Staircase and a domed ceiling painted by Chagall. The famous central chandelier – hung above the audience – weighs in at eight tonnes.
Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre was completed in 1860 and has a breathtakingly lavish, blue-and-silver interior and a dazzling mint-green facade. This is where a slew of ballet superstars (including Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov) danced, and where George Balanchine began his luminous career. The gold-star standard of impressive theatres.
It was once a dramatic three-storey amphitheatre, but today the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is an ancient ruin nestled on the southern slopes of the Athenian Acropolis (you can glimpse the Acropolis from the stage). It was built in 161 AD by the Greek aristocrat Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife. The theatre was revamped in the 50s with new marble tiers and makes an unforgettable setting for opera, contemporary music and, of course, ballet.
The Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, Lebanon, is another magnificent ruin. It was constructed in 150 AD and is regarded as one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world. The lofty, columned structure has survived earthquakes and war and is now a popular tourist attraction, coming to life during the annual Baalbek International Festival.
Partly designed by Balanchine, Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House captures the grandeur of old-world New York. It’s home to the American Ballet Theatre’s annual spring season. The theatre boasts mammoth chandeliers, which are lowered to dress circle height at interval and raised as the lights fade for the performance. The main curtain – made from custom-woven gold damask – is the largest tab curtain in the world.
With its simple, instantly recognisable white peaks, the Sydney Opera House is an Australian icon and a must-see for architectural buffs. It has a rival in the red velvet-lined State Theatre in Arts Centre Melbourne – a favourite among The Australian Ballet's dancers, who love its sprung floors, sweeping sight lines and spacious stage – but you can’t top the Opera House's harbourside position and stunning looks.
Shanghai’s Grand Theatre is symbolic of the city’s evolution into a sleek modern city. The shiny new complex was designed by French architect Jean-Marie Charpentier and opened in 1998. The theatre’s name is no exaggeration – its floor area covers more than 11,000 square metres.
This Washington landmark opened in 1971 and annually hosts around 2000 performances in its three main venues – the Concert Hall, Opera House and Eisenhower Theatre. Linking the three is the luxurious Grand Foyer which, at around 18 metres high and 192 metres long, is one of the largest rooms in the world. Dripping in adornments, the Foyer is kitted out with eight giant mirrors, 20 brass planters and 18 colossal Orrefors crystal chandeliers, each weighing one ton. Together, the chandeliers require 8000 lightbulbs.