Fire and dilapidation have done their worst elsewhere, too.Even what does survive is often only illusory, for these are buildings which conceal as much as they reveal – behind the pompous proscenium arch and its red plush curtains, backstage is a hellish verminous warren of mildewed storerooms, frayed cables and peeling paint, while the glamour of the auditorium is mere trompe l’oeil, a patina of prettiness on pasteboard, like a fairground carousel.It is as though we are being made to see what the prima donna surveys as she advances downstage and launches into her great aria.
But there is a durable romance about these places, too, magnificently captured and celebrated in a spectacular new book by the American photographer David Leventi.
He has produced gorgeous colour images of the spectrally empty auditoriums of 45 opera houses, almost all viewed from the same central vantage point on stage.
Today, in a world obsessed with access and democracy, these tiered and layered buildings can appear elitist relics of a society encoded with social hierarchy, defiantly demarcating the rich in their velvety private boxes and gilded foyers from the poor packed pell-mell on to hard benches in the unadorned upper galleries.
Most European opera houses, prominent sitting targets in the city centres, suffered severe wartime damage from bombing and are now restored to the point that little remains of their original fabric: the major houses in Munich, Vienna, Dresden and Berlin all fall into this category.
A rococo confection in pink, red and gold, it’s as exquisitely bijou as a Fabergé egg.