Arts and Culture
Feature / June 03, 2017

Opera Houses Set the Stage for Special Events

by Carolyn Blackburn

  • Sydney Opera House, Australia

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0617/Feat_Special_Venues_Sydney Opera House2.jpg

    Sydney Opera House, Australia

    Sydney Opera House, Australia
  • San Francisco War Memorial Opera House

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0617/Feat_Special_Venues_SF WMOH Lobby_ credit Joel Puliatti.jpg

    San Francisco War Memorial Opera House

    San Francisco War Memorial Opera House
  • Oslo Opera House, Norway

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0617/Feat_Special_Venues_Osla Opera House2_photo credit Erik Berg.jpg

    Oslo Opera House, Norway

    Oslo Opera House, Norway

Planners who handle the many moving parts it takes to execute a large-scale meeting should appreciate the group effort that’s required to stage an opera.

Doing so involves hundreds of people, from production and costume designers to the world’s most gifted musicians, all working together to create a theater experience starring some of the most glorious music ever written.

Meanwhile, the hosts of opera performances are some of the most beautiful venues in the world.

The following lineup of seven heavenly opera houses that accommodate group functions will have your attendees raising their glasses and singing along to La Traviata’s famous drinking song, or brindisi, which means “toast” in Italian.

La Scala, Milan, Italy
The world’s most famous opera house is the stunning La Scala, which has celebrated the art form for over two centuries.

“Entering La Scala is like breathing the air of the history of music, the same air that Verdi, Rossini, Puccini, Pavarotti, Maria Callas, Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Luchino Visconti and many others have breathed before,” said Alberto Luchetti, who works in the venue’s marketing and fundraising department.

Luchetti described La Scala as a “living art machine,” where the most brilliant artists working today perform for visiting groups.

“This is really unique—it is always history in the making,” he said. “These are the emotions that we can offer in this legendary place, and having the chance to enjoy this absolute excellence with your group is an extraordinary privilege.”

Groups can book great seats in advance for live performances, which are at the center of corporate events here. Upcoming operas include Verdi’s Nabucco and Handel’s Tamerlane.

Groups may also arrange a pre-curtain guided backstage tour, a cocktail reception during intermission in the on-site museum, which showcases La Scala memorabilia, and a dinner after the performance in the Toscanini Foyer.

“On special occasions, artists can be invited as special guests to the dinner,” Luchetti said, adding that playbills signed by opera stars and customized merchandising from La Scala Shop, as well as company branding on playbills, are all possibilities.

“When we do not have a performance in the main hall, it is possible to organize special chamber concerts—usually voice and piano—in the foyers or in the museum, in partnership with the best pupils of our academia.”

Lyric Opera House, Chicago
Chicago’s historic Lyric Opera House, a hybrid of Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs, is among the world’s most gorgeous buildings.

Built in 1929, the home to Lyric Opera of Chicago offers “a majestic setting for entertaining on any scale,” according to Eleanor Sanchez, presentation and events coordinator.

“Dinners onstage at the Lyric Opera House are incredibly unique,” she said. “Guests can listen to an aria before watching the backdrop rise to reveal their banquet on stage. We have beautiful in-house chandeliers that can be lowered over the banquet setting. During our opera season, set pieces and props can adorn the stage and enhance the decor and guest experience.”

Events here, she added, also benefit from in-house lighting and sound capabilities that can help a planner’s bottom line.

Among the opera house’s gathering spaces for events, including cocktail receptions and meetings of all sizes (with or without live stream), are the lobby, grand foyer, four private dining rooms and 3,563-seat Ardis Krainik Theatre, the second-largest opera auditorium in North America.

“Opera singers who are enrolled in Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center are available to perform at events,” Sanchez said, adding that a group tour can also be arranged, including a close-up look at the backstage area, wigs, makeup and wardrobe closet.

Group tickets are available, and an opera can be incorporated into any event. Upcoming performances include Gounod’s Faust, Verdi’s Rigoletto, Bellini’s I Puritani and Wagner’s Die Walkure.

Sydney Opera House, Australia
The Sydney Opera House, the most distinctive of opera venues with its iconic sails, features a full calendar of events, including Wagner’s Parsifal and a special concert of opera highlights starring world-renowned soprano Anna Netrebko later this year.

“We are able to tailor an opera house experience for group events of any size, whether it be tours, dining at one of our six on-site restaurants, show tickets or a combination of all,” said Sophie Garrett, spokeswoman for the venue.

There are also packages such as Taste of Opera, which offers a private opera recital as part of a tour or evening meal function.

San Francisco War Memorial Opera House
The beautiful San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, one of the last Beaux-Arts buildings erected in the country, opened with a performance of Puccini’s Tosca in 1932.

This active performance venue, which also stages ballet, offers limited availability for corporate gatherings. But if a group requires a short lead time—and is very lucky—it’s a wonderful place for an event, according to Sharon Walton, communications and events manager.

The opera house has hosted functions in its lobbies, including receptions for up to 1,000 people and sit-down dinners for up to 250 people.

“Unless the event has a performance component—awards ceremony, lecture, actual performance—there is no access to the auditorium and/or stage during an event,” Walton said, adding that resident Patina Catering is available to work with planners on a delicious menu.

Opera lovers will descend on San Francisco from all over the world next year when the San Francisco Opera stages Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

Oslo Opera House, Norway
The spectacular Oslo Opera House, home of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, opened in 2008 with a horseshoe-shaped main auditorium that features amazing acoustics and a chandelier made of 5,800 handmade crystals.

The calendar here includes upcoming performances of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and the opera house is also available for meetings, receptions, wine tastings, dinners in the foyer and more.

Other than the foyer, gathering spaces include the main stage, which accommodates up to 1,334 people, the Kirsten Flagstad room, which can hold 60 people in a cinema setup, and the Gunnar Brunvoll royal reception room, which seats 20 people.

“Opera singers and ballet dancers can be made available to perform at corporate events,” said Terje Jacobsen, project manager, development. “We can also make an event special by decorating the stage with elements from an opera or ballet, and enhance the effect with light design. This adds drama and makes the whole stage look amazing and magical.”

Guided group tours and group ticketing are available.

Noah Liff Opera Center, Nashville
Nashville’s Noah Liff Opera Center, another new kid on the block, opened in 2009 and stages grand operas like Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Bizet’s Carmen, which are both on the calendar this season.

The venue also hosts private corporate events such as trade shows, training seminars, luncheons and receptions.

“Sleek, contemporary design makes the Noah Liff Opera Center the ideal setting for any event,” said Annmarie Mizzoni, facility and events manager. “Our events are executed with the same knowledge and technology that our performances entail. From lighting to sound, staging to decor, our private events are professionally created, just like our last production.”

Group tickets are available to opera performances, and artists are typically available to sing at events.

Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters
Chamber operas including As One and 27 are performed at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters, an opera house that’s home to the Pittsburgh Opera organization.

Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters also hosts a wide range of corporate events, including off-site work sessions and receptions.

According to Chris Cox, director of marketing and communications for the Pittsburgh Opera, the building has two primary gathering spaces, the George R. White Opera Studio, which can hold up to 400 people for a cocktail reception or 200 for a seated dinner, and the adjacent Founders’ Room, which accommodates up to 100 people in theater-style seating or 50 for a dinner.

“They can be combined into one larger space if requested,” Cox said. “Both spaces have a raw industrial feel from their 1869 origins. Guests often use the term ‘industrial chic’ to describe the vibe of the venue.”

Event add-ons include a tour of the facility and special group rates for performances.

“We are also happy to discuss having opera singers sing or speak at a private business event,” Cox said.

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