A masterpiece of Baroque theatre architecture, built between 1745 and 1750, the Opera House is the only entirely preserved example of its type where an audience of 500 can experience Baroque court opera culture and acoustics authentically, as its auditorium retains its original materials, i.e. wood and canvas. Commissioned by Margravine Wilhelmine, wife of Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg–Bayreuth, it was designed by the renowned theatre architect Giuseppe Galli Bibiena. As a court opera house in a public space, it foreshadowed the large public theatres of the 19th century. The highly decorated theatre’s tiered loge structure of wood with illusionistic painted canvas represents the ephemeral ceremonial architectural tradition that was employed in pageants and celebrations for princely self-representation.
View of the proscenium from the Court Loge
© Bavarian Department for State-owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes (BSV)
Outstanding Universal Value
The 18th century Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth is a masterwork of Baroque theatre architecture, commissioned by Margravine Wilhelmine of Brandenburg as a venue for opera seria over which the princely couple ceremonially presided. The bell-shaped auditorium of tiered loges built of wood and lined with decoratively painted canvas was designed by the then leading European theatre architect Giuseppe Galli Bibiena.
The sandstone façade designed by court architect Joseph Saint Pierre provides a focal point within the urban public space that was particularly planned for the building. As an independent court opera house rather than part of a palace complex, it marks a key point in opera house design, foreshadowing the large public theatres of the 19th century. Today it survives as the only entirely preserved example of court opera house architecture where Baroque court opera culture and acoustics can be authentically experienced. The attributes carrying Outstanding Universal Value are its location in the original 18th century public urban space; the 18th century Baroque façade; the original 18th century roof structure spanning 25 metres; the internal layout and design of the ceremonial foyer, tiered loge theatre and stage area including all existing original materials and decoration.
Criterion (i): The Margravial Opera House is a masterwork of Baroque court theatre architecture by Giuseppe Galli Bibiena in terms of its tiered loge form and acoustic, decorative and iconological properties.
Criterion (iv): The Margravial Opera House is an outstanding example of a Baroque court theatre. It marks a specific point in the development of opera houses, being a court opera house located not within a palace but as an urban element in the public space, foreshadowing the great public opera houses of the 19th century.
The elements necessary to express outstanding universal value are included within the property as one sole building and are intact and in good condition. No adverse effects are expected to occur and an overall conservation and restoration plan has been approved by the State Party.
Most of the building and the decorative programme of the loge theatre remain unchanged. Adaptations were due to regulations for fire safety in public buildings and requirements in line with the contemporary use of theatres. The highly unified Baroque work can still be appreciated. The survival of the interior materials of wood and canvas enable the opera house’s original acoustic quality to still be appreciated, and testifies to the authenticity of the property as an 18th century opera house.
Protection and management requirements
The property is protected at State level by the Bavarian Law for the Protection and Preservation of Monuments (1973, 2007). It is also protected by inclusion on the List of Monuments of Bayreuth under the Bayreuth City Civic Statutes and Ordinances. The buffer zone has been agreed and established with local authorities and its historic buildings are included in the Bayreuth Monuments List.
The Management authority is the Bavarian Palaces Department. Implementation of the Management Plan is guaranteed by a steering group including the Bavarian Palaces Department; the City of Bayreuth; the Upper Franconia regional government; the Bavarian State Ministry for Science, Research and Arts; the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Historic Buildings, and ICOMOS Germany. As a result of research, experience and consultations the impact of visitors and events has been regulated by the Bavarian Department of Palaces. Effective measures have been established to control the number of visitors and frequency of events which will be exclusively limited to the summer period after the restoration program is concluded.
The Opera House built 1745-50 faces west across a carefully contrived open space to create an urban focal point between existing buildings. The property boundary is formed by the outer peripheral walls of the theatre and covers 0.19 ha. The building is 71.5 metres long, 30.8 metres wide and 26.2 metres high. The monumental entrance façade design by the Italian architect of the Opera House interior, Giuseppe Galli Bibiena was not used; instead a design by Bayreuth’s French court architect Joseph Saint-Pierre was built. The stone façade has giant-order Corinthian columns on the first floor above a rusticated stone ground floor with three arched doors beneath a cantilevered balcony. A balustrade supporting full-size figures runs along the top of the façade in front of a hipped mansard roof. Entrance is via a low vestibule to the full height foyer where the Margrave´s arrival was celebrated. Here twin flights of stairs lead up to the Court Loge (Box). The upward progress of the ruling couple could be observed by the audience from three concave tiers of balustrade galleries on either side, which match the height of the loges (boxes) within the auditorium and accommodated the staircases for the audience in the corners. These galleries continue as corridors around the auditorium. From the corridors there is access to the passageways leading to the rear of the loges.
The auditorium´s bell-shaped ground plan lined with three tiers of loges is typical of Italian opera houses of the period. Together with the seating in the stalls on the floor of the auditorium, the opera house can accommodate an audience of around 500. A balustrade balcony accessible from the ground floor runs around the auditorium and gives access to the Court Loge. The distance from the original front edge of the stage to the rear wall of the Court Loge is around 22 metres. The span of the roofing structure was a considerable engineering feat at the time. Within the building’s shell the auditorium and proscenium arch were constructed as a building within a building. The tiers of loges are encased in a half-timbered structure, and supported by the ceiling beams of the galleries. The interior of the building consists solely of wood, but the rear walls of the loges and the coffered ceiling are covered in canvas to avoid cracks and achieve improved acoustics.
The heavy half-timbered wall between the corridors and the loges contributes to the environment and sound insulation of the auditorium from the corridors running along the outer walls. The parquet flooring on the ground floor is a replacement, dating from 1935, of an older wooden floor, which was probably predated by flagstones. The Court Loge rises to the height of two tiers and is emphasised by Corinthian columns, as are the proscenium and the trumpeters’ loges. The lower loges are ornamented with laughing heads adorned with baskets of fruits and flowers. In contrast to this, the loges of the upper tiers are more simply ornamented.
The balustraded central bay of the Court Loge forms a triumphal arch with the bays on each side also accentuated by Corinthian columns with spiral garlands. It is crowned by a baldachin carrying the Brandenburg heraldic eagle. The three loges above are emphasized by caryatids on the supports and balustrades. Above are rocailles over the side bays and a centrally-placed cartouche with a dedication to the Margraves. The stuccoed stove recesses in the Court Loge were installed in the second half of the 18th century in order to heat the loge, since it quickly became evident that heating the building would be a problem (traditionally concerts were held during the cold months of the year). The red eagle of the Margraves of Brandenburg appears in the centre of the coffered ceiling with the heart-shaped shield of the Hohenzollern.
The proscenium loges were converted into stage exits in 1935. Due to this intervention the balustrade trumpeters’ loges have a greater emphasis today. Forming diagonal splays to the proscenium, they housed trumpeters and drummers who announced the Margrave´s entrance. Spirally garlanded Corinthian columns frame the proscenium arch, echoing the treatment of the Court Loge and emphasising the relationship between the stage action and the watching princely couple. Up until the late 18th century the stage portal opened up fully and created a direct spatial connection between the auditorium and the stage, and the audience and the theatrical action. Depicted on the centre of the auditorium ceiling is a view of the heavens. The illusion is assisted by an enormous painted trompe l’oeil entablature. As a prince of peace and active supporter of the arts, it was Apollo whom Margrave Frederick chose as his iconological model. In the sculptural programme on the façade of the opera building, Athena, goddess of wisdom in war and peace, is at his side representing the Margravine. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC