Odessa Opera Theater

Coordinates: 46°29′08″N 30°44′30″E / 46.485556°N 30.741667°E / 46.485556; 30.741667

The Odessa National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet is the oldest theater in Odessa, Ukraine. The Theater and the Potemkin Stairs are the most famous edifices in Odessa.

The first opera house was opened in 1810 and destroyed by fire in 1873. The modern building was constructed by Fellner and Helmer in neo-baroque style and opened in 1887. The luxorious hall follows rococo style. Its unique acoustics allows to deliver even a whisper from the stage to any part of the hall. The most recent renovation of the theater was completed in 2007.


The Saint Petersburg architect Thomas de Thomon designed the first opera theater, opened on February 10, 1810. This first theater is in almost exactly the same spot as today's theater. The main entrance with its colonnade faced the sea. There was no foyer.

In 1831, Michael Vorontsov, governor-general of New Russia, decided to assign the newly instituted quarantine fees to the Odessa Theater. Historian Charles King explains that one of the medical inspectors in Odessa was also the owner of the Odessa Theater. When ticket sales were low, he would announce the discovery of an infeciton among newly arrived passengers and ordered them quarantined at their own cost. The expenses of the lazaretto, where the passengers stayed, would be used to hire a major performer for the theater.

On the night of January 2, 1873, the building was gutted by fire.

A fund raising campaign began immediately. The city announced an international contest for the best theater design. Forty designs were submitted, but none were chosen. Finally, the project was drafted along the lines of Dresden Semperoper built in 1878, with its nontraditional foyer following the curvatures of auditorium.

Two Viennese architects, Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer began to construct the larger replacement in 1883. The foundation stone was laid on September 16, 1884. On October 1, 1887 the theater was completed, costing 1,300,000 rubles to build. It was named the Odessa City Theater.

The theater was the first building in Odessa to employ the Edison Company with electric illumination.

To keep theater patrons comfortable in the summers, workers would lower wagonloads of ice and straw down a 35-foot shaft, then would carry it through a tunnel to a basement beneath the hall, where cool air rose up from vents beneath the seats.

In 1925 the building was burnt again in a fire.

There is a story that, when the Odessa people learned that the construction cost 1.3 million gold rubles, they gasped, but when they saw the new theater, they gasped again, this time in admiration.

During World War II, Nikita Khrushchev, concerned about the condition of the city, visited Odessa immediately after it was liberated. Khrushchev reported that only one corner of the building had been damaged by an enemy shell.

The theater was remodeled in the 1960s.

The theater sits upon shifting ground and is in danger of collapse. The first cracks in the foundation appeared almost as soon as the theater opened. The theater's eastern half sagged almost seven inches in its first three years, and the six walls began to tilt. Gleb Dranov, a former opera singer who sang at the theater for 25 years, and who worked five years as a geologist, is helping repair the building.


The building's façade is decorated in the Italian baroque style. In the niches are the busts of Mikhail Glinka, Nikolai Gogol, Alexandr Griboyedov, and Alexander Pushkin. The large hall was modeled after the style of Louis XVI, and is richly decorated with gilded stucco figures and designs. The architects provided the foyer with twenty-four exits, to avoid tragedy in the case of a fire. On the side of the theater is a lawn with fresh flowers and shrubs.

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