At the Crossroads of Europe & Asia

Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

Lviv Opera House: Western Ukraine’s Cultural Gem

Over the winter season, opera in Ukraine is back in full swing, including at the Lviv Opera House – one of Europe’s most beautiful, but perhaps least known opera houses. Luba Rudenko from MIR’s affiliated Kiev office recently had a chance to attend a performance, and we’d love to share with you her first-hand impressions.

Last fall, October 4, 2020 marked the 120th anniversary of the Lviv Opera House – an impressive cultural institution with a fascinating story. Unfortunately, the usual festivities and events planned to accompany such an important occasion were sidelined due to pandemic restrictions. Instead, an online premier of the opera Turandot by G. Puccini was performed in late November, a challenging undertaking with national quarantine orders in place. Luckily by mid-December, restrictions were eased enough to allow in-person attendance, and Luba was delighted to secure tickets for this momentous event.  

“On December 11th, my husband and I attended the performance of Turandot at the Lviv Opera House properly masked up. An international team of producers and artists of Turandot from five countries were led by the famous Polish director Michał Znanecki, who has directed more than 200 performances in many countries around the world – from Poland to Argentina. During the performance we became immersed in the atmosphere of ancient China through the marvelous music and decorations, the lovely performances from the actors, and the splendid colorful costumes. It was delightful – an evening full of emotions and one never to forget.”

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At the end of the 19th Century, Lviv, then known as Lemberg, was the capital of the Galicia province and belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The years 1897 to 1900 saw the construction of the Lviv Opera House to fortify the city’s growing position as a center of culture and the arts. The stunning Grand Theater of Lviv has often been compared to the opera houses of Paris and Vienna. The building’s architect, a graduate of the Berlin Building Academy by the name of Zygmunt Gorgolewski, was commissioned as the winner of an architectural design competition that garnered the attention of numerous international participants.

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Gorgolewski chose as its location the very heart of the old city, which posed the problem of being densely populated, overcrowded, and lacking the space for such a monumental project. To overcome this challenge, he endeavored to enclose a part of the Poltva river and build over it, employing Europe’s first example of a reinforced concrete base instead of a traditional foundation. During the construction phase and its first few years at the turn of the century, the opera house slowly sank into the Poltva. However, by the time Gorgolewski died suddenly of heart failure in 1906, the Lviv Opera had settled permanently.

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The Lviv Opera House is built in the classical style with archways and niches flanked by Corinthian columns. Finer details on the exterior betray the influence of Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque, and Art Nouveau elements. Inside, the décor is festive and opulent, featuring oil paintings, sculptures, and bas-relief works by some of the most renowned Polish artists of the time. The Lviv Opera House stands as a testament to some of the finer architectural and artistic achievements of Europe at the turn of the 19th century and remains symbolic of the city of Lviv and its heritage as a premier destination for the arts. Here, Luba tipped us off to a lesser known and surprising tale about the Lviv Opera House – or more specifically, about its stage curtain.

“We were amazed with the with magnificent stage curtain at that performance. I have never seen it before in the Lviv Opera. Its story is just unbelievable! “

Lviv Opera House Stage Curtain. Photo credit: Luba Rudenko
Lviv Opera House Stage Curtain. Photo credit: Luba Rudenko

The builders of the Opera House wanted the curtain in the theater to be as impressive and unique as the building itself. They traveled around Europe and searched for the most beautiful curtains. The best they found were in the theaters of Milan and Krakow, the designer of which was the famous artist Henrik Semiradsky.  He was asked to make the theatrical curtain for the Opera House of Lviv, and despite knowing that there was not enough money to properly compensate him for it, he presented his magnificent work to the Lviv Opera and it became one of his defining pieces. Less than two decades later the famous curtain disappeared into a private family collection for over a century and has now been returned to its original home in Lviv, to the delight of local and international opera goers alike. In December of 2020, Sotheby’s auction listed for sale a scaled-down copy of the original curtain “Parnassus” that sold for 680,500 British Pounds.

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Travel to Ukraine with MIR

MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Ukraine and has an affiliate office in Kiev. We have a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.” 

Whether you’re thinking of traveling sooner or later, don’t miss out on the layers of cultural history and variegated beauty of Ukraine. You can visit Lviv’s Opera House on MIR’s small group tour Belarus, Ukraine & Moldova, or on our private Essential Ukraine itinerary. You can also create your own independent Ukrainian exploration with the help of our private tour specialists.

Chat with one of our destination specialists now!

PUBLISHED: March 16, 2021

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