The Gran Teatre de Liceu, Barcelona´s most celebrated opera house, was founded in 1847. It is located on Las Ramblas and has been a center for both culture and arts for the last two centuries. Its origins go back to the Sociedad Dramática de Aficionados (Drama Aficionados Society), which was created by members of the National Militia in 1837. It began in what had previously been the convent of Montsió with the objective of promoting musical education. In 1838 the group was renamed the Liceo Filarmonico Dramático Barcelonés de S.M. La Reina Isabel II (Barcelona Dramatic Philharmonic Lyceum of HM Queen Isabel II), and Italian song and music were incorporated into its repertoire.
Due to their success, a new theater was constructed and opened on April 4, 1847. Trading shares were used to finance the theater, and as a result many of the boxes and seats belonged to private investors. They became known as the Societat de Propietaris (Society of Owners) in 1855 when the Gran Teatre del Liceu separated from the Convservatori del Gran Teatre del Liceu and they took responsibility for it. At that time the Liceu, with over 3,500 seats, was bigger than any other opera house in Europe. In 1861 a fire caused significant damage to theater and much of it had to be rebuilt. The opera house was closed during that time, and reopened on April 20, 1862.
In 1893, on the season´s opening night, anarchists threw two bombs into the opera house. Luckily only one of the two exploded, but at least 20 people were killed and many others were injured. The Liceu was restored and reopened to the public on January 18, 1894, but for many years after the seats where those who were killed had been sitting were left empty.
At this time the theater was run by show companies who were made to stage a set number of productions each season. Their earnings were based on the sales of tickets set aside for the Societat. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936 the theater was nationalized and turned into the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya (the National Theater of Catalonia) by the Republican authorities. After the war, in 1939, it was given back to its original owners.
In the 1970s the theater felt the effects of the national economic crisis of that time, and the private organization could not maintain the necessary budget for the productions. In 1980 the administration and management of the theater was taken over by the Consorci del Gran Teatre del Liceu, which was created by the Catalan Regional Government, the Barcelona City Council, and the Societat del Gran Teatre del Liceu.
On January 31, 1994, the theater suffered yet another fire, this time as a result of a spark that fell on the curtain during last-minute alterations to the set, and the main hall and stage were destroyed. It was decided that a new opera house should be built in the same place, and with superior facilities. For the theater to be built it needed to become public and so the Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu was created. Construction took place during the next five years and the new theater opened on October 7, 1999.
Of the original building, the central facade on La Rambla, the main vestibule with the staircases, and the Hall of Mirrors, were saved and maintained. The main hall and stage had to be rebuilt, but the reconstruction was done following the same layout as the original, with just a few changes and technological improvements being made. Seating capacity is now 2,292, making it out of the largest opera houses in Europe. The ornamentation of the hall is also a reproduction of the 1909 decorative refurbishment, with red velvet seats and brass lamps.
A number of technological improvements were made, making it what some consider the most modern theater facility in Europe. There is now a technical floor above the ornamental ceiling where TV recordings can be made and the acoustics of the building have been optimized. There is also an electronic libretto system which provides translations into English, Catalan, or Spanish onto small monitors.
Liceu is a receiving and producing house, meaning that it receives touring theater companies but also produces its own productions (normally two or three a year). The Liceu company is formed by a permanent orchestra and choir and some singers which take over the supporting roles, while lead roles are normally sung by guest singers.
The annual program is determined by the “Contract-Programme”, a contract signed by the theater and public administrations to ensure that all productions are consistent with the aims of the institution. The objectives of Liceu are to maintain the great operas in its repertoire, to bring significant works which have never or rarely been performed in order to give them recognition, and to favor the incorporation of local skilled professionals into its artistic activity.
In addition, the Liceu offers a series of performances and activities with complementary information surrounding each opera, a series of dance performances and concerts, and special programs for children and teenagers. In a single season the Liceu offers more than 40 different shows, and has over 400,000 vistors.
The Barcelona Opera House offers daily tours of the auditorium, the hall of mirrors, and the foyer. Guided tours take place at 10am and cost 8,8€. Unguided tours cost 4,4€, and take place from Monday to Saturday. Those interested in seeing a performance should be sure to book tickets well in advance. For more information visit the official website at http://www.liceubarcelona.cat.