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China's Opera House Building Boom

July 30, 2013

Carlos Ott's Wenzhou Opera House Some 50 (fifty!) new opera houses have been built in China as part of its unprecedented building boom. After years of spectacular skyscrapers popping up seemingly every day, now opera houses are taking center stage. "In a game of architectural one-upmanship, every major town wants to stand out with its own prestige opera house," says a Deutsche Welle Focus report. "This rapid development is being implemented by government decree — in next to no time and on a large scale."

Prominent architects from all over the world are recruited for these projects, and they are given free rein to experiment and invest funds far in excess of sums seen anywhere in Europe or the U.S. Beijing and Shanghai are both capping recent growth with extravagant opera houses designed by the French architect Paul Andreu. Following their lead, other fast-developing cities are building grand performance facilities that express a level of cultural achievement to go along with economic success.

The Guangzhou Opera House, designed by London-based architect Zaha Hadid, for example, is part of the city's plans for urban redevelopment, which will cost RMB 180 billion. Sitting on the banks of the Zhu Jiang River, "the Guangzhou Opera House will play an important role in promoting the cultural traditions of the region in addition to promoting the development of Zhujiang New Town and the Guangzhou riverside," says a spokesperson in Hadid's office.

The Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, who first came to international attention with his Bastille Opera in Paris (completed in 1989), is now busy on four opera houses in China. Working with the Canadian firm Petroff Partnership, Ott has designed projects in Hangzhou, Wenzhou, Zhengdong New Town, and Dongguan, all awarded through design competitions.

Ott’s Hangzhou Grand Theater — which includes a 1,600-seat opera hall, a 600-seat concert hall, and a 400-seat theater — is described by the architect as "a pearl in its oyster shell."

DW's 40-minute TV report from the scene is an amazing documentary. Locally, it's shown on KMTP, ch. 32 on Comcast, repeated in the "Talking Germany" program.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].