Academy of Music & the Philadelphia Opera

The Academy of Music, the oldest opera house in the U.S., opened with a Grand Ball and Promenade Concert in 1857. It is owned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and managed by the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Officially chartered in 1852, groundbreaking for the building to be designed by Napoleon Le Brun and Gustavus Runge took place on June 18, 1855. Located along the Avenue of the Arts at Broad and Locust streets, the Academy was designated a national historic landmark in 1963.

Within a rather modest exterior, the elaborate interior of the opera house is modeled after La Scala in Milan. The hall, with a seating capacity of approximately 3,000, features an open horseshoe design. Superior acoustics are made possible with a solid 3’ brick wall lined with studding and pine boards that completely encloses the auditorium to absorb sounds and echoes. The balconies, supported by 14 Corinthian columns, rise in four recessed tiers beneath a ceiling of murals painted by Karl Schmolze. A magnificent chandelier, 50’ in circumference, 16’ in diameter, and weighing 5,000 lbs., as well as busts of Mozart, Poetry, and Music, add to the ornately carved and gilded décor of the hall. The ballroom, designed after the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, will accommodate 350 people and is often used for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s chamber concerts. The original elegant restaurant and separate drawing rooms in the basement of the Academy were converted to a Stage Door Canteen for entertaining the armed forces during WWII. From 1942 to 1945, an estimated two and a half million men and women enjoyed the refreshments and performances by top entertainers such as Abbott and Costello, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and Lynn Fontaine.

From the premiere of Verdi’s Il Trovatore in February 1857 through Gounod’s Faust, Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, and Madama Butterfly, the Academy of Music has featured numerous famous performing artists such as Marian Anderson, Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Luciano Pavarotti, Isaac Stern, and Leontyne Price. The opera season for 2007 and early 2008 will include Falstaff, Porgy and Bess, Rigoletto, Hansel & Gretel, Cyrano, Norma, and Ainadamar. The Broadway series of productions scheduled for this season are Disney’s High School Musical, the Philadelphia debuts of The Color Purple and The Drowsy Chaperone, and a return of the favorite classic, My Fair Lady. In addition, the Pennsylvania Ballet will perform Sleeping Beauty and H.M.S. Pinafore in June of 2007. The Academy also sponsors A Taste of the Opera, a Sunday lecture series, recitals, and round table discussions in their adult education programs. Subscribers to the Academy can enjoy free 30-minute informal talks by local opera experts and staff members one hour before every performance, as well as attend annual open house tours and meet the cast events.

Since its opening, the Academy has been the scene for a number of other noteworthy occasions including the special performance by Peter Nero of the Philly Pops and Rod Stewart at the Academy’s 150th anniversary; the 2nd term nomination of Ulysses S. Grant in 1872; Grover Cleveland’s centennial celebration of the U.S. Constitution, and Philadelphia’s first indoor football game. Millions of dollars have been donated to maintaining the Academy through the years, with major improvements in lighting, seating, stage design and equipment, dressing rooms, and lobbies, along with restoration of ceiling murals and addition of new elevators. One hundred years after its opening, the Academy was purchased by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, who introduced the first annual anniversary ball and concert in 1957. This event, catering to local and international members and entertainers, is a major fundraiser designed to further the modernization and preservation of Philadelphia’s “grand old lady.”

Tickets: Available at the Academy’s Box Office, open two hours before until 30 minutes after the performance. Kimmel Box Office, open 10:00 a.m. — 6:00 p.m. Ph: 215-893-1999
Prices: Vary according to seating location – from least expensive amphitheater to balcony and loges.
Parking: Central Parking garages. Handicap accessible from Broad Street entrance.

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