Why the 1781 Opera House of Eszterháza should be rebuilt

Over the past decades, the authentic instrumental music movement has enjoyed overwhelming success. Strangely enough, this has not been mirrored by authentic opera performances. Successful performances on period musical instruments demonstrate that it is necessary to have these instruments readily available, often in the form of accurate copies of authentic instruments. Since visual, as well as aural, components of the experience must be present for an opera performance to be judged authentic, it follows that an eighteenth-century theatre building and stage, as well as eighteenth-century musical instruments, vocal techniques, gesture and dance, are required for a truly authentic performance of eighteenth-century opera.

Unfortunately, very few opera houses of Haydnís time have been preserved in their original state. As a result, the stewards of these theatres with original stage machinery (e.g., Drottningholm, Ceský Krumlov, Ludwigsburg, Versailles etc.) are reluctant to expose these treasures to the wear and tear of daily rehearsals and performances, let alone research. An accurate copy of an eighteenth-century opera house, however, could also support authentic opera performances as long as it faithfully replicates the acoustics and stage machinery of the original theatre, just as an accurate copy of a period musical instrument can come very close to duplicating the touch and tone of an original instrument.

Experts speaking at the 2003 Symposium agreed that the documentation associated with the architecture of the 1781 Opera House of Eszterháza is remarkably complete. As a result, a careful replication of the original design would result in an acoustical environment closely resembling the one originally experienced at Eszterháza. Although less is known about the actual stage machinery at Eszterháza than its architecture, sufficient evidence from Eszterháza, along with the original machinery found in the surviving eighteenth-century theatres, could guide the construction of an "ideal" stage at Eszterháza, perfectly suited to the authentic production of Haydnís operas.