Norman Weinstein

Critic; Writer / United States /

Norman Weinstein’s Notable Books of 2013

1 book
Photographs by Guillaume de Laubier
Text by Antoine Pecqueur

If this book’s title evokes an expensive coffee-table collection of gorgeous color photography of for the most part traditionally designed opera houses, you’ll be largely, and yet insufficiently, correct. The text is considerably more worthwhile than the clichéd title suggests. Through 32 examples of global opera houses—the focus generally avoids multi-functional concert halls and cultural complexes—the photographs and text present an exceptionally detailed overview of varieties of opera-driven design luxuriance. Many of the same qualities of “over the top” melodramatic musical ornamentation found in classic opera find expression in classic opera house design.

Guillaume de Laubier is a photographer who relishes details a hair’s breadth from kitsch, highlighting an Edwardian stained glass design crowning an exit door in the London Coliseum as well as rococo tapestries and murals florid to the nth degree. There is enough sweet eye-candy in these photographs to send a reader with modernist and/or inimalist proclivities into an aesthetic equivalent of diabetic shock. But a half dozen opera houses far more congenial to those sensibilities also are showcased effectively, including Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House and Henning Larsen’s Operaen Store Scene in Copenhagen.

Antoine Pecqueur’s writing is entertaining, breezy, anecdotal, and situated effectively facing each page of Laubier’s photography of a particular structure. Those seeking information about the acoustical imperatives facing opera house designers won’t find much enlightenment here. Luckily, Victoria Newhouse’s magnificently written Site and Sound: The Architecture and Acoustics of New Opera Houses and Concert Halls will help in that area, although the uneven quality of its often undersized photographs is annoying. Designers interested in extraordinary opulence, particularly in terms of finely finished public interiors, will rejoice in consulting de Laubier’s and Pecqueur’s tome.


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