Ljubljana Opera House (photo courtesy of SNG)
VISITORS to Ljubljana during the next year or so won’t get to peek inside one of the city’s most unique buildings, but they may want to take up a favorite local pastime: Watching the construction site.
Ljubljana’s Opera House has been a jewel in the crown of the city’s architecture since it opened in 1892, when Slovenia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
But with its intricate façade and auditorium growing careworn, the gem needed polishing, as well as a major new addition, the government decided. This year, Slovenia broke ground on an estimated €25 million ($35 million) project to renovate the old building and to construct a new annex that will more than double the building’s size, from 3,640 square meters (39,200 square feet) to 10,000 square meters (107,600 square feet).
As the home of today’s Slovene National Theatre Opera and Ballet companies, its facilities had become “inadequate and obsolete,” according to the national Ministry of Culture. (During the renovation, the opera and ballet companies will perform at other venues, including the Ljubljana Fairgrounds and Cankarjev Dom.) Tickets are available at Cankarjeva ulica 11.
Slovene architects Jurij Kobe and Marjan Zupanc designed the solution, which is unfolding in three parts:
First, ramps will descend from the streets on either side of the building to a new public entrance and atrium beneath the auditorium. (Above is a sketch of the approach to the atrium. Image courtesy of SNG.) The new space will include a restaurant, cloakroom, music shop, and space for socializing during intermission.
Next, a new stage will take shape. The old stage was already removed by hollowing out the back of the building, while leaving its “skin” (seen at right) intact. The design then adds height and depth to accommodate larger backdrops and updated technology for rotating them.
Finally, a glass-and-steel wing will rise behind and connect to the original building. It will include the opera and ballet companies’ rehearsal halls, dressing rooms, and administration offices. (Sketch of the annex, right, courtesy of SNG.)
Before work began on the addition, the Opera House’s 500-seat auditorium was sealed to protect it. But when the building work is stable, artisans will analyze the ornate façade (seen at right) and auditorium, then decide what to simply clean or repaint, and what to replace.
The plan has faced criticism from some residents that the annex to the beloved old building is too different and too modern.
“We respect the old building,” Zupanc says. “It reflects the time that it was built, but this will reflect the time that it is being built.”
“We can’t build a new, old building,” Kobe says.
The neo-Classical Opera House was designed by Czech architects Jan V. Hrasky and Anton Hruby between the years 1890 and 1892. Although the country was then under Hapsburg rule, the building was one of the first constructed by local authorities, at “a romantic time of growing national consciousness,” Kobe notes. Its architectural style sets it apart as well, since it and the National Gallery are rare examples of Classicism in eclectic Ljubljana.
Those who’d like to watch the new wing take shape and judge for themselves how it blends with the old can stroll past the construction site, which is visible on two sides (from Cankarjeva ulica and Tomšičeva ulica). Work is tentatively scheduled for completion late next year.