Odessa is the city famous far beyond its own motherhood. During Russian Empire, Soviet Union and nowadays it has been recognized as the first and foremost city in Ukraine. Indeed, in the whole world too. It is obviously accounted for its musical culture witnessed in Odessa from its early years. In the beginning of the 19th century the young city already could boast an Opera House, as gorgeous as any European theater. Duke de Richelieu, the Governor of Odessa and renowned public official, initiated its construction. The first Opera House, located on the Primorsky Boulevard in the center of the city, was designed by Thomas de Thomon, a French neoclassical architect. Russian Emperor Alexander I financed the construction.
The theater was opened on 10 February 1810. The premier night witnessed opera New Family by Freilih written by Viazmitinov and musical comedy Consoled Widow by Kniazhnin. Tourists, including many famous and prominent people, like any other local enjoyed visiting Opera. In 1823, Alexander Pushkin moved to Odessa, where he clashed with the government, which sent him into exile. It was he who presented Odessa an undying glory, portrayed in his masterpieces, including eminent Eugene Onegin. Our southern multinational city appears in his poems drawn from nature, including the verses about the Theater: Today out Theater still performs opera and ballets inspired by Pushkin’s works.
The poet’s words describing the first theater can be applied to the new one. The modern building was constructed by Fellner and Helmer in neo-baroque style and opened in 1887 after the old one was gutted by fire. A fund raising campaign began immediately. The city announced an international contest for the best theater design. Forty designs were submitted, but none were chosen. Two Viennese architects, designed many other beautiful buildings in Europe, overextended their selves: Opera House is considered as their best masterpiece. Their project was adopted in 1884; in just three years the new theater was completed. From then onward culture and history of Odessa go hand in hand with its Theater. National and international stars of opera and ballet appeared before the footlights of Odessa Theater: famous conductors, directors, choreographers, singers and dancers, including P. Tchaikovsky, N. Rimsky-Korsakov, S. Rachmaninoff, A. Rubinstein, Ezhen Izai, Pablo Sarasate, F. Shalyapin, E. Caruso, L. Sobinov, S. Krushelnitskaya, A. Nezhdanova, T. Ruffo, M. Batistini, A. Pavlova, I. Dunkan, E. Geltzer, S. Bernard, E. Duse, E. Rossi, etc.
New theater didn’t escape from danger: in 1925 the building was burnt again in a fire. It ruined the stage, hall, music library. But in a year the show went on. During the World War II the Nazis mined the building, but it was saved.
On 10th of April 1944, the day when Odessa was finally liberated from occupation, Soviet soldiers planted a red flag on the roof of the theater. Their victorious march started here, from the Opera Theater.
Postwar decades confirmed the theater’s high reputation. New performances, new artists and performers appeared here and became popular worldwide, where they received storm of ovations. The theater sits upon shifting ground and is in danger of collapse. It was decided to close the theater for reconstruction. The works lasted more than ten years (1996 – 2007). Due to active support of the government, city companies, business and charity organizations and help of Odessa citizens, ambitious maintenance was finished. The names of art patrons and contributors are engraved on the basement pillars and commemorative plaques.
In 2007 Odessa Academic Opera and Ballet Theater became the National one.