El Gran Teatre del Liceu

A Spectacular Barcelona Institution

Located on the central section of La Rambla at numbers 51-59, the Gran Teatre del Liceu is not only one of Europe's main opera houses but also an integral part of Barcelona's cultural and artistic life and one of the symbols of the city.

The Liceu first opened in 1847 and unlike most other opera houses where the monarchy was the main instigator, it was founded by a group of private shareholders and for this reason it has no royal box.

Today the opera house is publicly-owned by the Generalitat of Catalonia, Barcelona City Council, Barcelona Provincial Council and the Spanish Ministry of Culture and run by the Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu.

The Liceu has had a somewhat turbulent past which has included two major fires and an anarchist bombing but like a phoenix it has literally always risen from the ashes.

Each Liceu season tends to include a combination of popular and slightly less well-known operas as well as other genres, such as dance and contemporary music.

If you don't want to see a show, I strongly recommend that you take a theatre visit and see the opulent decorations of one of Europe's most important opera houses.


Gran Teatre del Liceu By Day

Getting to El Liceu

El Gran Teatre del Liceu
La Rambla, 51-59
08002 Barcelona
Tel. 93 485 99 14

Website: (information on guided tours of El Liceu is available on the website)

Liceu Metro - L3 Green Line

A Brief History of the Gran Teatre del Liceu

The beginnings of the Liceu go back to 1837, when a group of liberal-minded National Militia decided to set up an opera society in the old convent of Montsió just off Portal de l'Àngel.

The theatre became known as the Teatre del Liceu de Montsió and the society, now with the patronage of Queen Isabel II, performed mainly Italian opera from 1838 to 1844, when the monks of Montsió decided they wanted their convent back.

As the society had become so popular, Barcelona Council Council conceded the site of another convent at the Liceu's current location on La Rambla dels Caputxins.

In order to fund the building, a society was created that gave successful bourgeois Barcelona businessmen lifetime seats and boxes in the future theatre in return for their investments.

So unlike other opera houses, the Liceu was not impulsed by the monarchy but rather the upper-classes of the city so although it did not have a royal box, it would have a guaranteed audience.

Plans were drawn up by Miquel Garriga i Roca, assisted by Josep Oriol Mestres, and the original Liceu building was solemnly opened on 4 April 1847, which fell on Easter Sunday.

Although the main facade on La Rambla is rather bland and uninteresting inside the Gran Teatre del Liceu is splendid.

It was modeled on La Scala in Milan and with seating for 3,500, it was by far the largest opera house in Europe.

For the first few years, El Gran Teatre del Liceu alternated Italian operas with regular text plays.

The first German opera opened in 1849 to great success and the choral style began to influence Catalan music, in particular a young Josep Anselm Clavé, who would go on to found the Orfeo Català and become the father of Catalan choral singing.

The Liceu was definitely growing in popularity and importance in comparison to its great operatic and theatrical rival, the Teatre Principal, which is located further down The Ramblas on La Rambla de Santa Mònica.

However, in April 1861 disaster struck and El Gran Teatre del Liceu was almost completely destroyed by fire.

You can see from the engraving that the state of the Auditorium of the Liceu after the fire in 1861 is virtually the same as after the fire in 1994.

Members contributed to the rebuilding in much the same way as they had done in 1847 and the Liceu reopened just a year later in April 1862.

Following the reopening, the programme continued with its focus on Italian opera, which remained popular amongst the Barcelona bourgeoisie.

In 1883, the Liceu gave its first performance of Wagner's Lohengrin, which coinciding with the upsurge of early Modernisme in art and architecture along with the economic success of Catalan industry, remains a defining moment for the Barcelona upper-classes.

The Liceu's position as the private club of Barcelona’s industrial and financial bourgeoisie made it a target for revolutionary movements of the day, notably the anarchists.

On 7 November 1893, during the opening performance of the season, Rossini’s William Tell, the anarchist Santiago Salvador threw two Orsini bombs into the stalls.

Only one of them exploded, causing some twenty deaths and the surviving spiky Orsini Bomb is still on display somewhere in the theatre.

Both the Liceu's importance and the Barcelona bourgeoisie's obsession with Wagner increased as social unrest grew throughout the early years of the 20th century.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Liceu was nationalised and became the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya and the opera programme was suspended due to its bourgeois connotations.

Following Franco's victory in 1939, the Liceu was returned to its owners and by the mid-1940s had recuperated its former status and this was a particularly successful period both artistically and commercially.

Disaster struck once again in 1994 when another fire completely destroyed the theatre and rebuilding work lasted until 1999.

El Gran Teatre del Liceu Today

The building we see today is much larger than the original Gran Teatre del Liceu and now covers 36,000 square metres as, following the fire, adjacent properties were bought up along Carrer de la Unió and Carrer Sant Pau.

The interior is gorgeous so it's definitely worth getting past the slightly disappointing neoclassical facade, which is original and dates from 1847.

The main vestibule is one of the areas saved from the 1994 fire and is of an eclectic mock-Renaissance style known in the mid nineteenth century as “Florentine”.

The staircase is also in the neo-Classical style and crowning it all is the sculpture of the Muse of Music, by Venanci Vallmitjana and dates 1901.

At the top of the stairway, you come to the delightful Saló de Miralls - the Hall of Mirrors - with its with its extraordinary ceiling paintings and the curious texts referring to art and music that run along the tops of the walls.

It was also saved from the fire but has painstakingly restored and now is a gorgeous space.

The huge auditorium was completely destroyed by the 1994 fire and is a faithful rebuilding of the 1861 auditorium with some improvements.

With nearly 3,000 seats it is one of the biggest opera houses in Europe and is a typical Italian horseshoe-shaped theatre with a platea or stalls and five tiers or balconies.

Boxes for the very privileged, with small rooms attached, are in the forestage, the platea and in the some of the galleries and it was the sale of these boxes that covered the building expenses. 
The upper balconies on the 4th and 5th tiers are the cheapest seats and are called the galliner, literally the henroost or even better chicken coop.

This is where the real conoscenti have always sat and it is their opinion that generally makes or breaks a production critically.

The proscenium area follows the 1909 redesign, with a large central arch emerging from the side transoms, each one clearly defined by the two Corinthian columns that hold the parapets of the four floors of boxes in the proscenium, the most spacious and luxurious in the theatre.

In the rebuilding some modern features were introduced and the eight circular paintings in the roof, and the three in the forestage, which were all lost in the fire, have been re-created by contemporary artist Perejaume.

The stage curtain is a work of the Catalan fashion designer Antoni Miró and the new hemispheric lamp in the center of the roof is a platform for technological facilities -lighting, sound and computer.

A new foyer has been built under the main auditorium, where you'll find the main bar and the restaurant.

It is used also to stage concerts, small format performances, lectures, cultural activities, and meetings etc.

Finally, The Espai Liceu is on the first floor of the basement, with access from La Rambla and Carrer de Sant Pau, and connected to the Foyer.

This is the starting point for guided tours of the Liceu, and also houses the gift shop and box office.

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