Questions and Answers

How did the «Future Opera» project come about?

With the amendment of the Opernhausgesetz (Opernhaus Act) in 2016, the Cantonal Council called for long-term investment planning. With this in mind, the conditions of the buildings and their technical facilities were assessed in 2017 and investment requirements for the coming years were mapped out. The rough cost estimate (+/- 25%) for investments and repairs «one-to-one», i.e., without solutions that go beyond the existing building, was around CHF 75 million for the next 20 years. This sum triggered consideration of a major overhaul, as it would be a missed opportunity and not forward-looking to make an investment of this magnitude without remedying existing structural deficiencies. As a result, the Opernhaus Zürich AG was commissioned to create a vision for the building’s development. A vision that focuses on solving problems and generates added value for employees, the population, and the urban area.

What are the project’s milestones?

We are at the beginning of a large project and at this point in time, any assertions about the timeline would be very imprecise. If the project were to be implemented according to a prototype plan without any delays, the results could be the milestones listed below. The further into the future such milestones are, the more uncertain the assertion.

  • Conduct dialogue process through summer 2023
  • Assess feasibility and baseline by fall 2023
  • Create operating concept and competition documents by fall 2024
  • Erect temporary transitional building on the roof of the extension building in summer 2024
  • Launch an international architectural competition in late fall 2024, depending on progress of baseline planning,
  • Jury ruling usually announced one year later, followed by in-depth planning and approval process
  • Start of construction phase probably in the first half of the 2030s

What are the existing issues with the extension building?

According to a study conducted by Kunkel Consulting, which specializes in theater planning, working conditions in the extension building and the backstage area of the Opernhaus Zürich are, in some cases, unacceptable. This is due to cramped conditions and double occupancy. Unacceptable working conditions were found in 42 rooms, and 90 additional rooms had partially unacceptable conditions for employees. In a further 131 rooms, unacceptable working conditions were identified in the long term. To remedy these deficiencies, some of which are serious, and to make the delivery and storage of set pieces operationally reasonable, there is an additional space requirement of 60% compared to the status quo.

Why isn’t it possible to simply renovate the existing extension building?

The extension was built in 1984 according to designs by Claude Paillard in solid reinforced concrete. Most of the interior walls were designed as load-bearing concrete and cannot be adapted to changing processes and requirements. Existing permits secure the operation of the extension in many places. One example: The stage transport lift was built in 1984 without an interior door – today, this would no longer be permitted. With an as-built permit, the elevator may be operated until there is a complete renovation in the extension building. Then the entire elevator shaft would have to be rebuilt to provide for the required interior door. After renovation of the extension building, proof of earthquake safety would also have to be provided in accordance with current regulations, for example, and the building’s infrastructure, in particular the smoke and heat extraction system, would have to comply with current specifications. The implementation of these and numerous other specifications requires space that is not available in the cramped extension building. Renovating the extension building «one to one» without making any changes would merely worsen the situation and the building’s operational capability might no longer be a given.

How did the lack of space in the extension building come about?

When planning was nearly completed in the 1980s, politicians decided that the Bernhard Theater was to be integrated into the new extension building. This space came at the expense of the Opernhaus, and so the building was already too small when it was inaugurated.

While the set of an opera production in the 1980s could be stowed in six to eight transport trailers, today there are productions that require up to 25 transport trailers. Audiences’ changing viewing habits and developments in the history of reception demand the constant further development of sets in order to maintain international artistic standards. Today, the storage space in the extension building is in no way sufficient and the infrastructure for delivery is too small.

Compared to 1984, today’s opera sees more people employed in some departments. Including more women in technical jobs on stage or in the workshops is a change the Opernhaus is happy to see and requires gender-appropriate dressing rooms, showers, and common rooms, which are not available today.

Why does the Opernhaus need bigger foyer spaces?

The current foyer areas cannot meet today’s expectations in terms of visit quality. There is hardly any seating and, due to the cramped situation, insufficient space for catering. In addition, foyer areas are needed to provide sponsors with appropriate support for their events. They make an important financial contribution to the performance and ensure that the opera house can achieve the politically required profitability of at least 33% of the budget.

What is meant by repertory company and what is the connection to set piece delivery?

The Opernhaus is a repertory company, and is defined as such in its service and performance mandate. This means that a repertoire with regular, even daily, program changes is offered. The opposite is an en-suite operation, where the same program is played over several days and weeks. Almost all top international opera houses are repertory operations. This implies that there is sufficient storage space for set pieces at the venue. Comparable houses can store the sets for eight to ten productions at the stage. In Zurich, the sets must be transported back and forth daily between the external storage facility in Oerlikon and the city center. The journeys are a burden on road traffic and the environment. The storage areas in the Opernhaus can only hold the set pieces for one or two productions. The delivery situation in Falkenstrasse poses a massive threat to road traffic and pedestrians. The solution of this problem requires a fundamental reorganization of the extension building.

Will a new building be constructed, or will an addition be made to the current extension?

The historically protected areas of the historic Opernhaus remain unchanged and will be refurbished. The extension building must be enlarged, because the Opernhaus has an additional space requirement of 60%. Whether the structural reorganization and the solution to the space problem can be achieved by adding to the existing extension building is currently being investigated in a study commissioned by the Zurich Cantonal Building Department. The results will be available in the fall of 2023.

Will performance operations at the Opernhaus need to be interrupted during the construction phase?

During extensive construction work in the extension building, performances cannot be held in the Opernhaus. The extension building houses dressing rooms, the essential rehearsal rooms, and the delivery of sets to the Opernhaus also takes place via the extension building. It will be necessary to move to an alternate venue during possible construction work.

What is the cost of the structural development project and how long is the construction period?

At the moment, there are too many unresolved parameters to make meaningful assessments. We are at the beginning of this project.

Who will pay for the project?

The structural development project is planned as a public-private partnership, a cooperation between the public sector, sponsors, and private donors.

What is the Opernhaus’ legal status and who makes financial contributions to it?

Since its founding in 1891, the Opernhaus has been a joint-stock company. The Opernhaus Zürich AG (which was called the «Theater-Aktiengesellschaft» until 1991) has more than 2400 shareholders, none of whom own more than 10% of the 9,508 registered shares. The share capital amounts to CHF 8,808,000. The Board of Directors consists of eleven members, six of whom are elected and seconded by the Government Council of the Canton of Zurich in accordance with Paragraph 1 of the Articles of Association. Since July 2013, the Board of Directors has been chaired by Dr. Markus Notter. Further information.

Following a financial policy reorganization, the Opernhaus ceased receiving a financial contribution from the city in 1995 and is now financed by the Canton of Zurich. In return, the City of Zurich finances other cultural institutions. The basic principles and performance requirements are laid down in the Cantonal Opernhausgesetz (Opernhaus Act), a basic contract and a detailed service and performance agreement.

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