Restoration of the Vienna State Opera. Cleaning decorations with a brush.
© Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Ashley Taylor

Opera back to its best

“I grew up with stone,” Manuela Fritz explains. Her parents ran a stonemasonry business in Styria – so she was surrounded by the material as far back as she can remember. Her education took her from an academy of fine art to studying restoration in Italy. Today, she is one of the best in her profession, as well as a prolific freelance sculptor.

More than a job

In the State Opera, Manuela Fritz and her team were responsible for restoring stucco, scagliola (imitation marble), stucco lustro (marble-effect plaster) and gilding. The goal of the project was to return the interior to its original state. The building’s color scheme once flowed seamlessly from the outside to the interior: from light natural stone to light ocher with gold inlay. Now, the era of the “dark cavern” is over.

It took one and a half weeks just to mix the right colors – each test coat had to dry before inspection, and comparing the new finish with the original tones was not made any easier by the artificial light mounted on the scaffolding. Work like this is demanding, both in terms of the concentration required and the physical strain. “Only Michelangelo lay down to paint. We stand,” Fritz laughs. The restorers often had to work on spaces above their heads. Tasks were strictly divided up within the team – each member remained focused on their particular area: filling gaps, sanding, re-casting, cleaning with a brush and cotton swabs, stabilizing, painting, ...

For example, the marble-effect painting was all done by Manuela Fritz – one of her favorite activities, and highly individual in execution: it would be easy to see if someone else had worked with her.

Most of the damage in the vestibule was caused by condensation. That said, in some places it also appears that regrettably, unscrupulous visitors to the opera have taken it upon themselves to break off little souvenirs. Tellingly, this particular type of damage does not extend beyond arm’s reach.

Viennese gold

Manuela Fritz is a patron of Wamprechtsamer, a Viennese gold leaf producer that has been beating the precious metal into wafer-thin leaves since 1906. The final stage in the beating process is still done by hand. This Viennese gold shines on the statue of Athena in front of the Austrian Parliament building, in Schönbrunn Palace and on the Kaiser­kreuz cross at the summit of the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain. Mr. Wamprechtsamer can still remember when he was a child and his father delivered gold to the State Opera with a horse and cart. Today, Manuela Fritz collects it. The material value of the gilding in the opera house is considerable, since most of what glitters is real gold. The gold leaf is applied to a surface coated in an oil-based film, which must have exactly the right adhesive consistency – correct timing is crucial, otherwise the gold will “drown”.

“In a project like this, you develop a relationship with the things you shape,” Manuela Fritz believes. “I always go back to visit them – ‘my’ objects. That includes the State Opera – every so often, I take a walk around inside it. And I have to laugh when – in vain – I look for two points high up on the ceiling that I corrected after the scaffolding had been taken down, using an eight-meter-long brush. I did it!”

Text: Susanna Burger

Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

Opernring 2, 1010 Wien
  • Accessibility

    • Side entrance
      • 2 Steps (Swinging doors 87 cm wide )
        Side entrance on right under the arcades on Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz. From side entrance, access to elevator via inclined elevator (stairlift) in lobby.
    • Car parks Main entrance
      • Parking spaces for people with disabilities
        Operngasse, Opernring intersection
    • Elevator available
      • 95 cm wide and 140 cm low , Door 80 cm wide
    • Further information
      • Seeing eye dogs allowed
      • 22 Wheelchair spaces available (4 in the stalls/orchestra, 18 seats in the gallery as needed)
      • Wheelchair accessible restroom available.
    • Special offers for people with disabilities

      Tours in ten languages, prior notification for wheelchair users necessary (Tel. +43 1 514 44–2606). Language display.

    • Comments

      Portable ramps available for steps inside building.
      To reserve wheelchair and companion seats for performances, tel. +43 1 514 44-2653 (Mo-Fri, 9.00 am – 4.00 pm)

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