If you can’t catch a night at the opera, you can still have a look around one of Europe’s greatest opera houses, known to locals as the Liceu. Smaller than Milan’s La Scala but bigger than Venice’s La Fenice, it can seat up to 2300 people in its grand auditorium.
Built in 1847, the Liceu launched such Catalan stars as Josep (aka José) Carreras and Montserrat Caballé. Fire virtually destroyed it in 1994, but city authorities were quick to get it back into operation. Carefully reconstructing the 19th-century auditorium and installing the latest in theatre technology, technicians finalised its restoration in October 1999.
You can take a 25-minute guided tour around the main public areas of the theatre or join a longer guided tour. On the 45-minute tour you are taken to the grand foyer, with its thick pillars and sumptuous chandeliers, and then up the marble staircase to the Saló dels Miralls (Hall of Mirrors). These both survived the 1994 fire and the latter was traditionally where theatre-goers mingled during intermission. With mirrors, ceiling frescoes, fluted columns and high-and-mighty phrases in praise of the arts, it all exudes a typically neobaroque richness worthy of its 19th-century patrons. You are then led up to the 4th-floor stalls to admire the theatre itself.
The tour also takes in a collection of Modernista art, El Cercle del Liceu, which contains works by Ramon Casas. It is possible to book special tours: one is similar to the guided tour but also including a half-hour music recital in the Saló dels Miralls, while another penetrates the inner workings of the stage and backstage work areas.