The Teatro Real (literally Royal Theatre) or simply El Real (as it is known colloquially), is a major opera house located in Madrid, Spain.
Europe is literally littered with palaces spanning the medieval era and beyond and Spain is no exception to this trend. However, a big difference with the Palacio Real or Royal Palace in Madrid is the access that it grants to the public. As one of the most popular attractions in Madrid, the Royal Palace has an impressive display of royal artifacts and valuables. The Royal Armory Museum is also one of the best museums in Madrid, thanks to its collection of weaponry.
There are a vast number of rooms available for viewing for the general public as the current royal family no longer resides at this one. Not to say that the Palace Zarzuela, the permanent home of the royal family, isn’t desirable, but the interior décor and massive palace grounds of the Royal Palace are so astonishingly gorgeous that an experience viewing it strongly begs the question why the royal family would ever choose anything over this as their primary residence.
At a glance –
Architect: Antonio López Aguado, Custodio Moreno
Capacity : 1,746
House: Opened November 19, 1850
Rebuilt: 1991-1997, Jaime González Varcárcel, Miguel Verdú Belmonte, and Francisco Rodríguez Partearroyo
After 32 years of planning and construction, a Royal Order on 7 May 1850 decreed the immediate completion of the “Teatro de Oriente” and the building works were finished within five months. The Opera House, located just in front of the Palacio Real, the official residence of the Queen who ordered the construction of the theatre, Isabel II, was finally inaugurated on 19 November 1850, with Donizetti’s La Favorite. In 1863, Giuseppe Verdi visited the theatre for the Spanish premiere of his La Forza del Destino. In 1925, the Ballets Russes of Diaghilev performed in the theatre with the presence of Nijinsky and Stravinsky.
From 1867 it housed the Madrid Royal Conservatory until 1925 when a Royal Order on 6 December called for eviction owing to the damage that the construction of the Metro de Madrid had caused to the building. The theatre reopened in 1966 as a concert theatre and the main concert venue of the Spanish National Orchestra and the RTVE Symphony Orchestra. In 1969, the 14th Eurovision Song Contest was held at the theatre, featuring an onstage metal sculpture created by surrealist Spanish artist, Salvador Dalí.
In the 1990s, the house was remodelled to host opera again and reopened in 1997. The first opera program performed for the reopening was Manuel de Falla’s El sombrero de tres picos and La vida breve, which was immediately followed by the world premiere of Spanish composer Antón García Abril’s Divinas Palabras (actually commissioned to open the house) with Plácido Domingo in the cast. The company staged the first modern revival of Vicente Martín y Soler’s I, burbero di buon cuore in 2007.
High metal gates added in the 19th century and hired Spanish guards protect the main public entrance at the Plaza de Armas of the Spanish Royal Palace. Upon entry to the courtyard one can see the magnificent aqueducts that line the left wing of the palace. The view from beneath these aqueducts is stunning but hard to stay focused on when the view of the actual anticipated palace itself is so beautiful. It’s best to take your time at this lookout after you’ve been through all of the rooms.
Across from the aqueducts and to the right of the main entryway to the palace is the Royal Pharmacy. This is the first room that grants access to the public and it is one of the most interesting in its inventory. The walls are lined with shelves that hold ridiculously oversized vats, bottles, cupboards, bowls and numerous types of glass and metal containers filled with medicines used years ago for the royal family and their guests. Some of the names are familiar while others are suspiciously odd. The entire collection is awe-inspiring and truly beautiful, something that can’t be said of any modern day medicine cabinets.
This part of the palace is separate from the main tour and entryway but is definitely worth a visit so be sure to catch it either on your way in or out of the actual palace itself.
The actual doors to the palace are simple enough, gated with red velvet ropes to regulate the number of people in the palace at one time, so do expect to wait a bit here. However, as you move forward, you’ll understand why people are taking so long to make it through this first hall. The massive stairway leads up to breathtaking frescoes, murals and marble and this is literally just the beginning. The art and architecture only gets more fantastic from this point on so brace yourself if you’re already in awe.
Rooms and Décor
The rest of the Madrid Royal Palace is a series of bedrooms, dining rooms, kitchens, armories, parlor rooms, sitting rooms, reading rooms, every type of room you could possibly imagine that a palace would require. Unfortunately, many of the rooms are still inaccessible by the public but you will by no means be disappointed by what is revealed to you. Each room seems to have had its own exquisite designer as no two rooms look alike and seem to have been decorated in different styles, guaranteeing that you won’t be bored by the experience.
The high ceilings and wall/ceiling paintings alone would suffice in captivating any audience, with works by famous names such as Francisco Goya, Caravaggio, Velazquez and others. But it gets even better with not only the magnificent architecture, textures, fabrics, rugs, marbles and woods, but the wealth of the decor and actual objects that fill the rooms, from stunning porcelain pieces and rare instruments to authentic weaponry and exquisite furniture and dining pieces. It’s all really just overwhelmingly awesome.
The theatre stages around seventeen opera titles (both own productions and co-productions with other major European opera houses) per year, as well as two or three major ballets and several recitals. The orchestra of the Teatro Real is the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. The current general director is Gerard Mortier.
If the pure richness of every room isn’t enough to blow your mind then be sure to read or listen to the history involved in each room. You can actually see the beds where famous kings were born and where strategic marriages were consummated. The history lies in every step you take. If you want to know more about the history then a guided tour is recommended.
The guided tours last about 45 minutes and only cost 1 euro more than going through the palace on your own. They are super informative but you are stuck with the group you go with and move at the group’s pace. If you want to go on your own, there are still signs posted in all of the rooms that explain any significant moments that happened in them and what they were used for so you won’t miss out on all of the information.
Other than the palace itself, the grounds are quite stunning. If the weather is nice, it’s worth taking a walk through the back gardens that house a magnificent pond and beautiful plants in warmer seasons.
There is also the Teatro Real, or Royal Theater Opera House just past the gardens that is worth a visit either for a tour or an actual show. The building itself is magnificent and was recently restored to its original condition. The theater has housed magnificent performers including Diaghelev’s Russian Ballet troupe in the 1920’s and has just as much history as the palace itself, so a tour is strongly recommended.
October – March:
Mon – Sat: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
Sundays/Holidays 9:30 am – 2:00 pm
April – September:
Mon – Sat: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sundays/Holidays: 9:30 am – 3:00 pm
Seniors/Children/Students with ID: $3.50EU
Children under 5: Free