The Opéra de Lyon is located on the city’s peninsula between Rhône and Saône. The building as it is now is an entirely new construction inside a historical shell. The new barrel-shaped roof, rising up to a height of 42 metres, makes the opera building a landmark clearly visible from all sides. It also houses the ballet’s rehearsal hall. The interior is dominated by an artiﬁcial aesthetic: Whereas the auditorium is almost entirely black and appears highly distinguished, the access via escalators is somewhat reminiscent of a shopping mall. The arcades on the ground ﬂoor were kept vacant and open also after the refurbishment and are now being used for gastronomic services and live music events.
A new concept was established for the Opéra de Lyon in the early 1980s: It was to be turned from a touring venue into a house able to host its own productions of opera, ballet and concerts. This change required additional functions to be accommodated in the building, which required a space three times larger than the 19th-century venue provided. Consequently, the building was extensively converted and crucially also extended by rehearsal rooms in the years 1989 through to 1993. The duo of artistic directors at the time also wanted to reach a broader public. For this purpose, a smaller hall was created for hosting alternative event formats. The workshops which were as of then also required where set up in a suburb of Lyon.
The project is based on Jean Nouvel’s winning design of the 1986 competition. He had outdone competitors with a concept that included completely gutting the building before erecting a new structure behind the historical façade that extends an additional 20 metres into the ground as well as into the air. As the subterranean levels come rather close to the Metro, the large hall was designed to be held by a separate load-bearing structure composed of six steel girders resting on concrete pillars. In this way, it was possible to isolate the space in terms of acoustics and protect it from unwanted external noise.
The audience capacity was increased from the previous 800 seats to 1,200, and the stage space from 530 square metres to 670 square metres. The front area of the stage can be adjusted to three different positions depending on the type of performance, namely, at a depth of three metres to create an orchestra pit for an opera performance, at stage height to extend the stage for a ballet, or at floor level for additional seating.
The Opéra de Lyon is de facto a new construction behind a historical façade. The characteristic semi-circular steel and glass structure makes the building stand out from afar in its significant location at the upper end of the UNESCO World Heritage site Presqu‘île (»Peninsula«) directly opposite the City Hall.