Arts & Culture: Natives fondly refer to Philadelphia's Academy of Music as "The Grand Old Lady of Locust Street," and as she celebrates her 150th birthday, the Grand Old Lady's elegance and cultural importance endures. Opened to the public on January 26, 1857, the Academy is a National Historic Landmark, the nation's oldest grand opera house that is still used for its original purpose. One of the busiest concert halls in the world, it plays host to a wide variety of cultural and civic activities, including performances by the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, the latter of which owns the Academy.
Martin Scorsese filmed the opening sequence of "The Age of Innocence" at the Academy, referring to the hall as "Philadelphia's La Fenice." Architects Napoleon Le Brun and Gustavus Runge designed the Academy with audience comfort in mind. An "open horseshoe" shape offers maximum visibility to audience members sitting on each side of the balconies. The Academy's grand crystal chandelier is a focal point of the interior; according to the Academy, it measures 50 feet in circumference by 16 feet in diameter and weighs 5,000 pounds.
A celebration of the U.S. Constitution Centennial was held here in 1887 and attended by President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland. The Academy has also been the site of the American premieres of such renowned operas as Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, Gounod's Faust, and Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. Today, the Academy remains the region's primary venue for Broadway productions, opera, dance and theatre. The Opera Company of Philadelphia gives 24 performances a year at the Academy and the Pennsylvania Ballet about 50 each season. In true Philadelphia quirky incongruence, the Academy has also showcased such events as an indoor football game in 1889 (Penn vs. Princeton), Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw accompanying Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in a reading of "Casey at the Bat," a Mr. America contest, wrestling matches, and indoor skating.
For JustLuxe Teresa Rothaar
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