Photo Gallery: The Opera World’s Craziest Stages

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When the idea for the first Bregenz Festival was tossed around almost seventy years ago, the Austrian city didn’t have the funds to build an opera house, so they constructed a makeshift stage against the city’s most beautiful natural setting — Lake Constance. The idea seemed wildly eccentric at the time, but the ingenuity paid off, and European audiences flocked to the floating stage each summer for the annual performances. This year the opera festival returns on July 20th with what promises to be a spectacular production of André Cheniér by Italian composer Umberto Giordano.

With just over three months left before opening night, preparations are well underway to construct yet another elaborate set on Lake Constance, including a 50-foot head that was attached to a floating body by a crane. Click through for a better look at the work-in-progress and to take a photo tour of past festival stages of note.

The stage setting for Andre Chenier. [Image via WSJ]

The first Bregenz Festival was held in 1946, a year after the end of World War II. Back then the stage was made up of just two barges — one with the Bastien et Bastienne performers and the other with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra — moored together on the lake. [Image via]

1985 ushered a new era for the Bregenz Festival with the success of The Magical Flute on the lake stage. From then on, each production ran for two seasons, so the stage had to become sturdier to make it through the winter season. [Image via via]

Carmen on the lake, 1991. [Image via]

The festival celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1995 with a production of Beethoven’s Fidelio. With a record number of attendees, organizers had to build additional viewing stands and schedule extra performances to meet the public’s demand. [Image via]

Death and dance met onstage in the 1999 production of A Masked Ball, designed and directed by British duo Richard Jones and Antony MacDonald. Pictures of the book-reading-skeleton circulated in international press, bringing even more attention to Bregenz. [Image via]

After the success of A Masked Ball, Bregenz recruited the talents of Jones and McDonald again in 2001 for its staging of Puccini’s La Bohème. The aspirations of young Parisian artists became the conversation piece at this dinner table. [Image via]

The streets of New York City were mutilated in the 2003’s West Side Story re-imagining. [Image via]

In 2007, the lake stage became the setting for a James Bond action sequence. Film director Marc Forster used the Tosca set — and its enormous blue eye — as the first place where Daniel Craig spots his enemy in Quantum of Solace. [Image via]

Verdi’s Aida got the American treatment in 2009. [Image via]