Operas have been performed in Antwerp since 1660, first in the Spaansche Pant on the Grote Markt and later in the Tapissierspand on the spot where the Bourlaschouwburg would later be built.
In 1834 the Bourlaschouwburg opened as Théâtre Royal. Only the French repertoire was performed. Some Antwerp people still speak of the 'French Opera' when they talk about the Bourlaschouwburg
Inspired by composer Peter Benoit and others, Antwerp decided in 1899 that a Flemish Opera should be established as a counterpart to the Bourlaschouwburg.
One of the plans was to build an opera in the Stadspark, but this led to many protests. It was feared the park would lose its character.
Ultimately the then Kunstlei (now the Frankrijklei) was selected, where the covered Halls and Markets (the Criée) used to be located. They had moved to the Van Wesenbekestraat. Construction started in 1904 and took three years to complete.
The Flanders Opera in Antwerp was inaugurated on 18 October 1907. Right from the start the general public loved the neo-baroque building in Louis XVI style.
The whole audience, including the rich and not so rich, entered the auditorium together, which was extremely democratic at the time. Those who had money walked straight up the stately stairs, those who had seats on the higher, cheaper balconies had to use a separate set of stairs.
The auditorium currently seats 1081 people. The ceiling painting depicts Rythmus and shows a male figure surrounded by 9 female muses.
Technically speaking the opera was very modern when it was inaugurated because it made extensive use of new electric lighting. The stage is 11.90 metres wide. The fly tower is 23 metres high.
In 2004 the opera closed for the first time for a thorough renovation which took three years. The technical equipment was modernised, a sidestage was constructed and new offices and working spaces were built.