World's top 10 opera houses

OPERA GARNIER, PARIS

Paris's opera company moved to the new Opera Bastille in 1989, but Palais Garnier is still its most glamorous opera house. Although it chiefly hosts ballet these days, try to see an opera here if you can. The building is a Baroque Revival masterpiece decorated with the busts of famous composers, and the company stages smaller-scale and lesser-known operas not often seen elsewhere. See operadeparis.fr

ROYAL OPERA HOUSE, LONDON

This opera house (and ballet and arts venue) in Covent Garden opened in 1732 but has a mostly Victorian-era interior. It's the only place in Britain where you can see regular performances by world-famous opera singers. The sumptuous stage sets are among the world's best as well. Two small theatres featuring experimental musical and dance works are modern additions. In summer, exhibitions showcase opera costumes. See roh.org.uk

TEATRO COLON, BUENOS AIRES

Buenos Aires' magnificently ornate Teatro Colon, opened in 1908 and restored in 2010, has hosted everyone from Callas and Caruso to Pavarotti, who said it was one of the world's best opera houses for acoustics. Behind-the-scenes tours allow you a wander through the auditorium to admire Greek columns, Italian frescoes and mosaics, and French stained glass. A compact experimental theatre beneath hosts avant-garde musical performances. See teatrocolon.org.ar

GRAN TEATRE DEL LICEU, BARCELONA

One of Europe's grandest, largest and most beautiful opera houses is worth visiting just for its architecture, particularly its stunning Room of Mirrors. A small theatre runs video extracts of operas and relates the building's history. The opera repertoire runs through both the classics and modern opera, with Verdi the most-performed composer. You can get bargain tickets for the "Hen Roost" upper galleries. See liceubarcelona.cat

STAATSOPER, VIENNA

The State Opera is one of the world's pre-eminent opera houses. The likes of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Lorin Maazel count among its former directors. The repertoire is enormous, but Verdi, Wagner and Mozart operas get regular outings, with the opera-mad Viennese renowned for being vocal about their approval or displeasure. Standing-room tickets are sold shortly before performances, and go for just a few euros. See wiener-staatsoper.at

LINCOLN CENTRE, NEW YORK

As its name suggests, the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts is about much more than opera, also showcasing world-class dance, jazz, chamber music, theatre and other performances that attract 5 million visitors annually. Its Metropolitan Opera House is swathed in Chagall paintings and Swarovski chandeliers, and hosts operas between May and September. You can take backstage tours during the performance season. See lincolncenter.org

BOLSHOI THEATRE, MOSCOW

This imperial-era theatre reopened in 2011 following a multimillion-dollar renovation that restored its elegant interior to pre-revolutionary glory. Murals, chandeliers, gilt moulding, red Italian velvet and the golden double-headed eagles of the Romanovs gleam. The Bolshoi is famous for its classical Russian opera (such as Boris Gudunov and The Tsar's Bride) on an epic scale, and for the expressiveness and superb technique of its ballet. See bolshoi.ru

OPERA GARNIER, MONTE-CARLO

This opera, attached to Monaco's legendary casino, was designed by the same architect (Charles Garnier) responsible for Paris's opera house, and engineered by Gustave Eiffel. It launched in 1879 and, although its heyday has long gone, still puts on several operas each year, often with big-name singers. The interior is a spectacle of bas-reliefs, gold leaf, frescoes depicting bosom-popping nymphs, and swathes of red velvet curtains. See opera.mc

DEN NORSKE, OSLO

This 2008 opera house in aluminium, white marble and granite has been likened to an iceberg on the edge of Oslofjord. You can walk up the sloping roof from ground level for agreeable harbour views. The interior of Baltic oak is dotted with sculptures and other works of art. Magnificent acoustics are matched with state-of-the-art stage technology. The busy repertoire encompasses opera, ballet and concerts. See operaen.no

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TEATRO ALLA SCALA, MILAN

Hallowed opera venue La Scala was opened in 1778. The opera season kicks off in early December and continues until May, when concert and then ballet seasons take over. Don't miss the eccentric museum, whose exhibits include composers' death masks, Anna Pavlova's ballet shoes, Rossini's eyeglasses and collections of musical instruments. A statue of Puccini is dressed in his own voluminous overcoat. See teatroallascala.org

Brian Johnston has travelled as a guest of numerous tourism offices and at his own expense.

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