The two Flemish cities of Antwerp and Ghent have a joint opera company, the Flemish Opera (Vlaamse Opera), which presents the same opera productions in both cities. Since Antwerp is a bigger city it tends to have a few more performances of each opera.
I haven’t been to any performances of the Flemish Opera (yet), but they have an excellent artistic reputation and I have heard good things from singers who have performed there.
The opera house in Ghent was built around 1840 and is apparently very impressive on the inside, since it was intended at the time to enhance the prestige of the newly rich industrialists. There are now seats for 950 spectators.
Although the Ghent opera was no doubt extremely formal and elitist in the nineteenth century, it seems quite relaxed in the twenty-first. Under the heading “What should I wear?” on their website, they say: “To go to the opera you can wear whatever you want. Most people like to dress up to go to the opera but it is not compulsory.”
(This is true in most European opera houses, but they don’t all say it so clearly.)
The back of the opera house is on the left in this photo, which I took from the canal boat.
Two doors down from the opera house, at Kouter 29, is the Handelsbeurs Concert Hall. As the name implies, this building was originally a trade fair. The oldest part was built in the 1730s.
In the twentieth century the Handelsbeurs stood empty for many years. It was bought in 1997 by a company called Mercator & Noordstar, which restored the building and converted it into a modern medium-sized concert hall. Since 2002 the Handelsbeurs has been in use as a concert venue for all kinds of music, including rock, jazz, folk music from all over the world and classical music in smaller formats such as recitals and chamber music — but not orchestra concerts, apparently, since the venue would be too small for that.
The back of the building, as seen from the Ketelvest Canal, is an attractive modern addition which looks very different from the historic façade at the front.
In 2008 a new footbridge was built over the canal, providing an additional entrance into the back of the Handelsbeurs concert hall.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2019.
See more posts on Operas in Belgium.