Our History

 

Cornerstone of Culture

The Academy of Music opened its doors in 1857, first for an inaugural ball on January 26th, and then, on February 25th, entrancing a glittering crowd with Verdi’s Il trovatore. Modeled on Milan’s famed La Scala, it is the oldest opera house in the United States still used for its original purpose…but it’s so much more!

Il trovatore set the stage for the Academy’s glorious role in opera. It has hosted the American premieres of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Gounod’s Faust, and Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. Today, it’s home to Opera Philadelphia, the highly praised company offering everything from repertoire classics to 21st century originals.

The Academy is also sacred ground for orchestral music. It was the home of the storied Philadelphia Orchestra from 1900 to 2001, during which time the Orchestra established itself as one of the world’s greatest, with a vast number of premieres and innovations and, of course, the legendary Philadelphia Sound. The Orchestra returns here each year for the annual Anniversary Concert and Ball.

1855

1855

President Franklin Pierce lays the cornerstone at the formal groundbreaking for the Academy, on June 18th.
1857

1857

The Academy first opened its doors on January 26, 1857. Originally it was slated to open on January 20th but a huge snowstorm hit which stopped the railroads from running.

1860

Lord Renfrow, the Prince of Wales, came for a performance of Martha in 1860.
1865

1865

Abraham Lincoln’s funeral passes through Philadelphia; mourners watch the procession from the balcony of the Academy Ballroom.
1870

1870

Susan B. Anthony addresses a crowd from the Academy stage, arguing that women should have the right to vote.

1871

On December 4, 1871 there was a ball for the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia.
1872

1873

With the main level seats covered by a wooden stage, the Academy hosts a circus featuring Buffalo Bill Cody.

1877

On April 13, 1877 there was a concert to exhibit a telephone call between Philadelphia and New York which was the first “Telephone Concert.”

1878

President Rutherford B. Hayes appeared at the Academy on on April 25, 1878 to see Gilmore’s Famous Band.
1889

1889

The University of Pennsylvania football team plays the Riverton Club of Princeton. Final score: zero-zero.
1891

1891

Peter Tchaikovsky conducts music from The Nutcracker.

1898

President William McKinley spoke at the academy on February 21, 1898 in honor of University Day and Washington’s Birthday. Over 2,000 students from the University of Pennsylvania came to hear him speak.
1900

1900

The Philadelphia Orchestra begins its century-long run at the Academy; Fritz Scheel conducts.
1902

1902

In 1902, President Taft received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from University of Pennsylvania at the Academy.
1905

1905

President Roosevelt received a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Pennsylvania in February 22, 1905.
1916

1916

The Philadelphia Orchestra gives the U.S. premiere of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, the “Symphony of a Thousand,” featuring 1,069 performers on a specially-built stage.
1933

1933

There was an Academy bat as early as the Civil War days and from time to time it repapered. A bat landed on the toupee of the tenor during a performance of Carmen in 1933.
1939

1939

The music in the Disney film Fantasia was recorded by The Philadelphia in the basement of the academy. The recording technology was groundbreaking at the time and paved the way for recorded performances and rebroadcasting.
1940

1940

The Philadelphia Orchestra records the soundtrack for Disney’s 1940 animated film masterpiece Fantasia on the Academy of Music stage. Leopold Stokowski is on the podium.
1942 – 1945

1942 – 1945

During World War II, the basement lobby is transformed into the Stage Door Canteen. Over two million U.S. servicemen and women come in to relax, dine and dance, and try to forget the war, with help from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Abbott and Costello, Duke Ellington, Bette Davis, and Glenn Miller.
1957

1957

The First Anniversary Concert and Ball is held in January, on the Academy’s 100th birthday. The Philadelphia Orchestra performs, conducted by Eugene Ormandy and Danny Kaye, with guest artists including Marian Anderson, Isaac Stern, Arthur Rubenstein, and Dinah Shore.
1962

1962

The Academy is designated a National Historic Landmark.
1980 – 1989

1980 – 1989

The lobby’s walls are painstakingly restored with the original faux marble design.
1993

1993

Martin Scorsese’s film The Age of Innocence uses the Academy’s gold and red-velvet interior to evoke the Gilded Age luxury of Edith Wharton’s classic novel.
1994

1994

The 21st-Century Project begins. This multi-million-dollar renovation includes major structural work, backstage modernization, and audience-service improvements, all designed to keep the Academy of Music one of the foremost performing arts centers in the world.