I walk up the ramp of the new Guangzhou Opera House, and suddenly it seems like Chinese New Year. The brand new skyscrapers that surround it, each named after some global finance corporation, burst into neon life, flickering and flashing in a way that makes Las Vegas seem like a mere twinkle. By contrast, the opera house seems almost serene – remarkable given that it’s the latest design by Zaha Hadid, an architect celebrated for buildings that shoot across the urban landscape like bolts of lightning. Yet, while the pulsating lights disguise what are regular office towers, once inside, Hadid’s opera house reveals itself in all its complexity, at once highly theatrical and insistently subtle.
Set in Haixinsha Square, a brand new stretch of south China’s ever-expanding trading city, the opera house takes the form of what appear to be two enormous pebbles that might have been washed up on the shores of the Pearl river, on which Guangzhou stands. Rough-shaped things sheathed in triangles of granite and glass protrusions, one houses the main auditorium while the smaller encloses a multipurpose performance space. There’s no question, though, that the opera house is best experienced at night. As darkness falls and the foyers fill up with people, the building magically comes to life.