G is for glasses
Did you know… the Opera Queensland ‘oq’ logo is inspired by the shape of opera glasses?
In a time before prescription glasses became accessible and fashionable, opera glasses were an elegant solution to making every theatre seat the best in the house.
Originally a simple small monocular telescope, the opera glass was designed in the early 1700s based on the Galilean two-lens system. The first binocular opera glasses were introduced some hundred years later and consisted of two small telescopes joined by a stationary bridge.
These first opera glasses were in fact monocular spyglasses. Rarely with a magnification greater than x3, these lenses were just strong enough to see the stage while retaining a bright image and a wide view so as not to miss any of the excitement or drama happening away from the stage. Much like today, attending the opera in the 18th and 19th centuries was a very social affair.
Opera glasses were always intended to be a sign of wealth and elegant works of art, and many are ornately decorated with enamel scenes or gilded with gold. Early designs featured silver, pewter, ivory, tortoise shell or mother-of-pearl and are now considered as decorative arts objects rather than optical devices and highly collectable.
The opulent design of the glasses themselves added appeal to the sophisticated opera-going crowd of the day. By the mid-1800s opera glasses had become a must-have fashion accessory for all audiences regardless of where they were sitting in the theatre. It was not until the 1860s that opera glasses become accessible to the general public and could be hired for a small fee. A widespread custom was for the glasses to be fixed to the backs of the seats and could be released by inserting a coin.
Many modern opera glasses still use the design Galileo implemented in his first telescope 400 years ago, although there have been many improvements. There are still opera glasses with chains, with handles, but also with lights for reading your program discreetly during the performance.