Spain's queen opens new opera house

Spain's Queen Sofia on Saturday inaugurated the city of Valencia's dramatic new opera house - a graceful building named in her honor and intended to put Spain's third-largest city on the architectural map.

Designed by renowned Valencia-born architect Santiago Calatrava, it looks like a blend of seagoing vessel and spacecraft, coated with gleaming tiles that give its outer surface a daytime and nighttime luminosity similar to that of Sydney's Opera House.

The queen, accompanied by Minister of Culture Carmen Calvo, was greeted by the architect and many onlookers, who cheered as she unveiled a plaque at the Queen Sophia Palace of Arts. Lorin Maazel, music director of the New York Philharmonic, who conducted Bizet's opera "Carmen," was clearly pleased with the acoustics of the main concert hall.

Valencia has lagged behind Barcelona and the capital Madrid in terms of arts and architecture. The new building was built to vie with Bilbao's landmark Guggenheim Museum for architecturally attuned tourists.

The interior has four performance areas including a main, 1,700 seat, space that can act as symphony orchestra concert hall, ballet and theater stage as well as opera venue. When fully operational, the building will be capable of seating 4,000 people. Calatrava has spent 14 years on the project.

The regional government of Valencia said the project had cost euros 250 million (US$303 million) though opposition leaders have said the figure was more likely to be in the region of euros 365 million (US$442 million), AP reports.

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