Designed to make audiences gasp even before the performance begins, opera houses are perhaps the most architecturally opulent spaces on Earth. A new book by photographer David Leventi attempts to document the grand interiors where civilization’s most celebrated musical acts come to life.

Over eight years Leventi visited 40 opera houses in 19 countries, from the gilded Real Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy (the oldest continuously operating opera venue in the world), to the swooping modernism of the Met in New York City. While Leventi captures some images of the stages and their ornate, technically complex sets, the most stunning photographs are shot from the perspective of the performer, looking out onto the rings of empty seats with the house lights glittering overhead.

Palais Garnier | Paris, France

Teatro di Villa Aldrovandi Mazzacorati | Bologna, Italy

Guangzhou Opera House | Guangzhou, China

Státní Opera | Prague, Czech Republic

Opéra Nouvel | Lyon, France

This was exactly the feeling he meant to evoke by documenting these structures, says Leventi. “The actual performance is just a part of the overall awe-inspiring experience of going to the theater—I believe that the space itself can be the event.”

Cuvilliés-Theater | Munich, Germany

Markgräfliches Opernhaus | Bayreuth, Germany

The book, named simply Opera, is designed by Pentagram’s Luke Hayman and manages to capture the theatrical nature of what’s inside; the cover is a trompe l’oeil rumple of red curtains from the Palais Garnier in Paris which open to reveal the large-format photographs. For those who live in New York City, the photographs are also currently on view at Rick Wester Fine Art.

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Top image: Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, Spain. All photos by David Leventi