You would be hard pressed, anywhere else but in the financial metropolis of Zürich, to find passionate lovers of music and spoken theater who come together to create a joint stock company in order to finance a theater. The founding of the Zürich Opera House dates back to 1834, when a building (“stock theater”) was constructed to house drama performances of every genre. In addition, the church from the former Barfüsser abbey was renovated.
On New Year’s Eve 1889-90, the theater burned to the ground, and one year later the new building opened its doors on the same site as the City Theater, constructed according to the plans of Viennese architectural firm Fellner und Helmer. Along with the German and Italian classics, the repertoire has often featured premieres, including Lulu (Alban Berg), Mathis, der Maler (Paul Hindemith), and Moses und Aron (Arnold Schoenberg).
In 1964 it was officially renamed the Zürich Opera House. Thanks to the efforts of Claus Helmut Drese (1975-1986), Zürich became the mecca of Baroque opera with a much-acclaimed Monteverdi cycle (direction: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt).
For over twenty years (1991-2012), Alexander Pereira shaped the institution’s history, placing special emphasis on premieres, which successfully enhanced the opera house’s profile. Andreas Homoki has served as the artistic director of the opera house since 2012.
1834 The “stock theater” opens its doors with a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute.
The joint stock company maintains its original organizational structure to this day, with the Opernhaus Zürich AG running the theater’s affairs.
After it was destroyed by a fire, the City Theater is re-opened on September 20, 1891, following a construction period of only 20 months, with a performance of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin.
The new building can seat around 1100 people.
Many outstanding artists are closely linked to the history of the opera house, including Richard Wagner, Ferruccio Busoni, Paul Hindemith, Arthur Honegger, Frank Martin, and Richard Strauss.
Franz Welser-Möst was responsible for many shining musical moments over the course of 13 years (1995-2008), such as the internationally-acclaimed performance of the Ring in 2001. He was succeeded as general music director by Fabio Luisi.
Premiere of Rudolf Kelterborn’s opera The Cherry Orchard (adapted from Chekhov) - a further milestone in the opera house’s history.
1985 Founding of the Zürich Opera Orchestra, renamed the Philharmonia Zürich in 2012.
1995 Orchestra La Scintilla, the opera house’s own ensemble specializing in Baroque interpretation, is formed.
Did you know?
The original “stock theater” seated around 800 guests.
Only three years after its opening, a woman served as the theater’s director: Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffers (1837-1843).
Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler was engaged as choir director in Zürich at the beginning of his career (1907).
In 1913, Richard Wagner’s Parsifal received its first stage performance outside of Bayreuth.
Cecilia Bartoli has been collaborating with La Scintilla for years; their CD release of Norma received an ECHO Klassik award.
Opera stars like Franco Fagioli, Juan Diego Flórez, Georg Nigl, and Rene Papé are regular guests in Zürich.
In 2014 the Zürich Opera House was named Opera Company of the Year at the International Opera Awards.
Zürich also has its own “opera ball”; the high point of the city’s social calendar, it takes place in March of every year under the patronage of the Friends of Zürich Opera.
The Zürich Opera House also runs its own ballet school, providing lessons to children ages four and up.