Due to its much-discussed production concepts and abundance of opera stars, it often stands in the focus of music lovers: the Bavarian State Opera in Munich is one of the world’s leading and most renowned opera stages. Its home is the National Theater on Max-Joseph-Platz, opened in 1818. With 2101 seats, the classicist building is Germany’s largest opera house, and at 2500 square meters, its stage is also one of the largest in the world.
The Bavarian State Opera has always been known for its artistic boldness – with its stage design, casting, and choice of program: the long list of works premiered by the Staatsoper ranges from Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, and Carl Orff to, more recently, compositions by Aribert Reimann, Wolfgang Rihm, Jörg Widmann, and Peter Eötvös. The great works of the Classical and Romantic opera literature regularly form part of the program, but the Bavarian State Opera has also won admiration for its revivals of rare and infrequently-performed works from the Baroque to contemporary periods.
The history of the Munich opera goes back to 1651, when the Electoral Opera House, as it was then called, was opened in a renovated granary on Salvatorplatz as Germany’s first free-standing opera house.
100 years later the Alte Residenz Theater, better known as the Cuvilliés Theater, was built; it is here that Mozart’s Idomeneo was premiered in 1781.
The Munich opera houses soon became too small for the growing public interest in opera at the beginning of the 19th century, leading King Maximilian I to commission the construction of the Königliches Hof- und Nationaltheater (Royal Court and National Theater).
The building has been destroyed twice and “inaugurated” three times: first in 1818 after a seven-year period of construction, a second time in 1825 after a fire and “only” two years of reconstruction. Destroyed in 1943 during the Second World War, the opera house was rebuilt from 1958 to 1963.
The third inauguration took place on two evenings: on November 21, 1963 with the Strauss opera Die Frau ohne Schatten before an invited audience, and on November 23, 1963 with Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the first public performance.
The Bavarian State Opera presents around 450 events per year, also including concerts and ballet performances – and not only in the main venue of the National Theater, but also in Munich’s Prinzregententheater and the Cuvilliés Theater.
Since 1875 the Munich Opera Festival has taken place each July at the end of the regular season.
The Bavarian State Orchestra is the orchestral ensemble of the State Opera.
Did you know?
In contrast to Milan’s La Scala and the Vienna State Opera – both box theaters – the Munich National Theater is designed as an open gallery theater: above the orchestra are the mezzanine, three galleries, and the upper gallery. There are boxes only in the proscenium along with the middle box, formerly the royal box.
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Das Rheingold, and Die Walküre were all premiered by the Königliches Hof- und Nationaltheater, as was (posthumously) his first opera, Die Feen.
Other works premiered by the Bavarian State Opera include Pfitzner’s Palestrina, Capriccio and Friedenstag by Richard Strauss, Hindemith’s Die Harmonie der Welt, Reimann’s Lear, and Jörg Widmann’s Babylon.
The Opera’s music directors have included Hans von Bülow, Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter, Hans Knappertsbusch, Georg Solti, Joseph Keilberth, Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Zubin Mehta.
After the building was destroyed during the Second World War, the idea of erecting a completely new building on a different site was considered, but the decision was eventually made in favor of reconstruction. The total cost: 62 million German marks.
In 2018 the Bavarian State Opera is celebrating two anniversaries: the National Theater, home of the State Opera, State Ballet, and State Orchestra, is 200 years old. And the State Opera as an institution can look back on 100 years of existence, after the former Court Theater passed from the custody of the king to the Free State of Bavaria.