History of Staatsoper
Experiencing a performance at the former Königliche Hofoper not only means enjoying the traditionally excellent conducting and ensemble, but also a visit to one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses. The »Enchanted Castle« was commissioned by Frederick II from his friend the architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. Construction began in July 1741 on what was intended to be the first part of a Forum Fredericianum. A full ten months before its actual completion the monarch’s impatience precipitated the opening of the Hofoper with a performance of Carl Heinrich Graun’s »Cleopatra e Cesare« on 7 December 1742. This event marked the beginning of the successful 250-year-old cooperation between the Staatsoper and Staatskapelle.
By contrast to the Staatsopernchor, which was professionalised only in 1821 after decades of making do with lay chorister from local higher education institutions, the Königliche Kapelle was already over two centuries old at the time of its formal inauguration. Its roots go back to the 15th century, but it was first officially mentioned as the Kurfürstliche Hofkapelle in 1570. In 1842 Gottfried Wilhelm Taubert instituted the still ongoing tradition of independent and regular symphonic concerts. In the same year Giacomo Meyerbeer succeeded Gaspare Spontini as general music director, and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy conducted the symphonic concerts for a year.
In the night of 18–19 August 1843 the Lindenoper – which had meanwhile been merged with the Nationaltheater to form the Königliche Schauspiele – burned to the ground after a performance of the military ballet, »Der Schweizersoldat«. It was rebuilt by Carl Ferdinand Langhans and opened in the autumn of the following year with Meyerbeer’s »Ein Feldlager in Schlesien«.
One of Berlin’s 19th-century highpoints was the first performance in 1821 of Weber’s »Der Freischütz« in Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s newly built Schauspielhaus on the Gendarmenmarkt. Otto Nicolai’s »The Merry Wives of Windsor« was first produced at the Lindenoper in 1849, with the composer conducting.
Towards the end of the 19th century the opera house attained international fame through conductors such as Joseph Sucher, Felix von Weingartner and Karl Muck, and in later years Richard Strauss and Leo Blech. After the collapse of the German Empire in 1918 the opera was renamed the Staatsoper unter den Linden and the Königliche Kapelle became the Staatskapelle Berlin. The 1920s saw Wilhelm Furtwängler, Erich Kleiber, Otto Klemperer, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Bruno Walter and many others at the conductor’s stand.
In April 1928, having undergone a complete renovation with the introduction of a rotating stage, trap room and wings, the Lindenoper reopened with a new production of the »Magic Flute«. In the same year Feodor Chaliapin and the Diaghilev Ballet gave guest performances under Ernest Ansermet.
After Hitler’s seizure of power all Jews were dismissed from the ensemble. Otto Klemperer, Fritz Busch and many top soloists went into exile. During the Third Reich the chief conductors were Robert Heger, Johannes Schüler and Herbert von Karajan. It was in 1944 under Karajan’s baton that the first stereo recording was made. The Lindenoper had been increasingly devoted to contemporary composers since the end of the German Empire. In 1925 Alban Berg’s »Wozzek« was premiered by Erich Kleiber in the composer’s presence. Kleiber also conducted the first performances of Darius Milhaud’s »Christophe Columbe«, and the »Symphonic Suite« from Alban Berg’s »Lulu«, whereupon the Nazis provoked a scandal and Erich Kleiber was also forced into exile. 1938 saw the first performance of Werner Egk’s Peer Gynt, with the composer conducting.
During World War II the opera house was twice completely destroyed by bombing. Rebuilding was quick the first time, but the second took much longer. Both times, 1942 and 1955, the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, as it was renamed in 1945, opened with Wagner’s »Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg«.
Despite the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the restrictions that followed, the Staatsoper managed to retain its international reputation under its artistic directors Hans Pischner and Günter Rimkus, building up an extensive classical and romantic repertoire together with contemporary ballets and operas. The series of first performances continued with Paul Dessau’s »Das Verhör des Lukullus« (1951), »Einstein« (1974) and »Leonce und Lena« (1979), to name a few.
Since reunification the Lindenoper has become firmly established in the musical life of Berlin and once again ranks among the world’s leading opera houses. New priorities were set under the directorship of Georg Quander. A »Berlin dramaturgy« rediscoverd and reassessed important works from the past. Baroque opera took on particular importance with »Cleopatra e Cesare«, »Croesus«, »L’opera Seria« and »Griselda« under René Jacobs with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the Freiburger Barockorchester on historical instruments.
Another musician of long-standing international experience joined the Lindenoper when Daniel Barenboim was appointed artistic director and general music director in 1992. Autumn 2000 saw him elected as lifetime chief conductor by the Staatskapelle Berlin, with which he performed the complete cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies and piano concertos (as conductor and soloist). During the 2002 Festtage he also presented the ten-part Wagner cycle, produced in collaboration with Harry Kupfer between 1992 and 2002.
Along with the maintenance of the concert and opera repertoire, the directorship of Peter Mussbach from 2002 to 2008 was marked by new forms of music theatre: numerous premieres and 20th-century works were realised as interdisciplinary projects with artists, architects or choreographers, both on the large stage and and in the Magazin building, which was established as an experimental laboratory for inter-genre projects.
In April 2008 the opera director Ronald H. Adler provisionally took on the directorship of the Staatsoper until the artistic director, Jürgen Flimm, took over in September 2010. As of the beginning of the new season 2011/12 Ivan van Kalmthout will take the position of the opera director.
The Staatsoper Unter den Linden continues its unique programme of concerts and operas, which ranges from Baroque operas in historical performance practice to the central works of the classical, romantic and modern opera literature to the realisation of premieres by contemporary composers. The performances are of the highest musical quality, something guaranteed by the presence of Daniel Barenboim as the general music director and by renowned guest conductors, a house ensemble of first-rate singers augmented by internationally known stars, and, not least, by the Berlin Staatskapelle. The productions reflect a commitment to these works from a modern perspective; they challenge conventional viewing habits, while remaining true to the spirit of the work.
During the urgently necessary renovation of the entire Staatsoper Unter den Linden, which began in 2010, the Schiller Theater in Berlin-Charlottenburg will serve the ensemble as an alternative venue from October 2010 until summer 2015. The repertoire will be performed there with the same commitment high artistic standard as in Berlin-Mitte.