One of the world's leading opera houses
Almost every Munich resident is able to give precise directions to the National Theater, home of the Bayerische Staatsoper, even though he or she may never have attended a performance there. Located at the end of Maximilianstrasse on Max-Joseph-Platz, the opera house dominates one of the most impressive architectural ensembles in the Bavarian capital.
Operatic history in Munich began some 350 years ago in the splendid courtly surroundings of the Hercules Hall of the Residence, in which Elector Ferdinand Maria (1651–79) had installed a theater. Around this time Ferdinand Maria also acquired an old grain storehouse on Salvatorplatz and had it converted into the first freestanding opera house in Germany. The popularity of opera in Munich continued unabated during the reign of Elector Maximilian II Emanuel (1679–1726) and his successors. In 1751 Maximilian III Joseph (1745–77), commissioned court architect François Cuvilliés to design and build a third theater, the (old) Residence Theater, today better known as the Cuvilliés Theater.
Cuvilliés’ splendid Rococo building could accommodate only 560, so when the theatrical venue at Salvatorplatz was declared unsafe in 1795, it was decided to erect a replacement that would be open to a wider public. The resulting competition, announced in 1802, for a new opera house was won by 20-year-old Karl von Fischer. After becoming king, Max Joseph required alterations to be made to its plan, in the light of the architecture he had seen on a visit to Paris in 1810—he was especially impressed with the Odéon theater.
Construction of the building began in 1811, on the site of what was to become Max-Joseph-Platz, but by 1813 the Bavarian State’s coffers were severely depleted as a result of the Napoleonic Wars and work was not resumed until King Max Joseph bailed out the civic authorities in 1816. A year later fire destroyed the building’s truss. The National Theater finally opened its doors in 1818. Disaster struck again in January 1823, when another fire broke out during a performance and destroyed the entire building—a sophisticated fire extinguishing mechanism failed to operate because the water pipes were frozen.
The task of reconstruction fell to architect Leo von Klenze. By and large he followed Fischer’s plans. After its reopening the house experienced several modifications. In 1854 a storage wing for props had to give way to the broadening of the Maximilianstrasse. In the same year the orchestra pit was enlarged. These minor changes didn’t alter the basic character of the original building, which reflected social changes in the early 19th century.
The auditorium, for example, had open tiers rather than boxes. The new name of the opera house underlined the sense of “national” pride that marked this era of German politics. Henceforth world premiers at the National Theater presented predominantly works by German composers, such as Wagner and Strauss.
Daily guided tours give you the opportunity to enjoy the building at your leisure. On such a tour you will also become acquainted with the auditorium’s extraordinary acoustics as well as the exciting possibilities the technical installations of the stage offer. Today, the Bavarian State Opera puts on 300 performances a year with approximately 2,100 visitors each night. Its wide-ranging repertoire includes pieces by Mozart, Wagner and Strauss, as well as baroque works and contemporary operas. Its reputation as one of the leading opera houses in the world is well deserved.
For further information on English guided tours through the Bavarian State Opera see www.staatsoper.de
or call (089) 21 85 10 25.
For a full schedule of performances, see What's Up
© MF Adler/Nov. 03