1570 - 2015

Berlin State Opera and Staatskapelle Berlin - A walk through history

Berlin State Opera

As well as being an Opera theater in Berlin's center is the Staatsoper Unter den Linden simultaneously a high quality artistic institution of international renown. Musical theatre finds here its home alongside one of the world's best Orchestras; the Staatskapelle Berlin, lead by the General Musical Director Daniel Barenboim. The history of the Staatsoper and the Staatskapelle however, encompasses much more with its profound roots.This success story continues until today.

Prince-Elector Joachim II Hector of Brandenburg sets up the first charter for musical ensembles.

Johannes Eccard, one of the best-known composers of his time, is appointed director of music in Berlin. His successor Nikolaus Zangius, who directs the ensemble from 1612 to 1618, considerably increases the number of musicians.

Due to the Thirty Years' War which was disastrous for the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Berlin court orchestra was largely decimated, but not disbanded. The "Great Elector" Frederick William I of Brandenburg gives a fresh lease of life to the orchestra.

The first opera performances takes place in the Berlin palace with the court orchestra participating.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach becomes a member of the court orchestra, playing the harpsichord.

After his accession to the throne, Frederick II commissions the architect Georg Wenzeslaus Knobelsdorff to build an opera house on the avenue Unter den Linden.

The Prussian royal court orchestra finds its home in the new opera house Unter den Linden. The opening premiere is Carl Heinrich Graun's opera »Cleopatra e Cesare«. Johann Joachim Quantz, flute teacher to Frederick II, is the director of the court concerts.

The first concert series with the court conductor Johann Friedrich Reichardt is established.

Following Napoleon’s defeat of Prussia, no performances were held in the court opera for quite a while. The court orchestra is reduced in size, but continues playing in the national theatre on the Gendarmenmarkt square.

Court opera and national theatre are combined to form the "Königliche Schauspiele (Royal Theatre)" directed by August Wilhelm Iffland, the two orchestras also join up.

Gasparo Spontini becomes the first Prussian "General-Music-Director". During his 21 years in office he increases the number of players to 94 and also considerably improves its quality.

Carl Maria von Weber's opera »Der Freischütz« premieres in the new theatre building Schauspielhaus am Gendarmenmarkt designed by architect Schinkel, performed by the Berlin court orchestra.

Members of the royal court orchestra together with the Sing-Akademie choir participate in the 19th century’s first performance of Bach's »Matthäuspassion«. Young Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy conducts this rediscovery which is highly significant in musical history.

The first "Symphonic soiree" was the start of regular symphony concerts by the court orchestra in Berlin. They were performed in various different theatres, particularly in the Apollo room of the Linden opera house. The famous composer Giacomo Meyerbeer is appointed the new musical director.

During the night of 18/19 August the opera house burns down to its very foundations.

In January Richard Wagner conducts the Berlin premiere of his »Fliegender Holländer«. At the end of the year the reconstructed building Unter den Linden is opened with a premiere of Meyerbeer's »Ein Feldlager in Schlesien«.

Richard Strauss becomes court conductor and in 1908, musical director. He will go on to conduct more than 1,000 opera and concert performances by the orchestra.

After the collapse of the German Empire the court orchestra is taken over by the state of Prussia. The orchestra is now known as the Staatskapelle Berlin.

Wilhelm Furtwängler is the conductor of the symphony concerts for two years. With the composer and conductor Max von Schilling as the director, the Staatsoper and Staatskapelle (until 1925) undergo very successful artistic development.

The newly appointed musical director Erich Kleiber conducts his first symphony concert on December 5th. The premiere of Alban Berg’s »Wozzeck« conducted by Kleiber in 1925 marks a milestone in the cultural history of the Weimar Republic.

In the Staatsoper on the Platz der Republik square (the so-called »Kroll opera house«) musical director Otto Klemperer with his own ensemble initiates a series of legendary opera and concert performances taken from classical as well as modern repertoires.

When the National Socialists seize power, many Jewish soloists, conductors and orchestra musicians are forced to emigrate. Wilhelm Furtwängler becomes the opera director.

Having previously been an immensely successful conductor in the opera house Unter den Linden, Herbert von Karajan conducts the symphony concerts of the Staatskapelle until 1945.


The Linden opera house is again destroyed on February 3rd. The last symphony concerts during WWII are performed in other locations, among others, in the Schauspielhaus. Only a few weeks after »Zero Hour« the Staatskapelle begins concert performances again. On June 30th the »Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin« starts performing in the Admiralspalast on Friedrichstrasse amongst the ruins of Berlin.

The Barenboim family moves from Argentina to Israel. Daniel Barenboim premieres as a pianist in Vienna and Rome.

Daniel Barenboim attends the conducting classes held by Igor Markevich in Salzburg. He meets Wilhelm Furtwängler who invites him to perform with himself and the Berliner Philharmoniker. The next step is his first vinyl recording as a pianist.

Due to political conflicts Erich Kleiber resigns as the art director of the Staatsoper. In his place Franz Konwitschny is appointed executive musical director. On September 4th Konwitschny conducts the reopening premiere of the rebuilt Linden opera (Wagner's »Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg«).

The Austrian Otmar Suitner is appointed musical director; a position he occupies until 1990. The Staatsoper is managed by Hans Pischner who together with his team, realizes a well-balanced program comprising classics from the repertoire (especially Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Strauss) and contemporary composers (e.g. works by Dessau, Shostakovich, Penderecki).
Daniel Barenboim makes his debut in Berlin by playing Bartók's piano concerto No. 1 with the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Pierre Boulez.

Daniel Barenboim becomes the art director and music director of the Staatsoper, Georg Quander being the theatre manager. On December 30th Daniel Barenboim performs Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 as his first concert with the Staatskapelle. In addition he starts work as the principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a function which he holds until 2006.

The first opera premiere conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden is Wagner's »Parsifal«. René Jacobs, an acknowledged Baroque repertoire specialist is recruited, and with him as the director, an opera production in "historically correct musical style" is performed in almost all the seasons.

The FESTTAGE festival held every year at Easter and featuring opera and concert performances with well-known musicians is launched by Daniel Barenboim. The first performance of the entire cycle of the new »Ring« production is the focus.

Together with Edward Said, Daniel Barenboim founds the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra which brings together young musicians from Israel, Palestine and the Arab countries each summer.

The Staatskapelle Berlin is elected »Orchestra of the Year« by the »Opernwelt« periodical. Great symphonic cycles are presented in Berlin as well as in international centers of the music world (e.g. in Vienna, London and New York). The Staatskapelle musicians name Daniel Barenboim their »conductor for life«.

Peter Mussbach assumed his office as artistic director.

The music kindergarten is founded.

For the first time »Staatsoper für alle« is organized in co-operation with BMW Berlin: the live broadcast of a musical theatre performance from the opera house and an open air concert of the Staatskapelle on Bebelplatz square.
Due to the extensive reconstruction of the house Unter den Linden, the Staatsoper and the Staatskapelle move to their temporary quarters, the Schiller Theater in Charlottenburg. Jürgen Flimm as the director develops an ambitious repertoire which includes more modern and contemporary works than ever before. The studio theatre of the Schiller Theater houses contemporary chamber operas and musical theatre for children and young people.

Daniel Barenboim becomes the musical director of La Scala in Milan (until 2014). The new production of »Wozzeck« is the beginning of a systematic development of the musical theatre and orchestra works by Alban Berg. In the Wiener Musikverein, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle perform a cycle featuring all symphonies by Anton Bruckner.

In the Kraftwerk Mitte the Staatsoper performs Luigi Nono's »Al gran sole carico d’amore« (musical director: Ingo Metzmacher, staging: Katie Mitchell).

The production »AscheMOND oder The Fairy Queen« featuring music by Henry Purcell and Helmut Oehring (staging: Claus Guth) is premiered combining early music with new music. The new Ring production which since 2010 has been under development in co-operation with La Scala in Milan, is performed as a cycle for the first time during the FESTTAGE festival. The orchestra celebrates great success with a concert performance of Wagner's »Ring« tetralogy on the occasion of the London »Proms«.

In the musical theatre project »Rein Gold« (text: Elfriede Jelinek, music: Richard Wagner, staging: Nicolas Stemann) drama and opera as well as large orchestra and electronic music come face to face.

The FESTTAGE festival again stages an »Homage à Pierre Boulez« on the occasion of the 90th birthday of the great composer and mastermind of new music. An Alban Berg cycle comprises performances of his two operas and all his symphonies in the Schiller Theater and in the Philharmonie.

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