The Bavarian State Opera has one of the longest and most honored histories of any opera house in the world. Its orchestra also serves the Bavarian State Ballet and gives concerts as the Bavarian State Orchestra. From the fifteenth century, Munich's major force in music was the Electoral court. The enthusiasm of Henriette Adelheid of Savoy (wife of the Elector's son) expedited the building of an opera house, which hosted its first performances inRead more 1653. The Court Kapellmeister, Kerll, rapidly built the opera into the equal of any in Europe.
But the Electoral court moved to Brussels when Maximilian II Emmanuel was appointed governor of the Netherlands, taking the opera company with him. He returned in 1725. His successors Karl Albrecht (1726-1745) and Maximilian III Joseph (1745-1777) restored the opera to its earlier sumptuousness. A Residenztheater (also called the Cuvilliéstheater) was built in the electoral palace in 1753. In 1787, Elector Carl Theodor (1778-1799) banned Italian opera, which drastically lessened the activities and standards of the opera. It was not until 1805 that this ban ended.
In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the rulers of Bavaria were elevated to the rank of King. The Residenztheater saw the world premieres of Weber's Abu Hassan (1811) and Meyerbeer's first opera, Jephthas Gelübde (1812). King Ludwig I approved the construction of a Hof- und Nationaltheater (Court and National Theater). Designed by Karl von Fisher, it was finished in 1818, destroyed by fire in 1823, and rebuilt the same year. The appointment of Franz Lachner as conductor brought the Bavarian Court Opera back up to its rank among the top of European companies.
When the young Irish dancer Lola Montez appeared on the Hof- und Nationaltheater stage in 1846, King Ludwig became infatuated. He made her a countess, showered her with gold and jewelry, and let her control governmental decisions. This sparked the populace revolt of 1848, forcing Ludwig's abdication in favor of his son, Maximilian.
The next king, Ludwig II, had his own historic operatic infatuation -- with the music of Richard Wagner, who had been exiled for his role in the 1848 Revolution in Leipzig. Ludwig brought Wagner back to Germany in 1864, and his opera gave the premieres of Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger. Extravagant living and a notorious extramarital affair compelled Wagner to leave Munich. Ludwig had the Opera stage the two completed parts of Das Ring der Nibelungen against Wagner's will in 1869 and 1870. The angered Wagner built his Festival Theater in Bayreuth instead of Munich, but well after Ludwig's mysterious death in 1876. Munich built the Prinzergententheater, modeled after Bayreuth.
The Munich Opera maintained its reputation throughout the twentieth century. It was renamed the Bavarian State Opera, and the house became simply the Nationaltheater after 1918. Hans Knappertsbusch and Clemens Krauss were leading conductors up to World War II, during which the Cuvilliés and the Nationaltheater were both destroyed. After the war, the company moved to the Prinzregententheater. The two houses were rebuilt and reopened in 1958 and 1963 respectively. The immediate postwar years saw the tradition of great conductors continue, with Georg Solti, Ferenc Fricsay, Rudolf Kempe, and Joseph Keilberth on the podium. In 1971 Wolfgang Sawallisch began a long reign, stepping down in 1998. The Prinzregententheater was renovated in 1996, and is now used by the State Opera for some events. Zubin Mehta became music director of the Bavarian State Opera and State Orchestra in 1998. Read less
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