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c.1700 a French operatic troupe came to Frankfurt and performed works, mainly by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Other tours took place later, including a visit in 1745 by Pietro Mingotti’s Italian troupe, which included a Kapellmeister called Christoph Willibald Gluck. Performances took place in temporary venues in dining halls of larger inns or on wooden stages they brought with them which were set up outside, usually in the Rossmarkt (horse market square).
1782 – 1880 the Comoedienhaus, with c. 1000 seats, on what is now Rathenauplatz, the first purpose built theatre, created by master builder Johann Andreas Liebhardt, in Frankfurt scheduled plays and operas. The first production was Johann Christian Bock’s play Hanno, Fürst im Norden/Hanno, Prince in the North.
1783 Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail is performed.
1785 Fire in the Comoedienhaus.
1788 Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni (1789) are performed. Performers are still travelling theatre troupes.
1790 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a musical academy in the Comoedienhaus.
1792 Now known better as the Frankfurter Nationaltheater, it acquired its own orchestra. It was first led by Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius Kuntzen, who was followed by Ferdinand Fränzl and Carl Cannabich. All came from the former court orchestra in Mannheim.
1793 Rath Goethe sent word to her son in Weimar that: "Die Zauberflöte was a great success in Frankfurt."
1817 -1819 Louis Spohr was Kapellmeister at the theatre, where his operas Faust and Zemire and Azor received their world permieres. Carl Guhr took over after Spohr’s short era, running the theatre from 1821 - 1848.
1842 Hector Berlioz came to a performance of Fidelio and was very impressed. He mentioned it in his memoirs.
1848 Guhr died suddenly. Albert Lortzing was one of those who applied for the job, which went to the composer Louis Schindelmeisser who remained until 1851.
1853 Tannhäuser performed, the first Wagner opera in Frankfurt.
1854 Frankfurt’s Fürstentage are celebrated by a performance of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.
1862 Richard Wagner conducted a performance of Lohengrin.
1878 Fire broke out during a play.
1880 The new Opera House (built by Richard Lucae, now the "Alte Oper" on Opernplatz) opened with Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm I. The first performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Frankfurt took place four years later.
1902 New straight theatre opened on Theaterplatz, today’s Willy-Brandt-Platz. Architect: Christian Heinrich Seeling.
1912 – 1917 Legendary world premieres of operas by Franz Schreker: Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin/The Music Box and the Princess, Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgräber/The Treasure Seeker.
1914 Richard Strauss conducted Rosenkavalier at Frankfurt Opera, which was followed two years later by the world premiere of Hans Pfitzner’s Der arme Heinrich/Poor Heinrich, conducted by the composer.
1924 – 1929 A new production-orientated way of performing opera was established.
1928 World premieres of Kurt Weill’s one act works Der Protagonist and Der Zar lässt sich photographieren/The Tsar allows his photograph to be taken.
1930 World permiere of Arnold Schönberg’s Von heute auf morgen/From One Day to the Next.
From 1933 People of Jewish origin, including Intendant Josef Thurnau, Oberspielleiter Hans Graf, General Music Director Wilhelm Steinberg, the world famous singer Magda Spiegel and other artists and people who worked at the Opera and Schauspiel were suspended during the National Socialist regime. Many of them were later deported and murdered. General Intendant Hans Meissner began running the Städtische Bühnen in June 1933, remaining in his post throughout the Third Reich. He planned non-risky repertoire in order to avoid conflict with the Party.
1937 World premiere of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at Frankfurt Opera.
1941 Mozart cycle performed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.
1944 The opera house and theatre are destroyed in air raids. The company then performed in theatres in spa towns and other venues in the surrounding area. All theatres in Germany were closed in September 1944. The last work performed in Frankfurt in the National Socialist era was Lehár’s operetta Das Land des Lächelns/The Land of Smiles.
1945 After the war the opera performed in the stock exchange. The first performance in Frankfurt after World War II, Tosca, took place there in September 1945 on a temporary stage. Hopes of rebuilding the badly damaged opera house on Opernplatz came to nothing because of the enormous costs involved.
1948 The Patronatsverein (a group of patrons) was founded. They devised ways of raising money to build a theatre on the ruins of what is today Willy-Brandt-Platz.
1949 Another dark year in the Städtische Bühnen’s history: 29 people fired and a further 137 warned that they are likely to lose their jobs – the City of Frankfurt is not able (or is not willing) to finance culture in the future. But, before the year was out, a meeting of city councillors confirmed that the former straight theatre would be re-built - a new building to house both the opera and drama companies. The Patronatsverein sold 1.6 million lottery tickets, making a profit of DM.300,000 for the rebuilding work.
1951 The new Städtische Bühnen Frankfurt, designed by Apel, Letocha and Rohrer and fitted out with up to date stage machinery, opened. The first opera performed was Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
1958 City councillors sanction the building of today’s double theatre on Theaterplatz, now Willy-Brandt-Platz (see photo of model above). The Apel & Beckert architect firm is commissioned.
1963 The new building with its large stages for opera and drama and spectacular glass front opened by the Hungarian artist Zoltán Kemeny.
1987 Opera fly tower destroyed by arsonist (see more: The fire of 1987). During the three years that it took to rebuild the theatre the opera performed on the straight theatre’s stage. Plays were performed in the hastily kitted out Bockenheimer Depot, a venue that is now an established venue in cultural life in Frankfurt.
1991 One of the things to celebrate the re-opening of the theatre was the world permiere, in concert, of Hans Werner Henze’s La selva incantata/The Cursed Wilderness. The first opera on the new stage with its then state of the arts machinery on the evening of the day the theatre opened was Mozart’s Zauberflöte.
2006 3,500 square meters of workshops in the theatre were no longer deemed safe and had to be demolished. Everything in them was transported to Praunheim.
2010 New workshops opened in the 2010/11 season.
(Historical photographs from: the Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt)
Interested to see which works have been performed at Oper Frankfurt? Below you can find a list of new productions at Oper Frankfurt since 1945 and who conducted and directed them.
1902 Dornröschen/Sleeping Beauty by Engelbert Humperdinck
1912 Der ferne Klang/The Distant Sound by Franz Schreker
1913 Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin/The Music Box and the Princess by Franz Schreker
1918 Die Gezeichneten/The Signified by Franz Schreker
1919 Fennimore and Gerda by Frederick Delius
1920 Der Schatzgräber/The Treasure Seeker by Franz Schreker
1920 Die ersten Menschen/The First People by Rudi Stephan
1922 Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith
1924 Der Sprung über den Schatten/The Leap over the Shadows by Ernst Krenek
1924 Sakahra by Simon Bucharoff
1926 Die zehn Küsse/Ten Kisses by Bernhard Sekles
1926 Der Golem by Eugen d'Albert
1930 Von heute auf morgen/From One Day to the Next by Arnold Schönberg
1930 Achtung Aufnahme/Watch Out, Recording by Wilhelm Grosz
1934 Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter/Prince Eugen, the noble Knight by Max Pflugmacher
1935 Die Zaubergeige/The Magic Violin by Werner Egk
1936 Doktor Johannes Faust by Hermann Reutter
1937 Carmina Burana by Carl Orff
1939 (world premiere of new edition) Die Rose vom Liebesgarten/The Rose from the Garden of Love by Hans Pfitzner
1942 Columbus by Werner Egk
1942 Odysseus by Hermann Reutter
1943 Die Kluge/The Clever Woman by Carl Orff
1962 Die Alkestiade by Louise Talma
1964 Dame Kobold by Gerhard Wimberger
1965 Das Wundertheater /The Magic Theatre, Ein Landarzt /A Country Doctor, Das Ende einer Welt/The End of a World by Hans Werner Henze
1986 Die Reise zum Mittelpunkt der Erde/Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Hans-Joachim Hespos
1986 Stephen Climax by Hans Zender
1987 Europeras 1 & 2 by John Cage
1989 What where by Hans Holliger
2006 Caligula by Detlev Glanert
2014 Der Goldene Drachen/The Golden Dragon by Peter Eötvös
2014 Sirenen - Bilder des Begehrens und des Vernichtens/Sirens - Scenes of Desire and Destruction by Rolf Riehm
2015 An unserem Fluss/By Our River by Lior Navok
2016 Anna Toll by Michael Langemann
1900 – 1911
Paul Jensen - his Intendanz ended with the legendary world permiere of Franz Schreker’s Der ferne Klang/The Distant Sound.
1912 – 1914
Robert Volkner - planned another world premiere of a work by Schreker - Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin/The Music Box and the Princess.
1917 – 1920
Karl Zeiss - despite strong resistence he brought Rudi Stephan’s Die ersten Menschen/The First People to the stage for the first time. This was followed by two world premieres of Franz Schreker’s opera: Die Gezeichneten/The Signified and Der Schatzgräber/The Treasure Seeker.
1920 – 1923
Ernst Lert - operas by Paul Hindemith, Ernst Krenek, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Béla Bartók were performed during his Intendanz.
1924 - 1929
Clemens Krauss - he and director Lothar Wallerstein established a new production orientated music theatre. The Ensemble included great singers including Benno Ziegler, Rudolf Brinkmann and Adele Kern.
1929 - 1933
Josef Thurnau - he continued the innovative theatre begun by his predecessors: Max Brands Maschinist Hopkins received its world permiere, as did Arnold Schönberg’s Von heute auf morgen/From One Day to the Next.
1933 - 1944
Hans Meissner - many artists and other people who worked at the theatre with Jewish backgrounds were suspended while he was General Intendant. Meissner stayed in his post until the end of the Third Reich. Modern music during this time was regarded as "degenerate".
1945 - 1951
Bruno Vondenhoff - Opera Intendant and General Music Director after the war. During his time in Frankfurt, which was dominated by continuous struggle to get the theatre re-built, he conducted many works that had never been performed in Germany before, including Alban Berg’s violin concerto, Frank Martin’s Golgatha and Paul Hindemith’s Vier Temperamente/Four Temperaments.
1951 - 1967
Harry Buckwitz (General Intendant, General Music Directors during this time: Georg Solti 1952 - 1961; Lovro von Matacic 1961 - 1966; Theodore Bloomfield 1966 - 1968), Harry Buckwitzreceived congratulations from all over the world, including word from Thomas Mann, Berthold Brecht and Albert Schweitzer, after the first performance in the new theatre : Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
1968 - 1972
Ulrich Erfurth (General Intendant)
1968 - 1977
Christoph von Dohnányi (General Music Director from 1972 - 1977 and Intendant)
1977 - 1987
Michael Gielen - he set stardards for new music theatre that were to last for many years: a new, trail-blazing way of treating traditional repertoire was born. Productions by Hans Neuenfels, Ruth Berghaus, Herbert Wernicke, Alfred Kirchner and Christof Nel drew the attention of the international music world to Frankfurt.
1987 - 1990
Gary Bertini - the fly tower was destroyed by an arsonist a few months into his Intendanz. Opera was performed in the Schauspielhaus next door until the building was re-built, and plays were put on in the hastily adapted Bockenheimer Depot. Gary Bertini stood down in 1990. Martin Steinhoff and Hans Peter Doll ran the theatre together until 1992.
1990 - 1993
Hans Peter Doll - the re-opening of the theatre was celebrated on the morning of April 6th 1991 with a world premiere concert performance of Hans Werner Henze’s La selva in cantata/Cursed Wilderness under his Intendanz. The first performance since the fire, Die Zauberflöte, took place on stage that same evening.
1993 - 1996
Sylvain Cambreling - is General Music Director and Artistic Intendant of the Opera. He and his General Manager Intendant Martin Steinhoff regularly engaged directors Christoph Marthaler and Peter Musbach. Many co-productions with the Théâtre de la Monnaie and Salzburg Festival enriched the planning. Sylvain Cambreling left the house in 1996.
1997 - 2002
Martin Steinhoff is Intendant of Oper Frankfurt and Paolo Carignani is General Music Director. The tradition begun at the beginning of the century was re-established and works performed by contemporary composers, including Hans Werner Henze's Boulevard Solitude and Venus und Adonis, Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz and Die Eroberung von Mexiko/The Conquest of Mexico, Heinz Holliger’s Schneewittchen/Snow White, Gregory Fried’s Tagebuch/Diary of Anne Frank and Adriana Hölszki’s Die Wände/The Walls.
Bernd Loebe - after his first season as Intendant Oper Frankfurt was voted „Opera House of the Year“ by Opernwelt Magazine and has maintained a top place in the ratings in Germany and elsewhere ever since: it was voted Best Theatre by »Die deutsche Bühne« magazine for the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons. Paolo Carignani left Oper Frankfurt after almost ten years as General Music Director at the end of the 2007/08 season with a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. He was succeeded in 2008/2009 by Sebastian Weigle, whose first new production in this post was Aribert Reimann’s Lear.
Frankfurt’s fire brigade’s report: The Städtische Bühnen’s fly tower was totally destroyed by fire on November 12th 1987.
It all started on November 12th 1987, a cold, wet and windy night, when an ionization detector in the ceiling above the auditorium set off fire alarms at 03.19am. This automatically set off alarms in the theatre and city’s fire departments. Three fire engines where rushing to the scene while two in house firemen, trying to find the cause, soon came across thick smoke. The fire engines arrived only five minutes after the alarm went off. They still had no idea of what was yet to come. The two in house firemen opened doors so that the engines could enter and turned off the electricity in the theatre. Everyone then tried to find the source of the fire. The fire chief said: "Unmistakable sounds and loud crackles led the way to the burning fly tower. Attempts to open the doors were made impossible because of the enormous pressure that had built up inside. The view of the stage from the auditorium was terrifying. The closed 16 ton iron curtain glowed red. Lighting towers on both sides of the stage were on fire and the intense heat has already badly damaged the first few rows of seats in the stalls. The house firemen began fighting the fire in the auditorium. The men from the fire brigade tried to fight their way to the source of the fire."
It is now clear that the whole fly tower is on fire and a further fire engines were summoned at 03.33am. The fly tower collapsed seven minutes later, raining fire down onto Neue Mainzer Straße where the fire fighters, and first bystanders, were assembled. Eye witnesses report that flames 20 metres high licked their way into the night sky. More and more fire fighters took up position but the fire, whipped up by the wind, was not to be beaten. Clouds of sparks carried by the wind threatened the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof Hotel and the volunteer fire brigade from Niederrad were ordered to prevent other nearby buildings from catching fire. A television camera set up on the roof of the other half of the theatre helped the fire chief get a better view of the catastrophe and see how best to deploy his men. So many hoses are now being used that water is running out. The men from Niederrad connected two hoses to the river Main (Untermainbrücke – bridge). More fire engines arrive. The chief, knowing what dangers can lie in wait for his men in these situations, orders regular head counts. By now every available fire engine is at the theatre. The chief puts out the call to the voluntary fire brigades in Enkheim, Hausen, Oberrad, Seckbach and Unterliederbach to man the city’s fire fighting centres in order to be able to deal with any other emergencies that might break out. The stage is now a picture of distruction, the floor covered by an enormous tangled mess of steel girders, charred wood, iron bars, collapsed walls and destroyed scenery, hiding nests of fires from view. And then, to crown it all, the scenery builders’ paint store caught fire. The firemen fought desperately and managed to put it out. Firemen were also able to rescue musical instruments valued at €150,000 from a rehearsal room.
It was not until six days later that the fire brigade could confirm that the fire was finally out. The tasks of pumping water from the cellars and clearing away the mess began.
How did the fire start? A man managed to climb in through a window, apparently looking for something to eat. Angry at finding nothing, he set fire to some newspapers and used them to burn some scenery. He fled when he realised that his little bonfire was growing fast. He rang the police same night and admitted to having started the fire. The officer involved managed to keep him talking long enough for the call to be traced. A car was sent to arrest him. He was sent to prison for seven years but was released after he had served two thirds of his sentence.
The fire that destroyed the fly tower also badly affected other parts of the building and forced everyone involved used to the luxury of modern machinery to improvise for three years. The Schauspiel (drama theatre in the same building as the opera) were more than generous in volunteering to move into a hastily adapted Bockenheimer Depot (which turned out to be a splendid venue that is still used today by the opera, straight theatre and dance companies) so that the opera could perform on their stage.
Rebuilding the damaged parts of the Opera House took almost three and a half years. Two good things came about after this dreadful catastrophe: the theatre ended up with brand new, state of the arts modern machinery and fire prevention and detection methods were optimised so as to rule out the possibility of a fire not being dealt with before it can get out of hand.