The tradition of Viennese opera goes back over three and a half centuries to the time of the early Baroque. Emperor Franz Joseph I decreed in December 1857 that the old city walls and fortifications around the Viennese inner city should be torn down and the Ringstrasse, a wide boulevard with new purpose built buildings for culture and politics, should take its place. Also the two Court theatres (one drama and one music theatre) were to find a new home on the Ring. For the Court opera theatre a prominent place was chosen in the immediate area of the former Kärtnertortheater. This popular opera theatre built in 1709 was torn down due to its being too cramped. In its place a new opera house was built designed by the Viennese architect August von Sicardsburg with interior decoration conceived by Eduard van der Nüll. But other well known artists also made contributions: one has only to think of Moritz von Schwind who painted the frescos in the foyer and the well-known Magic Flute cycle in the loggia. The two architects would not live to see the opening of ‘their’ opera house: the sensitive van der Nüll committed suicide after the Viennese characterized his house as tasteless and his friend Sicardsburg died shortly afterwards from a stroke. On the 25th of May 1869 the house was officially opened with a performance of Mozart’s DON JUAN in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph, the sovereign landlord, and Empress Elisabeth. As a result of the artistic charisma of the first General Directors, Franz von Dingelstedt, Johann Herbeck, Franz Jauner and Wilhelm Jahn the building grew in popularity. The first summit for Viennese opera was reached under the direction of Gustav Mahler, who completely revitalized the obsolete performance system, strengthened the precision and spirit of the ensemble and brought in important visual artists (among them Alfred Roller) to create the new stage aesthetic. During his ten-year long tenure (from 1897 to 1907) Gustav Mahler—still omnipresent on the eve of the 20th century in the concert houses of the world as the most important composer of symphonic work—set about building the Wagner repertoire, renewing Mozart’s operas and Beethoven’s FIDELIO, while maintaining the association with Verdi and cultivating one with Richard Strauss. Austrian composers were promoted (Hugo Wolf) and the Court opera was opened to modern European works. Beside the classics from the Italian repertoire, Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss (himself General Director of the House from 1919 to 1924) are the mainstays of the Wiener Staatsoper repertoire. After World War II came the first the conductor-General Directors: Karl Böhm and Herbert von Karajan—the latter insisted on being called Artistic Director and opened the ensemble to the international singers market. He introduced the practice of operas being sung in the original language and set in motion plans for co-productions with foreign companies which were realised only after his tenure had ended. Following Waechter’s tragic death in March 1992, the General Secretary named Ioan Holender, former singer and owner of a singers agency, to take up the post until the end of 2010, and carry on the tradition of perhaps the best known opera institution in the world.
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