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The history of the Volksoper

Volksoper Wien has a history going back over more than a hundred years.

The present-day Volksoper Wien was opened in 1898 as the “Kaiserjubiläum-Stadttheater”, and was initially purely a theatre for the spoken word. It was not until 1903 that operas and “singspiele” were included in the programme. In 1904 the Stadttheater Wien became the Volksoper.

“Tosca” (1907) and “Salome” (1910) had their first Viennese performances at the Volksoper; internationally famous singers such as Maria Jeritza, Leo Slezak and Richard Tauber appeared at the Volksoper at the very start of their careers; Alexander Zemlinsky worked here as a conductor and (from 1906) as “erster Kapellmeister” [first conductor]. After the First World War, the Volksoper became Vienna’s second prestigious opera house, although from 1929 onwards it reverted to a “Neues Wiener Schauspielhaus” in which “light” operettas were also performed. After the Second World War, the Volksoper was used as alternative accommodation for the Wiener Staatsoper, the Vienna State Opera, which had been destroyed.

 Following the reopening of the Staatsoper in 1955, the Volksoper once again became an independent music theatre for the performance of opera, operetta and musicals. Since then, the directors Franz Salmhofer (1955-63), Albert Moser (1963-73), Karl Dönch (1973-86), Eberhard Waechter (1987-92) Ioan Holender (1992-96), Klaus Bachler (1996-99), Dominique Mentha (1999-2003), Rudolf Berger (2003-2007) and Robert Meyer (2007-2022) have all left their mark on the Volksoper.  

Operetta, Vienna and the Volksoper

On 21 October 1858 Jacques Offenbach presented his first full-length operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld”. Eleven days previously, with Offenbach’s “Verlobung bei Laternenschein”, a work of this new genre was performed for the first time on a Viennese stage (10 October 1858 at the Carl-Theater). Soon the Austrian composer Franz von Suppé was to follow the scent of success. He and subsequent composers, from minor masters to the great Johann Strauss, established the concept of “Viennese operetta”, a fountain of melody and gaiety which around the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries was threatening to run dry. However, the “golden” age of operetta was followed by a “silver” age which coincided with the opening of the Volksoper. Here, this genre which is so characteristic of Vienna was to find its permanent home. The Volksoper is rightly regarded as the world’s leading theatre for operetta. Evening after evening, first-class singers, actors and dancers and a versatile orchestra provide a “musical firework”.