The history of the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin is inextricably linked with the venues used by the Orchestra in the Deutsches Opernhaus in Charlottenburg and, since 1961, in today's Deutsche Oper Berlin.
n 1912, following the failure of Hans Gregor's Komische Oper at the Weidendammer bridge, Charlottenburg citizens got together and built the Deutsches Opernhaus. Erected in a very short time, the 2,300-seat Opera was one of the largest of its period.
From a list of 1,000 applications the German Music Publishers Association selected 75 musicians and created an opera orchestra that rose to the challenge and fulfilled the expectations placed in this new institution. The Deutsches Opernhaus opened on 7th November 1912 with a performance of FIDELIO under the baton of conductor Ignatz Waghalter. A rich repertoire developed, with works by Richard Wagner and contemporary composers Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini featuring prominently. Puccini attended the German premiere of his opera THE GIRL OF THE WEST and was a consultant during rehearsals.
Shortly after the close of First World War hostilities the Orchestra's own members established the Folk Symphony Concerts in the Deutsches Opernhaus in Charlottenburg, performed regularly on Sunday mornings, and also paid for the installation of a wooden concert shell to ensure a refined acoustic experience.
The history of the Orchestra continues to be intimately linked to that of Berlin itself. In 1925 the ensemble was renamed the Orchester der Städtischen Oper, reflecting its status as one of the orchestras of Greater Berlin. By the end of the 1920s Berlin, with its three opera houses, had established its reputation as an internationally recognised centre for opera.
The first gramophone recordings were made under Ignatz Waghalter and Eduard Mörike. Conductors included Bruno Walter, Paul Dessau, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Leo Blech and Fritz Busch. 1934 saw the first guest appearance by Karl Böhm as conductor at the Charlottenburg opera house, during Artur Rother's tenure as Musical Director. Böhm was to remain connected to »his« Berlin Opera for over five decades and his influence is still palpable today, especially in performances of Mozart's operas.
In 1943 the Deutsches Opernhaus was destroyed during a bombing raid. As early as Autumn 1945 the Orchestra had secured authorisation to resume performances in the Theater des Westens, a venue that survives to this day. In 1948 Ferenc Fricsay was brought in as Musical Director. He had won over the musicians with his production of Verdi's DON CARLOS (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau began his international career singing the part of the Marquess of Posa). In 1954 Artur Rother and Richard Kraus shared the musical directorship of the opera house. In 1961 the Orchestra returned to the Bismarckstrasse and was renamed the »Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin«.
In 1965, with the appointment of Lorin Maazel, a musical director arrived who was to exert considerable influence. Karl Böhm, Heinrich Hollreiser and Eugen Jochum increased their commitment to the Deutsche Oper Berlin. They and guest conductors such as Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim, Peter Schneider, Horst Stein and Erich Leinsdorf all left their stamp on the Bismarckstrasse institution. In 1980 a conductor arrived - Giuseppe Sinopoli - who won the hearts of the musicians in rehearsals for MACBETH (Verdi). With his capacity for investing the smallest of nuances with unbelievable tension, Sinopoli enjoyed a chemistry with the Orchestra musicians from the outset, underlined by groundbreaking CD recordings of MACBETH, SALOME and THE FLYING DUTCHMAN. Tragedy struck on 20th April 2001 during a performance of AIDA, when Giuseppe Sinopoli died of a heart attack in the orchestra pit of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
After Lorin Maazel, Gerd Albrecht took over as Principal Conductor. In a partnership with Intendant Prof. Götz Friedrich, whose productions remain unequalled to this day at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Jesus Lopez Cobos began his incumbency as Musical Director in 1981 and remained in the post until 1990. Talks with Giuseppe Sinopoli broke down in 1990 and Jiri Kout was named Principal Conductor of the Deutsche Oper. As its next Kapellmeister the Orchestra selected Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, an accomplished concert conductor who held the post of Musical Director from 1992 to 1997.
The Orchestra's tradition of symphony concerts was revived in the early 1990s. The Orchestra performed six symphony concerts as guests of the Konzerthaus Berlin and the Berlin Philharmonic. During this period the quality of the Orchestra was cemented by guest conductors such as Marcello Viotti, Alberto Zedda, Lothar Zagrosek, Stefan Soltesz, Jiri Belohlavek, Christof Prick, who also spent a number of years as Staatskapellmeister at the DOB, and Lawrence Foster. Horst Stein triumphed with the RING. 1992 saw the remarkable debut of Berlin conductor Christian Thielemann, whose LOHENGRIN has come to be considered one of the great productions. On the instigation of the Orchestra he was appointed Musical Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Artistic Director for the Symphony Concerts from 1997 to 2004. Christian Thielemann can be credited for world-class opera and concerts that drew audiences from around the world. Under his baton the Orchestra's reputation as one of the best opera ensembles in Europe was confirmed and enlarged. Thielemann's personal stamp is still clearly visible in performances of works by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. In 2004 Christian Thielemann resigned his post in protest at the unequal treatment of the Deutsche Oper Berlin when compared with the funding of the Staatskapelle Berlin.
On becoming Intendant of the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2004, Kirsten Harms engaged Italian conductor Renato Palumbo as Musical Director. She also worked closely and successfully with Andris Nelsons, Enrique Mazzola, Yves Abel, Jacques Lacombe and Ulf Schirmer.
Götz Friedrich's legendary production of the RING OF THE NIBELUNG marked the first encounter between today's Orchestra and Donald Runnicles. Orchestra, audiences and critics alike were all in awe of this impressive interpretation of Wagner's work. Decisive in the choice of Donald Runnicles as Musical Director were not only his wealth of experience and his success at some of the leading opera houses of Europe but also his ability to »pull astonishing musical feats out of the hat«. In his time spent as Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Opera he built up a rich repertoire and established the SFO as one of the world's leading opera houses. His work there will enable the Deutsche Oper Berlin in future to add new musical interpretations of European composers such as Debussy, Britten and Berlioz to its core repertoire of Wagner and Strauss. It can be considered a stroke of luck, then, that Donald Runnicles, at the behest of the Orchestra, has been Musical Director at the Deutsche Oper Berlin since 2009. The continuity and precision he brings to rehearsals and performances and his ability to inspire »his« orchestra to deliver nuances of sound spanning the entire spectrum of musical colour are a guarantee that the brilliance of the Deutsche Oper Berlin Orchestra will survive, indeed grow, in years to come.
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