Staatsoper Hamburg

Staatsoper Hamburg Keyvisual


Opera for the people

The founding of Germany’s first public opera house in Hamburg on 2nd January 1678 was an act of emancipation in two distinct ways. First, the very staging of opera, as an art form, was itself an act of enlightened emancipation because, right up until the 17th century, major musical compositions were automatically created for use in worship, or at least were the product of religious motivation – a certain touch of secularisation was essential to acceptance of this new, worldlier form of art. Second, the fact that the opera was also accessible to the public was an extreme form of emancipation as, prior to the opening of Hamburg’s "Opern-Theatrum" with its performance of Johann Theile’s Singspiel entitled "Adam and Eve or The Created, Fallen and Redeemed Man", opera performances were exclusively enjoyed by the nobility and the aristocracy.

The first opera house building, an elongated shed-like timber building erected by Italian master builder Sartorio, stands between the Jungfernstieg and the corner of the Gänsemarkt and the Colonnaden. It owes its existence to the initiative of a handful of art-loving Hamburg citizens. Councillor Gerhard Schott, lawyer Peter Lütjens and organist Johann Adam Reinken not only managed to get the foundation of the public opera house through the city’s senate, they also formed the first Board of Directors to manage the opera house on a private-enterprise basis.

But establishment of the opera house did nothing to stop pious-minded theologians objecting to the lively antics on stage. Pastor Winkler of St. Michaelis, for instance, time and again described the opera as a public menace.

Cover picture of the libretto of Johann Theile’s lyrical drama, with which the Opern-Theaterum was opened on 02.01.1678.

View over the town by P. Heinecken, in the middle of which stands the Opera House, which was built by Girolama Sartorio in 1677.