Mixed shows and establishment of th operatic repertoire (1847-1893)

The Teatre opened on 4 April 1847 with a mixed programme that included a symphony by Joan Melcior Gomis, the play Don Fernando el de Antequera by Ventura de la Vega, a dance called La Rondeña by Josep Jurch and Il regio imene, a cantata by Joan Cortada with music by Marià Obiols.

For the first few years, the shows were structured with a play, an opera, a zarzuela, a ballet or a concert frequently interspersed with a wide range of acts involving magic tricks, tightrope walking and prestidigitation.

Programming during Lent was reserved for strictly musical performances, and during Carnival masquerade and costume dances were scheduled following a widespread tradition throughout Europe. The great variety of shows attracted very diverse sectors of society, which filled the hall daily. During this first period, the opera accounted for approximately 25% of the programming.

The first opera performed at the Teatre was Anna Bolena by Donizetti (1847). During the first few years, the Teatre mainly put on Italian opera, leaning heavily on works by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Works by Verdi were also performed from the first year. French opera came more slowly, but soon became very important, as the characteristics of grand opéra were a perfect fit for a theatre as grandiose as the Liceu, with the obligatory ballet, large choruses and impressive scenography. The composers whose work was performed the most often during this period included Meyerbeer, Halévy and Thomas.

Wagnerism and the golden years (1893-1939)

In 1863, the first notes of Wagner’s work were heard in the Teatre when the chorus of the Teatre y la Sociedad Coral Euterpe sang the grand march from Tannhäuser under the direction of Josep Anselm Clavé. But audiences would have to wait until March 1883 to see the first opera by Wagner at the Liceu: Lohengrin, which had premiered the year before in the Teatre Principal. The artistic and architectural features of the Liceu made it the most suitable venue in the city for performing Wagnerian drama. The opera was soon followed by Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) (1885) and Tannhäuser (1887). Fervour for Wagner’s work grew, and in 1899 the Liceu put on the debuts of Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) and Tristan und Isolde, the latter of which opened the 1899/1900 season to great popular acclaim. The Liceu continued to put on works by Wagner throughout the early decades of the 20th century, culminating in the Wagner Festival (spring 1910/11) and in the premiere of Parsifal, which could only be performed entirely at the Bayreuth Festival until 1914. Barcelona wanted to be the first city in the world to bring it to the stage legally and programmed it for 31 December 1913. The Wagnerian operas that debuted during this period have remained part of the Liceu’s programming to this day.

During the 1880s, a programming structure was established based on allocating genres for each season: winter, devoted exclusively to opera; Lent, when concerts alternated with ballet and operetta; and spring, dedicated to opera or operetta.

Italian opera acquired its own repertoire, to which audiences became accustomed. In these seasons, the public exhibited a special taste for operas marked by the verismo movement. Thus, works by Mascagni debuted at the Liceu, such as Cavalleria rusticana, Iris and Amica (directed by the same composer), in addition to Pagliacci by Leoncavallo, Manon Lescaut, La bohème and Tosca by Puccini, and many others.

In 1885, The first Catalan opera premiered in the Liceu, Lo desengany by Artur Baratta. At around the same time, the Liceu also put on the premieres of Sánchez Gavagnach’s La messaggiera, Tomás Bretón’s Los amantes de Teruel and Garín and Felip Pedrell’s Quasimodo, L’ultimo abenzeraggio and Els Pirineus. Before the turn of the century, Isaac Albéniz would write and debut Pepita Jiménez and Henry Clifford.

In the final decades of the 19th century, the public came under the spell of the legendary voices of the tenor Mario, Antonio Superchi, Francesco Tamagno, Marietta Alboni, Roberto Stagno, Julián Gayarre, Gemma Bellincioni, Hariclea Darclée, Rosina Storchio, Victor Maurel, Angelo Masini, Ramon Blanchart, Alessandro Bonci, Enrico Caruso, Titta Ruffo and many others. During this period, several Catalan singers debuted at the Teatre who would later make an international impact, like Francesc Viñas, Josep Palet, Andreua Avel·lina Carrera, Carme Bonaplata, Josefina Huguet, Elvira de Hidalgo, Maria Barrientos, Graziella Pareto and Conxita Supervia.

Symphonic music gained prominence in the Lenten seasons, which brought to the Teatre directors such as Joan Goula, Antoni Nicolau, Richard Strauss, Pablo Sarasate, Edoardo Mascheroni, Arturo Toscanini, Joan Lamote de Grignon, Saint-Saëns, Franz Beidler, Gabriel Fauré and many others.

The ballet became important as a unique show of each function. Some of the works most appreciated by the public included Messalina by Giuseppe Giaquinto, Rodope by Paolo Giorza and Coppélia by Léo Delibes.

Russian opera became popular in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1915, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov premiered. It would run almost every season. Works by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov were also well received at the Teatre, especially The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (1926), one of the most popular works in the Russian repertoire.

The gulf between frequently run and more occasional titles grew, while Italian opera, led by works by Verdi and Puccini, continued to account for the bulk of the Teatre’s programming. The same was true of the French repertoire, where authors like Bizet, Gounod, Massenet and Charpentier were given priority. During these years, German opera also made a greater impact with works by Wagner, Mozart and Strauss. Opera written by Catalans maintained some continuity, with the composers Enric Morera (Tassarba, Empòrium, Bruniselda and Titaina), Jaume Pahissa (La morisca, La princesa Margarida and Gal·la Placídia) and Amadeu Vives (Maruxa, Balada de Carnaval, Doña Francisquita and Euda d’Uriach).

During the interwar period, various singers were exalted in the Teatre for their great voices and their relationship with the audience. The best loved included Mercè Capsir, Maria Gay, Maria Espinalt, Hipólito Lázaro, Miguel Fleta, Beniamino Gigli, Aureliano Pertile, Riccardo Stracciari, Tito Schipa, Mattia Battistini, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, John O’Sullivan, Lauritz Melchior, Fiodor Chaliapine and Pau Civil.

Starting in 1917, ballet became increasingly important to the Teatre’s programming with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which had internationally famous dancers like Nijinski, the Viennese Ballets, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo and the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova. The Teatre’s dance troupe acquired autonomy by producing its own choreography.

Concerts held during Lent had made a big impact since the 1920s. In May 1923, the Pau Casals Orchestra began to collaborate with the Liceu. Both the orchestra and the Teatre have been conducted by important maestros like Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Max von Schillings, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Manuel de Falla, Clemens Krauss, Ottorino Respighi, Alexandre Glazunov and Pau Casals.

During the years of the Republican Government of Catalonia, the artistic programming promoted Catalan authors with some reruns, like Gal·la Placídia by Pahissa, as well as the debuts of Neró and Acté by Joan Manén, María del Carmen by Enric Granados, El estudiante de Salamanca by Joan Gaig and Lo monjo negre by Joaquim Cassadó. El giravolt de maig by Eduard Toldrà, with a text by Josep Carner, programmed in 1938, would be one of the few Catalan operas from this period that has survived in the repertoire.

From the end of the Spanish Civil War to the creation of the Consorci (1939-1981)

In the 1940s, the performances were structured with a winter season for opera, a spring season for ballet and a Lenten season, which would last until 1953/54.

The Teatre continued running with a repertoire known and appreciated by the public, focused more on the quality of the vocals than on the stage, choir or orchestra. The most frequently programmed titles during this period were still Italian (Il barbiere di Siviglia, Aida, Rigoletto, La traviata, La bohème and Madama Butterfly), whereas the French repertoire shrank to Carmen, Faust, Manon, Samson and Werther. Wagernian opera continued to absolutely dominate among German titles, which were comparable to the most popular Italian works in the programme, especially Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) and Lohengrin. Works by Mozart were fully incorporated into the repertoire, especially Le nozze di Figaro, followed by Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) and Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), along with just three major works by Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose), Salome and Elektra. Between 1939 and 1944, the most active company was that of the Frankfurt Opera. A unique event in the artistic history of the Liceu was the visit by the Festival Bayreuth in spring 1955, which took shape in the Wagner Festival with the innovative scenic approaches of Wieland Wagner.

Notable during this period were the premieres of contemporary Italian operas that marked a change in the previous trends of romanticism and verismo, represented by authors like Salvatore Allegra, Licinio Recife, Vieri Tosatti, Jacopo Napoli, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Renzo Rossellini, Gianfranco Menotti, Luciano Chailly and Raffaello de Banfield.

The Liceu’s traditional passion for great vocal talent was especially blessed during these years, as the most important international singers took the stage. A relationship of gratitude and devotion emerged between these artists and the public that helped to turn the artists into legends and ensured the Teatre’s continuity.

Three sopranos stand out for their personal relationship with the Teatre: Victoria de los Ángeles, who fascinated audiences with her pure and elegant style in her debut in the role of the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro; Renata Tebaldi, a soprano who was already established when she made her debut at the Teatre and who cast such a spell on the public that she became an idol of the Liceu and the city; and Montserrat Caballé, the artist who is undoubtedly the most fully identified with the Liceu, both for her superlative quality and her place in the programme for over 30 years.

Other female singers beloved by the public have included Maria Caniglia, Giulietta Simionato, Ebe Stignani, Fedora Barbieri, Kirsten Flagstad, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gertrude Grob-Prandl, Astrid Várnay, Lisa della Casa, Birgit Nilsson, Maria Callas, Virginia Zeani, Fiorenza Cossotto, Magda Olivero, Grace Bumbry, Joan Sutherland, Renata Scotto, Leyla Gencer, Mirella Freni, Marilyn Horne, Ángeles Gulín, Ghena Dimitrova, Elena Obraztsova, Leonie Rysanek, Edita Gruberová and many more.

Two Catalan tenors have especially moved audiences: Jaume Aragall and Josep Carreras. Other highly esteemed male singers have included Mario Del Monaco, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Wolfgang Windgassen, Mario Filippeschi, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Alfredo Kraus, Richard Tucker, Plácido Domingo, Eduard Giménez, Dalmau González, Pedro Lavirgen, Luciano Pavarotti, Hans Hotter, Manuel Ausensi, Ettore Bastianini, Piero Cappuccilli, Cornell MacNeil, Vicenç Sardinero, Joan Pons, Carlos Álvarez, Sherrill Milnes, Boris Christoff, Cesare Siepi, Bonaldo Giaiotti and Nicola Ghiaurov.

Between 1939 and 1981, figures of great international stature conducted at the Teatre, like Napoleone Annovazzi (musical director of the Teatre from 1947 to 1952), Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra (1955), Georg Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra (1957), William Steinberg with the Pittsburgh Orchestra (1964), Karl Böhm with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (1965), Herbert von Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (1972), Georg Solti with the Paris Orchestra and Lorin Maazel with the New Philharmonic Orchestra of London (1974).

Various dance companies have performed at the Teatre, such as Marqués de Cuevas, the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo, the Paris Opera Ballet, the New York City Ballet, the Igor Moiseyev Company, the Kirov Theatre Ballet of Leningrad, companies from Sofia, Belgrade, Prague, Brno, the Ballet du Rhin, the Strasbourg Opera, the London Festival Ballet and the Ballet-Théâtre Français de Nancy. The Ballet Estable del Gran Teatre del Liceu was also established under the direction of Joan Magriñà, who was later replaced by Assumpta Aguadé.

The Consorci and the Liceu in exile (1981-1999)

During the years that the Teatre was managed by the Consorci, the operatic repertoire was maintained without many changes and the number of debuts increased. Some of the most frequently performed works included Aida, Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata by Verdi; Lohengrin, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser and Parsifal by Wagner; Lucia di Lammermoor, L’elisir d’amore and La favorita by Donizetti; Tosca, La bohème, Turandot and Madama Butterfly by Puccini; Norma by Bellini; Il barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini; and Salome and Elektra by Richard Strauss.

During this period, the Teatre opened itself to new aesthetic trends and tendencies in contemporary dramaturgy with the participation of stage directors such as Josep Montanyès (Cançó d’amor i de guerra and Una cosa rara), Lluís Pasqual (Falstaff and Samson et Dalila), Ricard Salvat (Èdip i Jocasta and Tannhäuser), Mario Gas (Un ballo in maschera, Il matrimonio segreto, Jenůfa and L’elisir d’amore), Núria Espert (Elektra, Carmen and Turandot), Joan Lluís Bozzo (Rigoletto), Joan Font de Comediants (The Magic Flute), José Luis Alonso (Armide and Doña Francisquita), Emilio Sagi (Mefistofele e Idomeneo), José Carlos Plaza (The Duenna) and others.

The Consorci promoted the incorporation of some of the great international names in stage direction, who have directed innovative shows, though not always without controversy, such as Piero Faggioni, Otto Schenk, Giancarlo del Monaco, Jonathan Miller, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Gilbert Deflo, Hans Hollmann, Graham Vick, Michael Hampe, Götz Friedrich, Steffen Piontek, Harry Kupfer, Willy Decker and many others.

Though lacking the established vocal talent of this previous period, these years saw the debuts of Simon Estes, Catherine Malfitano, Éva Marton, Marilyn Horne, Dolora Zajick, Aprile Millo, June Anderson, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Chris Merritt, José van Dam, Cecilia Bartoli, Josep Bros, Deborah Voight, Paata Burchuladze and María Bayo.

Despite the fire of 31 January 1994, the Consorci decided not to suspend the Liceu’s artistic programming and moved to other facilities in the city. Notable works performed during these years included The Lighthouse by Davis (1996), The Turn of the Screw by Britten (1996), Le pauvre matelot by Milhaud (1997) and Alcina by Händel. These off-site performances included but were not limited to Turandot at the Palau Sant Jordi (1994), Tristan und Isolde (1996) and Macbeth (1997) at the Palau de la Música Catalana and Madama Butterfly (1995), Norma (1995) and L’elisir d’amore (1998) at the Teatre Victòria.

The Liceu of the 21st Century

The third Teatre opened on 7 October 1999 with Turandot under the stage direction of Núria Espert. There have been many successful nights in the Teatre in recent years, such as Macbeth with Riccardo Muti and Aida, which brings back the historical stage design of Josep Mestres Cabanes (2001); Enrique VIII with Montserrat Caballé (2002); La Gioconda under the stage direction of Pier Luigi Pizzi (2005 and 2019); Der Ring des Nibelunge (The Ring of the Nibelung) under the stage direction of Harry Kupfer (2003-2004); and the premieres of Boulevard Solitude (2007), La cabeza del Bautista (2009), Le Grand Macabre (2011), and the Bayreuth Festival (2012), The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (2014), Benvenuto Cellini directed by Terry Gilliam (2015), Elektra by Patrice Chéreau and Simon Boccanegra with Plácido Domingo (2016), Tristan und Isolde with Iréne Theorin (2017), Andrea Chénier with Kaufmann and Radvanovsky (2018) and the worldwide premiete of L’enigma di Lea (2019).

In recent years, some of the most important dance companies in the world have performed at the Teatre: Alvin Ailey, the American Dance Theater, the Martha Graham Dance Company, Béjart Ballet Lausanne, the Nederlands Dans Theater, the Zurich Ballet, Das Hamburger Ballet, the English National Ballet, the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris, the Compañía Antonio Gades, Pina Bausch, the Semperoper Ballett and many others.

Children’s programming also got a boost, with the creation of El Petit Liceu. The activity on the main stage coexists with other shows that have taken place mainly in the Foyer del Teatre with the night sessions and monographic sessions related to the opera programmed at the time; years later, along these same lines, Off Liceu and Chamber Music Takes Off! would be created.

During these years, great vocal talents have sung at the Teatre, such as Angela Denoke, Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Iréne Theorin, Sondra Radvanovsky, Jonas Kaufmann, Christian Gerhaher, Juan Diego Flórez, Javier Camarena, Piotr Beczala and many more.