The Staatsoper Berlin is the oldest opera theater in the German capital. Although it was surpassed in international esteem during the period of the Cold War by the city's other major house, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, it remains one of the leading opera houses of Europe, with a mainly traditional operatic repertoire.
In the 1690s, Sophie Charlotte, daughter-in-law of Elector Friedrich III, began having opera staged, but this beginning of operatic life in Berlin ended with her death in 1705. Opera returned under King Frederick the Great, a sincere music-lover, who ordered a new opera house. The classical-style building on Unter den Linden, opened on December 13, 1742. It specialized in Italian opera, and was open only to members of the Court and military officers. After Frederick's death in 1786, it was closed for repairs. The new king established the National Theater in December of that year. It gave opera in German. When the Royal Opera reopened in 1788 it soon began selling tickets to the public, and retained its Italian orientation.
In 1807, the two theaters merged as the Royal Theater. Repertoire choices were based on the wishes of the king. The opera house burned down in August, 1843, and was rebuilt, with more modern equipment. The house's reopening, December 7, 1844, was also the Berlin debut of the great singer Jenny Lind. The Berlin house rose to become one of the greatest in Europe, with Felix Weingartner, Karl Muck, and Richard Strauss among its conductors.
Following Germany's defeat in World War I the Royal Theater was renamed the Berlin State Opera (Staatsoper Berlin), sometimes known as Staatsoper Unter den Linden. The Prussian State Ministry of Culture in 1927 founded a new branch of the Staatsoper, popularly called the Kroll Opera after the name of its theater. It played new operas and old in non-traditional manners. Its brilliant existence under director Carl Ebert included the premiere of Weill and Brecht's Threepenny Opera. Opposition from the Nazi Party forced it to close in 1931.
The Nazis took tight control of the Staatsoper after they assumed power in 1933. Several composers' works were banned, and the repertoire and staging otherwise was shaped to support the Nazi agenda. Bombing destroyed both the Staatsoper and the Deutsches Oper, which both moved into the Admiralpalast in the Russian Sector for the duration. After the war, the Staatsoper stayed there while the Deutsches Oper moved to the British Sector. Ernest Legal, formerly of the Kroll Opera, took over the Staatsoper. As a matter of prestige, the East German authorities rebuilt the Theater Unter den Linden, opening it in 1955.
In 1961, East Germany built the Wall and closed travel between its zone and West Germany. The Komische Oper and Staatsoper hired Deutsche Oper personnel who lived in the East and were trapped there to replace their own personnel living in the West. Othmar Suitner was the music director from 1964 to 1990, when the Wall and the East German government fell.
Under reunification, the Staatsoper has maintained its traditional emphasis of the standard repertoire, while the Deutsche Oper Berlin includes more innovative works, and the Komische Oper focuses on music theater. Thus the three main houses continue with distinct identities, making Berlin one of the world's leading opera centers.