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Wartime & Redesign

The consequences of the National Socialist seizure of power in 1938 were also catastrophic at the Vienna State Opera. Immediately after the so-called »Anschluss«, dismissals followed, and Jewish and political dissidents were systematically excluded, expelled and murdered. Not only large parts of the artistic top management of the State Opera, but the entire company, from the stage technicians to the management floor, were affected. Some of the Nazi protégés and artists took their place. Works by Jewish composers and librettists were banned, and interference in the scheduling of plays was the order of the day. The artistic consequences were devastating.

On 12 March 1945, the Vienna State Opera was severely damaged. The majority of the building, primarily the entire interior with auditorium and stage, including almost all sets, props and costumes, were destroyed. The part on the Ringstrasse with the vestibule, main staircase, tearoom and Schwind foyer as well as parts of the outer walls were saved.

Although the Opera House was destroyed, the performances still continued: On 1 May 1945 the »Staatsoper in der Volksoper« opened with Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and on 6 October 1945 in the Theater an der Wien with Beethoven’s Fidelio. This meant that for the next ten years there were two large alternative venues while the main building was being rebuilt at great expense and the destroyed parts were being restored or renewed in the style of the 1950s.

On 5 November 1955, the Vienna State Opera was ceremoniously reopened with Fidelio. Karl Böhm, the last director of the Opera House during the Nazi era and the first director of the new State Opera, took the podium that evening. The opening ceremony itself was a social and political event of the first order, with countless guests of honour and journalists from home and abroad. 38 radio stations broadcast the event worldwide.

The reopened Vienna State Opera also became a symbol of Austria’s regained freedom and independence.