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The Era of Mahler

On 11 May 1897, Gustav Mahler gave his inaugural performance at the Haus am Ring as conductor of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin - the success was tremendous. A few months later, on 15 October, he took over the direction of the Vienna Court Opera. Without a doubt, Gustav Mahler remains the most important director of the Opera House to this day. He had already helped to give new importance to Opera Houses in Budapest and Hamburg, among others, but under his energetic will to reform, the Vienna State Opera blossomed into the best music theater stage in the world. Together with the stage designer Alfred Roller, he revolutionized the performances (as director, conductor and stage manager). Stage design and lighting became a symbolic expression of the inner content of each work, directing was given a new status, purely beautiful singing without any inner connection to the content was rejected, and Mahler mercilessly put a stop to musical sloppiness. Wagner’s work is finally performed in the complete original version.

Important first performances line his time, made radiant by significant artist engagements. Mahler’s will to improve can even be seen in small details: For example, the auditorium must be darkened as early as the overture, and late arrivals were only allowed entry during the intermissions. Intrigues, bureaucracy and anti-Semitic attacks, but also Mahler’s seriously ailing health, brought his directorate to an early end in 1907.

Painting by R.B. KITAJ, Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911), commissioned and dedicated to the Vienna State Opera by Gilbert Kaplan on the occasion of the centenary of Gustav Mahler's appointment as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Vienna, in May 1997)