The Cuvilliés-Theater, completed in 1755, proved to be too small for the quickly increasing Munich population. So, in 1792, the then Elector of Bavaria Karl Theodor commissioned a new opera house to be built by Court Architect Maximilian von Verschaffelt. However, the project was far too complex and time-consuming and was never completed, and so the new Elector Max IV Joseph decided to call a competition. All those who were engaged with architecture were invited to send in their ideas for the building of the century. The project particularly appealed to a young man, Karl von Fischer, who was barely twenty years old, born on September 19, 1782 in Mannheim. Influenced by the French Revolution’s ideals of citizen rights, he designed an open theatre, where the seats were no longer divided by rows and boxes.
The Director of the Royal Theatre Josef Marius von Babo established a stock company for the building of the Nationaltheater, but plans were postponed due to the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806, the Elector Max I Joseph became King of Bavaria, and Karl von Fischer was his leading architect. The King was so impressed by a visit to the Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris that he ordered a test be carried out to see whether the “Paris Model” could work in Munich. In March 1811, Karl von Fischer’s edited plans were approved by the King and on October 26 that same year Prince Ludwig set down the founding stone.
The execution proved to be as difficult as the planning. Just after a year of building work, finances were exhausted. The tough winter of 1813 and the Russian campaign led to a halt in construction. Since there were no new sponsors to win over, the King bought back the stocks and continued building at the cost of the state. Finally, on October 12, 1818, the theatre was opened. Having received much criticism during the construction, Karl von Fischer did not see his great project completed: he died on February 12, 1820, barely 40 years old.
During a performance on January 14, 1823, a fire broke out on the stage set. The theatre was burnt down to its foundations. The King was inconsolable and the entire country mourned with him. In the end, the city of Munich took over the entire cost of rebuilding, which amounted to 800,000 Guilders. Under the direction of Leo von Klenze, the theatre was reconstructed within just two years, including a few small corrections. On the 2nd of January 1825, the Nationaltheater was reopened.
In the Second World War, the theatre was destroyed for the second time. In the night of October 3, 1943, explosives and fire bombs struck the theatre. The heat was so intense that it melted the iron-framed stage. The rebuilding of the Residenztheater in 1951 had already exceeded the budget, so that the Landtag (State Parliament) opposed the rebuilding of the Nationaltheater. Not only that, but city planners wanted to remove the ruins completely to make more room for transport services in the city centre. For this reason, a citizen’s group called “Friends of the Nationaltheater” was founded in 1952, which collected additional funds and won over public support for the reconstruction of the theatre.
In 1954, a competition was established for the new building. At first, a design true to the original construction seemed out of the question. The Ministry of Culture decided to develop a draft submitted by Gerhard Graubner. Working together with the then Government Architect, Karl Fischer, they created more variations on Graubner’s design, making the possibility of reconstruction seem achievable.
In the end, the original plan by Karl von Fischer was chosen, cleared of Leo von Klenze’s additions during his reluctant reconstruction of the theatre as well as other changes of the 19th Century. The work of rebuilding lasted five years and cost 62 Million Marks. On November 21, the Bayerische Staatsoper company - which in the meantime had been housed at the Prinzregententheater - took possession of its theatre.