The National Theater (“National” meaning Bavarian, not German) is the main venue for the Bavarian State Opera.
The building has had a quite typical history for nineteenth-century opera houses in this part of the world. It was first built from 1811 to 1818. In burned to the ground in 1823 and was built again by 1825. One hundred and eighteen years later it was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War, and was again rebuilt from 1958 to 1963.
The ornate box in the middle of the second balcony, flanked by two statues, is the King’s Loge. Anybody can sit there now (anybody who is willing to pay 163 Euros or more for a ticket, that is) but originally it was reserved for the King of Bavaria, who lived right next door in the Residenz and in fact had a private passageway so he could enter the theater unobserved. Sometimes he ordered an exclusive opera performance late at night, came over in his dressing gown and sat alone in the empty theater while the entire opera company performed for him.
Of course nobody said so to his face, but even at the time the musicians thought this was a stupid idea, because the acoustics are much better when 2100 people are in the seats, instead of only one.
Just about any afternoon at two o’clock you can take a one-hour tour of the opera house for ten Euros (price as of 2018). The exact dates are listed on their website. Each tour lasts about an hour, and includes a look at both the public and the backstage areas. The guides are articulate young staff members from various departments, all of whom say more or less the same things because they have been given a script to follow, though of course they say it all in their own words.
Photography is allowed, except that you are not supposed to take pictures of anybody who works there.
Tickets for the tours are available at the Opera Shop at Marstallplatz 5. Just go past the ticket counters to the shop, which is at the back of the room. The tour begins at the north (back) entrance to the theater, on Marstallplatz.
You might have thought big-name opera stars would have large luxurious dressing rooms, but no, they just have plain cubby-holes like everyone else.
The tour of the National Theater also includes a look at the backstage areas, provided no rehearsals are going on and the stage master on duty gives his approval.
Off to one side of the stage they have storage space for the stage sets that will be used in the next week or two. This is useful because they hardly ever do the same production two nights in a row, so they change the stage set nearly every day.
The space under the stage is dominated by hydraulic machinery that is used to raise or lower things.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2005. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on backstage tours of European opera houses.