In the 19th century, the need to create a music conservatory in a Barcelona in full economic and demographic expansion led in 1838 to the conversion of the “Sociedad Dramática de Aficionados” into the “Liceo Filarmónico Dramático Barcelonés de H.M. Isabel II”, who added the Italian style of singing and music to the cultivation of theatre. Its success, together with the determination of a distinguished group of the Barcelona bourgeoisie, led by Joaquim de Gispert i d’Anglí, resulted in a new and ambitious theatre, worthy of the city’s importance and which has lasted for more than a century and a half, being built on the site of the old Trinitarian Monastery on the Rambla.
The inaugural performance was on 4 April 1847, a programme including a symphony by Joan Melcior Gomis, the drama Don Fernando de Antequera by Ventura de la Vega, an Andalusian-style dance entitled Rondeña by the composer Josep Jurch, and Il Regio Imene, a cantata in Italian by Joan Cortada with music by Marià Obiols.
After a first stage in which opera was part of the artistic activity, together with many drama performances, concerts and variety numbers, it became a prestigious opera theatre.
The first opera given, Anna Bolena de Donizetti, was already a symptom of the taste for bel canto and romantic Italian drama of the moment (Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, etc.), which has remained in the repertory throughout the years, together with French grand opera (Auber, Meyerbeer, Halévy), now forgotten, and later French composers, such as Gounod, Bizet, Massenet and Saint-Saëns, who have been maintained.
1883 marked the appearance of Wagner, one of the composers most loved and valued by the public of the Liceu, and who has given the theatre some extraordinary moments. Verismo, especially in the figure of Puccini, since the end of the 19th century, has been a much appreciated school and also, after 1915, Russian opera (Mussorgski, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky).
In the second half of the 20th century, the repertory concentrated more on the most popular titles worldwide and also gave nearly all the other great composers of the century: Bartok, Honegger, Gershwin, Berg, Janacek, Weill, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten, Schönberg, Hindemith, etc., and has also exhumed baroque and classical composers such as Monteverdi, Handel and Gluck.
The finest voices of all times, among them outstanding Catalans such as Victoria de los Ángeles, Montserrat Caballé, Jaume Aragall and Josep Carreras, as well as Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti and the best conductors and production designers, have all performed in this great theatre.