Opera had been performed in Graz since the 17th century, originally in a converted coach house on the Habsburg royal estates. The National Theatre (Schauspielhaus Graz), constructed in 1776, saw many early performances of Mozart's operas, although today (after many reconstructions) it is devoted to the performances of plays.
The city's first dedicated opera house and the immediate predecessor of the Graz Opera was the Thalia Theatre, adapted in 1864 from an old circus hall. Plans for a new theatre suitable to the growing size and importance of the city and intended to be a "new home for German art" were first proposed in 1887.
Designed by Ferdinand Fellner and Herman Helmer in the neo-baroque style, the Graz Opera was inaugurated in 1899 with a performance of Schiller's play William Tell, followed a few days later by Wagner's opera Lohengrin. The building suffered damage during World War II bombings but was repaired and re-opened after the war. Between 1983 and 1985, it underwent a $15 million renovation which saw the installation of modern equipment and facilities without significantly changing the original exterior and interior of the building.
The current Intendantin of the company is Elisabeth Sobotka. Sobotka is scheduled to stand down from the post at the end of 2014. In April 2013, the company announced the appointment of Nora Schmid as its next Intendantin, effective 1 January 2015.
Past general music directors (GMD) of the company have included Niksa Bareza (1981-1990), Philippe Jordan (2001-2004), and Johannes Fritzsch (2006-2013). In February 2013, Graz Opera announced the appointment of Dirk Kaftan as its newest GMD, effective 1 September 2013, with an initial contract through 2017.
General Music Directors (GMD; partial list)
- Herbert Albert (1950-1952)
- Niksa Bareza (1981-1990)
- Philippe Jordan (2001-2004)
- Johannes Fritzsch (2006-2013)
- Dirk Kaftan (2013–present)
- Grazer Opera. Kurze Geschichte der Grazer Oper (Brief History of Graz Opera) (German)
- Stråth (1999) pp. 236 and 240
- Paul Hofmann (1985-12-15). "Even Graz Can Cut Loose". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-12.
- "Oper Graz: Schweizerin Schmid wird neue Intendantin". DIe Presse. 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
- "Dirk Kaftan neuer Chefdirigent der Grazer Oper". ORF (Steiermark). 2013-02-15. Retrieved 2013-12-25.