The first performance at the current theatre occurred on 30 September 1891, with a production of Wagner's Lohengrin. Wilhelm Furtwängler began his career there, and in 1913 Richard Wagner’s Parsifal was given its first performance outside Bayreuth. Ferruccio Busoni, Paul Hindemith, Richard Strauss, Othmar Schoeck, Arthur Honegger, Frank Martin and other famous composers all left their mark on the development of Zürich's musical theatre. Zürich Opera House has been the setting for numerous world premières, such as Alban Berg’s Lulu, Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Arnold Schönberg’s Moses und Aron, and Rudolf Kelterborn's Der Kirschgarten. Works by Heinrich Sutermeister and Giselher Klebe were also performed there for the first time.
From 1975 to 1986, Claus Helmut Drese was artistic director of the company. His artistic standards led the company to gain international recognition, through the presentation of the Monteverdi cycle, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt as conductor and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle as director and set designer.
In the 1991/1992 season, Alexander Pereira became Intendant (general director) of the company. His tenure opened with Lohengrin in a production by Robert Wilson. He has placed great emphasis on promoting promising young artists and new types of performances. Pereira initiated the Zürich Festival in the autumn of 1996, with the first festival held in the summer of 1997.
The current Intendant of the company is Andreas Homoki, since 2012. Fabio Luisi is the current Generalmusikdirektor (GMD) of the company, as of the 2012/2013 season, with an initial contract of 5 years. In July 2018, Zürich Opera announced simultaneously the extension of Homoki's contract as Intendant through 2025, the scheduled conclusion of Luisi's tenure as GMD after the 2020/2021 season, and the appointment of Gianandrea Noseda as the next GMD of the company, effective in 2021.
Conductors in leadership positions (partial list)
- Nello Santi (GMD, 1958–1969)
- Ferdinand Leitner ('Musikalischer Oberleiter', 1969–1984)
- Ralf Weikert (chief conductor, 1985–1992)
- Franz Welser-Möst (chief conductor, 1995–2005; GMD, 2005–2008).
- Daniele Gatti (chief conductor, 2009–2012)
- Fabio Luisi (GMD, 2012–2021)
- Gianandrea Noseda (GMD, 2021–)
- "Fabio Luisi appointed General Music Director at Zürich Opera House as of 2012" (Press release). Zürich Opera. 30 June 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-01-13. Retrieved 2009-10-13.
- Christian Wildhagen (2018-07-02). "Stühlerücken im Opernhaus Zürich: Luisi geht, Homoki bleibt, Noseda kommt". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
- Martin Cullingford (2009-06-09). "Daniele Gatti moves to Zurich Opera". Gramophone. Retrieved 2009-06-12.[dead link]