On page 277 of Dokumente, in the section devoted to 1788, Otto Erich Deutsch writes:
Am 18. Mai wird der Figaro von der Truppe Großmann in Lübeck deutsch aufgeführt.
On 18 May, Figaro was performed in German in Lübeck by the Großmann troupe.
Rather uncharacteristically (for he often gives the dates for local premieres of Mozart’s operas without citing a source), Deutsch provides a detailed reference: Annalen des Theaters, Berlin 1790, Heft 5, 29f. He also notes that the German translation used in the performance is attributed in the Annalen to the daughter of Adolph Freiherr Knigge (1752–1796), editor of the Dramaturgische Blätter, published in Hannover; and he cites Knigge’s long article on Figaro in the Dramaturgische Blätter on the occasion of the opera’s Hannover premiere in 1789, in which Knigge clarifies that his daughter had translated the opera’s dialogue directly from Beaumarchais’ original play, but that Knigge himself had translated the aria texts.
The alleged premiere of Mozart’s Figaro in Lübeck on 18 May 1788 has subsequently been cited many times in the secondary literature on Mozart and in other reference works. For example, Tim Carter, in his Cambridge Opera Handbook on Figaro, writes: “The first recorded performance of Knigge’s translation is at Lübeck on 18 May 1788” (Carter 1987, 158, note 9). And Ulrich Konrad, in his commentary to the copy of Knigge’s Dramaturgische Blätter described in the catalog of the 1991 exhibition on Mozart’s library, writes that the report in the Dramaturgische Blätter refers to the “Aufführung der Hochzeit des Figaro in Lübeck am 18. Mai d. J.” (“the performance of Die Hochzeit des Figaro in Lübeck on 18 May of that year”, Konrad & Staehelin 1991, 114; “that year” refers in this context to 1789; as we shall see, Konrad’s year is correct but the city is wrong).
However, the Lübeck premiere of Figaro on 18 May 1788 is a phantom: no such performance took place. The notion of a Lübeck premiere on that date arose from a typographical error in the Annalen (“1788” for “1789”) and Deutsch’s misreading of the surrounding context. The performance referred to in the Annalen is actually the premiere of Figaro in Hannover by the Großmann troupe on 18 May 1789, using the translation by Knigge and his daughter.
The passage referring to Figaro comes in the middle of a long article on the Großmann troupe, covering pages 18 to 45 of Heft 5 of the Annalen (the article is signed “Friedr. Müller”); this article is, in turn, the continuation of a report on Großmann’s troupe in Heft 2. The portion of the report in Heft 5 covers the activities of the Großmann troupe from Jul 1788 to 30 Dec 1789.
When one reads the article from the beginning, it is clear from the context that the performance on 19 Nov 1788 mentioned on page 26, just prior to the first paragraph transcribed above, took place in Hannover (it was a performance of the opera Die Schule der Eifersucht, a translation of Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi). The article continues:
On this day [19 Nov] the plays came to an end, on
account of the illnes of His Majesty the King.
Herr Großmann waited for better news, to the
great disadvantage of his finances, finally gave
6 operas in Hildesheim and thereupon traveled
The reference here is to the British King George III. Though born in London and raised entirely in England, George was also by birth Elector of Hannover, and thus titular if non-resident ruler. King George fell ill toward the end of Oct 1788, and in early November became agitated and often incoherent. This was the first acute attack of what became known as the “King’s Malady”—formerly thought (incorrectly) to be porphyria, but more likely to have been bipolar disorder. (On the “King’s Malady,” see Roberts 2022, Chapter 22 and passim; see also the Notes below.) Throughout December and January he alternated between brief moments of lucidity and episodes of agitation and even violence during which he was sometimes straightjacketed. The King’s condition began to improve in February, and he soon appeared to be recovered. Although he seems never to have visited Hannover, his severe illness was seen as sufficient reason to halt theatrical performances there, which resumed only in Apr 1789 after the king’s recovery.
The history of Großmann’s company during this period is given only partially in the Annalen; it is given in more detail in Knigge’s Dramaturgische Blätter, likely based on information received directly from Großmann himself or members of his company. At the end of issue 11 of the Dramaturgische Blätter, published on 13 Dec 1788, we read:
Da die Schauspiele hier noch immer einge=
stellt bleiben; so ist Herr Großmann mit seiner
Gesellschaft den 6ten dieses Monaths nach Hil=
desheim gereist, und wird drey Wochen hindurch
dort Vorstellungen von Singespielen geben.
[Dramaturgische Blätter (Knigge), 11. Stück, 176]
Because the theater here [meaning Hannover] still
remains closed, Herr Großmann has traveled with
his company to Hildesheim on the 6th of this month
[i.e. 6 Dec 1788], and will give performances of
Singspiels there for three weeks.
A follow-up announcement is printed in issue 13 (10 Jan 1789, 207–8):
Herr Großmann hat sich mit seiner Ge=
sellschaft bis zum 17ten December in Hildesheim
aufgehalten, und da sich hier in Hannover noch
keine sichre [sic] Aufsicht zu Wieder=Eröfnung der
Bühne zeigte; so ist er den 23sten mit den sämt=
lichen Mitgliedern seines Theaters nach Lübeck
Herr Großmann and his company stayed
in Hildesheim until 17 December, and because
here in Hannover there was no clear prospect of
a reopening of the stage, he therefore traveled
with all the members of his theater to Lübeck
on the 23rd.
From a “Tagebuch” (diary) for the Großmann company printed in issue 15 of the Dramaturgische Blätter (24 Jan 1789, 225), we learn that Großmann decided to leave Hildesheim after his fifth performance on 15 Dec 1788 because of the severe cold weather:
Bey diesen Vorstellungen ist nichts zu be=
merken, als daß die reichsstädtischen Musici den
kalten Feldzug nicht aushalten konnten, bey der
zweyten Probe schon das Gewehr streckten, nach
ihren Häusern und Oefen eilten, und man sich
also genöthigt sah, die Opern mit fünf Instru=
Of these performances nothing needs to be
said except that the musicians of the imperial city
[Hildesheim] could not sustain the cold campaign,
surrendered their arms already at the second rehearsal,
hurried to their houses and ovens, and it was found
necessary to perform the operas with five
Thus on his return to Hannover from frigid Hildesheim, Großmann found no encouraging news from London regarding the king’s health, so he decided to take his company to Lübeck, where they arrived at the end of December.
It was his company’s first engagement in that city. They opened on 7 Jan 1789 with Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the Lübeck premiere of that opera. The diary of the Großmann company printed in the Dramaturgische Blätter continues with a long report on Entführung, which is said not to have been a great success in Lübeck because the orchestra—with some notable exceptions (including two of Großmann’s actors helping out in the orchestra)—was not up to the challenges of Mozart’s difficult score. Deutsch gives this report from the Dramaturgische Blätter complete (Dokumente, 292).
Yet another theater periodical, the Neues Theater-Journal für Deutschland (Heft 2, 1789, 90–95), gives the complete Spielplan for Großmann’s company from 23 Jul 1788 to 30 Dec 1789. There we see that Großmann gave a second performance of Entführung in Lübeck on 3 Apr 1789. The company gave its final performance in Lübeck on 10 Apr (Good Friday), Carl Heinrich Graun’s oratorio Der Tod Jesu. They arrived back in Hannover on 13 Apr, and opened their season there on 15 Apr with a musical prologue celebrating the king’s recovery, followed the next day by a performance of Im Trüben ist gut fischen, a German version of Sarti’s Fra i due litiganti il terzo gode. The company performed Mozart’s Figaro on 18 May 1789, in the German translation by Knigge and his daughter. It was the Hannover premiere of the opera, its first performance by Großmann’s company, and almost certainly the first performance of the Knigges’ translation. The opera was given a very long write-up across two issues of Knigge’s own Dramaturgische Blätter (issues 31 and 32), including a detailed discussion by Knigge of the drama and translation, and a discussion of the music, signed by “W.” (probably Bernhard Anselm Weber). This long report on Figaro in Knigge’s journal is given essentially complete by Deutsch (Dokumente, 301–3).
It is easy to misunderstand the relevant passage referring to the Hannover performance of Figaro in the Annalen des Theaters, particularly if it is not read in the wider context of the article as a whole and in the context of other reports on the Großmann company at that time. Großmann’s performances in Hildesheim and Lübeck are not listed in the Annalen, and the narrative of the report resumes at the top of page 27 of that issue with the company’s return to Hannover—although (crucially for the history of the error in the Mozart literature) the name of the city is not repeated (it had last been mentioned on page 25). It was assumed that the reader would gather it from the context:
Erst am 15. April 1788 [sic] begannen sie wieder, und zwar mit einem musikalischen Prolog auf die Genesung des Königs. [...]
Only on 15 April 1788 [sic, recte 1789] did they [namely, the “Schauspiele” in Hannover] begin again, and indeed with a musical prologue on the recovery of the king […]
All of the subsequent performances listed on page 27 and subsequent pages of the Annalen took place in Hannover in 1789, including the performance of Mozart’s Figaro on 18 May, mentioned at the bottom of page 29 and the top of page 30.
That the “1788” printed at the top of page 27 in the Annalen was a typographical error was recognized already by a reader of the exemplar (now in SBB) that was used for the facsimile edition published in the series Das deutsche Theater des 18. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Kraus Reprint), edited by Reinhart Meyer, and available digitally through the Hathi Trust. In that exemplar, the final “8” in “1788” is corrected by hand to “9.”