Frankfurt's first opera was Johann Theile's Adam und Eva, performed in 1698 by Johann Velten's touring company. The young Goethe's first operas in his home town of Frankfurt were productions by Theobold Marchand's company.
During the 1920s the opera in Frankfurt had more prominent Jewish singers than any other company in Germany, including the tenor Hermann Schramm, bass Hans Erl (the first King in Schreker's Der Schatzgräber), baritone Richard Breitenfeld and contralto Magda Spiegel, who also toured with Frankfurt Opera performing Wagner in the Netherlands. These singers were forced to leave the opera in June 1933, though the opera's director Hans Meissner was able to persuade the mayor to speak up for Schramm, who had a non-Jewish wife. Other Jewish members of the opera company among those rounded up at 9 November 1938 at the Festhalle Frankfurt, where Erl sang In diesen Heilgen Hallen, from the Magic Flute for the deportees. Members of Frankfurt Opera were sent to Auschwitz and other camps where they perished. Schramm survived, living to testify against the Frankfurt Gestapo officer Heinrich Baab in 1951.
From 1978 to 1988 Frankfurt Opera was led by Michael Gielen. This decade became known as the "Gielen Era", notable for the music of a conductor who was also a composer, and directors including Ruth Berghaus and Hans Neuenfels, whose productions of standard works such as Verdi's Aida or Wagner's Ring Cycle were thought-provoking. Operas which received their world premieres at the house were also performed again, including Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten.
Many famous singers started their career with the company, including Franz Völker, Edda Moser, Cheryl Studer and Diana Damrau), and many established artists have been engaged there in recent seasons including Christian Gerhaher, whose roles here have included Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and his first Wolfram in Tannhäuser, Piotr Beczała in Massenet's Werther and Jan-Hendrik Rootering in Wagner's Parsifal.