In contrast with other European cities, where the monarchy took on the responsibility for the building and upkeep of opera houses, the Liceu was built with private shareholders, organized in a similar way to a trading company or societat. This affected the structure of the building; it lacks, for example, a royal box.
The building was damaged by fire in 1861, but it was quickly rebuilt.
On November 7, 1893, the opening night of the season, during the second act of the opera Guillaume Tell, by Rossini, two bombs were thrown into the stalls of the opera house. Only one of the bombs exploded, but some twenty people were killed, and many more injured.
The attack was said to be the work of an anarchist, and it deeply shocked Barcelona, becaming the symbol of the turbulent social unrest of the time. The Liceu reopened its doors on January 18, 1894, but the seats occupied by those killed by the bombs were not used for a number of years.
Spanish neutrality during World War I allowed the Catalan textile industry to amass enormous wealth through supplying the warring parties. The 1920s were prosperous years. The Liceu became fully established as a leading opera house, and welcomed the orchestra leaders of the time, such as Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
When the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed in 1931, political instability meant that the Liceu suffered a severe financial crisis, which was only overcome though subsidies from Barcelona City Council and the government of Catalonia. During the Spanish Civil War, the Liceu passed from private into public hands and took the name the Teatre del Liceu - Teatre Nacional de Catalunya (Liceu Opera House - the National Theatre of Catalonia). The opera seasons were suspended.
On January 31, 1994, the building was destroyed by fire. Public and institutional response was unanimous on the need to rebuild a new opera house on the same site, with improved facilities. The new Liceu is the result of a series of actions to preserve those parts of the building unaffected by the fire; the auditorium was rebuilt with a new layout and state-of-the-art stage technology.