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.