Charming jewel of the fifties

The Düsseldorf opera house is an inconspicuous building located on a major street which is now called Heinrich-Heine-Allee, a name it received in 1963. Before that it had several different names, depending on who was in power at the time. Under the Nazis it was called Hindenburgwall after Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), who as President of Germany appointed Hitler as Chancellor in 1933.

In the lobby of the Düsseldorf opera house

The opera house in Düsseldorf used to be described on the Rhine Opera website as a “charming jewel of the fifties bordering the historic center”. I agree with two-thirds of that statement. The opera house definitely was built in the 1950s and is just across the street from the historic Old Town. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “charming jewel”, but it’s quite pleasant and unobtrusive (and is now a listed building, no less), and actually I shouldn’t talk since the Frankfurt opera house is also from the 1950s and is also not an architectural masterpiece.

View of the park from the lobby of the Düsseldorf opera house

Back in 1956 the Düsseldorf and Duisburg operas were merged into one company called the Deutsche Oper am Rhein = German Opera on the Rhine. Since then, all the Düsseldorf opera productions are also shown in Duisburg, and visa-versa.

Program of Bizet’s Carmen, Düsseldorf 2003

Over the years I have seen a number of operas at the Düsseldorf opera house, for instance Die Walküre by Richard Wagner in 2002 (with Cyndee Szymkowicz as Helmwige, by the way) and Carmen by Georges Bizet in 2003.

One thing I remember from one of the really long Wagner operas was seeing all four horn players pack up and leave during the intermission, and four more horn players come in to take their places. This is something I don’t recall seeing anywhere else, but it does seem sensible (if so many good horn players are available) since Wagner makes great demands on these musicians. By the way, these horns are called ‘French horns’ in English, but I imagine Wagner would have disliked that name, since he sneered at anything welsch (= French or Italian) and tried to make his operas 100 % German, despite the fact that in earlier years he had been a fervent Bellini fan.

Seating in the Düsseldorf opera house

In 2009 I could have had free tickets from the Düsseldorf Opera for five different operas by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) on five consecutive evenings, but unfortunately I had to teach in Frankfurt that week so I could only come to one of them, namely Katja Kabanowa in an impressive staging by Stein Winge. They made this offer because they realized, belatedly, that they weren’t going to fill the house with five Janáček operas in one week, so the General Music Director asked his assistant to write to everyone on her Facebook list and offer us all free tickets to all five performances. This is what used to be called ‘papering the house’ so it wouldn’t appear so empty. But the night I was there the house still wasn’t very full, because I wasn’t the only one who had other commitments that week.

Düsseldorf Opera Shop

A block away from the opera house is this Opera Shop where you can get tickets and subscriptions for the performances, but also a wide selection of books, CDs and all the souvenir merchandise that every opera house has to have nowadays, such as umbrellas, T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, etc.

Of course you can also get tickets online, which is what I as an out-of-town person usually do.

Bicycles at the stage entrance

I once took an interesting tour of the Düsseldorf Opera House (including their huge costume repository located directly under the street, holding 50,000 costumes), but that was before I got my digital camera so I can’t show you any backstage photos.

My photos in this post are from 2003 and 2009. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: my posts on backstage opera house tours in other cities.

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