Donizetti in Gießen

Gießen is a city of 86,000 inhabitants, located on the Lahn River in the center of Germany, about 60 kilometers north of Frankfurt. Gießen is the home of the Justus Liebig University and has a City Theater with 652 seats and a full program of opera, drama and dance.

The City Theater in Gießen

The Giessen theater was built in 1906/1907 in neo-classical style by the prolific Vienna architects Hermann Helmer und Ferdinand Fellner, who designed dozens of other theaters and opera houses all over central and eastern Europe, for instance in Budapest, Hamburg, Prague, Augsburg, Wiesbaden and Vienna.

The theater was one of the few buildings in the center of Gießen that did not suffer any major damage during a night of bombing in 1944, because “two courageous people served as fire wardens” as it says on a plaque on the front of the building.

Side view of the City Theater in Gießen

So far I have only been to one opera performance in Gießen, but it was one of my favorite operas, L’Elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). This is an opera I have seen numerous times in Frankfurt am Main, Darmstadt, Gießen, Paris, Vienna, Heidelberg and Prague.

The unusual thing about the Gießen production was that they sang it mostly in German translation, not in the original Italian. This can be a problem especially for the singer of the quack doctor Dulcamara, who has a devilishly fast patter aria to sing in the first act, to introduce himself and the all-purpose remedy he is trying to sell, and in German it’s much harder to sing so fast.

Another danger of doing it in German is that the arias might sound a bit cloddish in German translation. There’s no way around it, a line like “O wie anmutig” in German just doesn’t sound as good as Quanto è bella, quanto è cara” in Italian — so you young fellows coming to Germany, take my advice and don’t try using “O wie anmutig” as a pick-up line in the disco, it won’t work.   

I was wondering how they were going to handle the most famous aria, Una furtiva lagrima” towards the end of the second act, since this is one that just about everybody knew from Pavarotti in the Three Tenors concerts, if nowhere else. Well, to my relief, the singer simply switched to Italian at this point, and everyone was happy. He was from Central Asia or someplace, so both German and Italian were foreign languages to him, and he did fine in both.

Fountain with the Gießen theater in the background

My photos in this post are from 2004. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on the composer Gaetano Donizetti.

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