My absolutely favorite place in Frankfurt am Main is the opera house.
No, I don’t mean the Old Opera House. I mean the real opera house on Willy-Brandt-Platz, where they put on real operas several times a week.
Like most opera houses, the Frankfurt Opera has no particular dress code. You CAN get dressed up if you feel like it, but you don’t have to. Often there is a reasonably high percentage of young people in the audience, and they dress the way they always do when they are going out and want to look good. I’m a trifle older so I put on a jacket and sometimes even a tie when I go to the opera, but not a suit because I always go there by bicycle.
I’ve been saying this all along, but now it’s official: The Frankfurt Opera was named the “world’s best opera company” at the first International Opera Awards ceremony in London in April 2013.
That doesn’t mean you’ll see the current big-name opera stars here (they’re usually too expensive), but Frankfurt has a brilliant international ensemble with fine singers like Ambur Braid, Julia Dawson, Kirsten MacKinnon and Gordon Bintner from Canada; Juanita Lascarro from Colombia; Gerard Schneider from Austria and Australia; Nina Tarandek from Croatia; Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, Katharina Magiera, Claudia Mahnke, Barbara Zechmeister, Andreas Bauer, Sebastian Geyer, Hans-Jürgen Lazar, Alfred Reiter, Dietrich Volle and Vincent Wolfsteiner from Germany; Magnus Baldvinsson from Iceland; Zanda Švēde from Latvia; Mikołaj Trąbka from Poland; Kihwan Sim from South Korea; Kateryna Kasper and Iurii Samoilov from the Ukraine; Louise Alder, Thomas Faulkner, Barnaby Rea and Božidar Smiljanić from the U.K.; and Cecelia Hall, Sydney Mancasola, Elizabeth Reiter, Angela Vallone, Karen Vuong, Brandon Cedel, AJ Glueckert, Theo Lebow, Peter Marsh, Michael McCown, Michael Porter and Matthew Swensen from the U.S.A.
(Ensemble members as of 2018/2019.)
Numerous former ensemble members are now having prominent international careers. Željko Lučić, Elīna Garanča, Diana Damrau, Christiane Karg, Sofia Fomina, Maria Fontosh, Shawn Mathey, Michael Nagy, Daniel Behle, Julian Prégardien, Simon Bailey, Paula Murrihy and Brenda Rae were all Frankfurt ensemble members, some until quite recently. Also two of Frankfurt’s former staff conductors, Johannes Debus and Erik Nielsen, now hold the positions of General Music Director in Toronto and Basel.
One of the world’s outstanding opera administrators, Bernd Loebe, has been General Director (Intendant) of the Frankfurt Opera since 2002. Before that he was Artistic Director of the opera house La Monnaie / De Munt in Brussels throughout the 1990s. At the International Opera Awards in 2018, he was chosen for the Leadership in Opera award, sponsored by the Good Governance Institute. Thus far, Bernd Loebe has been our featured guest three times at the VHS Opern-Gespräche in Frankfurt, in the years 2003, 2008 and 2012.
Sebastian Weigle has been General Music Director of the Frankfurt Opera since 2008. Earlier, he performed for fifteen years as an orchestra musician, namely as the first solo horn player of the Staatskapelle Berlin, the orchestra of the State Opera Unter den Linden.
In the 2018/2019 season he is scheduled to conduct eight orchestra concerts and twenty-nine opera performances in Frankfurt, including new productions of Der ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) by Franz Schreker, Iolanta by Peter Tschaikowsky and Oedipus Rex by Igor Strawinsky. In between, he will also conduct opera performances at the State Opera in Vienna, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London and the Deutsche Oper Berlin, as well as a concert with the Oslo Philharmonic in Norway.
For the 2018/2019 season, the Frankfurt Opera has scheduled 189 opera performances of twenty-nine different productions (twelve new productions and seventeen revivals). I have just counted through and found that I have tickets for 43 of these performances, either included in my subscriptions or as individual tickets. No doubt I will get a few more as the season progresses, but I am also trying to keep some of my weekends free so I can continue traveling to other cities.
The current Frankfurt opera house is part of a Doppeltheateranlage (double theater complex) that was opened in 1963 for both the opera in the western half of the complex and the City Theater for spoken drama in the eastern half.
The opera side has one of the largest stages in Europe, with two revolving stages — a small one embedded off-center in a larger one — that can be used together or separately and can be revolved in either direction. Visiting stage directors find this arrangement fascinating and often use it to good effect, but we local spectators sometimes get ODed on all this revolving and are thankful for the occasional production that doesn’t revolve at all.
Like many other theater buildings from the 1950s and 60s, the one in Frankfurt is badly in need of a thorough and no doubt costly renovation. Some local politicians believe it would be more sensible to build an entirely new theater- and opera-complex, rather than trying to re-vamp the old one, and this is currently a topic that keeps coming up every few months in local politics. Recent theater renovations in other German cities (Berlin, Kassel and Cologne are often cited) have resulted in long delays and huge cost overruns, which the Frankfurt authorities would of course like to avoid. We shall see.
Update: In 2018 the Frankfurt Opera won the authors’ poll of the theater magazine Die Deutsche Bühne (The German Stage). In the category “Convincing overall performance of a house”, the Frankfurt Opera got the most votes because of “the excellent mix of operatic genres in the repertoire and the quality of the performances.”
My photos in this post are from 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010.
I revised the text in 2018.
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