Berlin is the only German city that has three full-scale professional opera houses.
This one is called the Komische Oper or ‘Comic Opera’, but that doesn’t mean everything they do is hilariously funny. The name Komische Oper was originally meant to suggest that this opera house (like the Opera Comique in Paris) isn’t as elitist as the others, and what this means in practice is that they perform most of their operas in the vernacular, i.e. in German, no matter what language they were originally written in.
This somewhat limits the singers they can get, because none of the really big stars is willing to learn the German text of, say, Verdi’s Rigoletto, when they can earn twice as much money singing it in Italian anywhere else in the world. But that’s all right because the Komische Oper couldn’t afford to hire these big stars anyway, so you can see and hear some fine young singers here who are willing to learn the German words. They’re not all Germans, incidentally. When I saw Rigoletto here, the leading roles were sung (in German) by American and Dutch singers, and the orchestra conductor was Japanese.
The only other opera houses I know of that have this sing-everything-in-German policy are the Gärtnerplatz opera house in Munich and the Volksoper in Vienna. Otherwise even the smallest houses tend to do operas in their original languages, for the most part.
A few years ago I took a backstage tour of the Komische Oper, but this was unfortunately before I discovered the joys of digital photography, so I can’t post any backstage photos. During the tour they were setting up the stage for that evening’s performance of the operetta Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) by Franz Lehár (1870-1948), starring the Frankfurt baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle as Count Danilo Danilowitsch. I also saw the performance that evening.
On another visit I saw a very serious opera here, namely Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1857), in an interesting staging by Harry Kupfer, who for many years was the chief stage director here at the Komische Oper.
Fidelio is Beethoven’s only opera. I have seen it in different productions in Edinburgh and Bern, and several times in Frankfurt am Main.
In 2012 the Australian stage director Barrie Kosky became General Director (Intendant) of the Komische Oper. A year later it was chosen Opera House of the Year by the critics of Opernwelt magazine, and in 2015 it was named Best Opera Company at the International Opera Awards in London.
My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2018.
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