A slight source of confusion for foreigners in Germany is that there are numerous place names ending in -berg (= mountain or hill) or -burg (= castle), and it can sometimes be tricky to remember which is which.
Of the German cities that have opera houses, Annaberg, Heidelberg and Nürnberg have mountain names, whereas Altenburg, Augsburg, Coburg, Duisburg, Hamburg, Magdeburg, Neubrandenburg, Quedlinburg, Oldenburg, Regensburg and Würzburg all have castle names.
When I told people I was going to Freiberg to see an opera, they mostly assumed I meant Freiburg, which is much better known in the western part of Germany. Sometimes I had to explain that that there really is a town called Freiberg, in Sachsen, which also has a theater with its own professional opera company.
Freiberg, with a population of 40,000, is less than one-fifth the size of Freiburg, but they both have universities and historic city centers. Freiburg is in the southwest corner of Germany at the edge of the Black Forest, not far from the French and Swiss borders. Freiberg is more than 500 km to the northeast, near the Czech border, between Dresden and Chemnitz.
The opera I saw in Freiberg was Mozart’s Così fan tutte, sung in German but with the name of the opera wisely left in Italian. It means ‘That’s what they all do’, with ‘all’ in the feminine form.
Don Alfonso, the ‘old philosopher’ in the opera, sets out to prove that all women will be unfaithful to their husbands or boyfriends if given half a chance.
At the end the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi do let themselves be seduced by other men (each by the other’s boyfriend, in disguise), but only after a high degree of persuasion has been applied, so it remains dubious if Don Alfonso has proved his point at all.
It also remains unclear why the women’s infidelity is so scandalous, but the men’s is not. As the program booklet points out: “This problem, which is not dealt with in the original, must be addressed anew by every staging of the opera.”
As it happened, the opera production I saw in Freiberg was quite similar to one I had seen in Detmold just three weeks before. In both productions, the action took place in a television studio during the filming of a reality show, with supernumeraries (extra players) running around with cameras and sound booms, and with the story continuing during the breaks when the cameras were turned off. Both of these were new productions from the same year, 2018, so I don’t think either of them was copying the other.
The one I saw first was Kay Link’s staging of Flotow’s Martha in Detmold, and the second was Judica Semler’s production of Così fan tutte in Freiberg (though actually Semler’s premiere was seven months earlier than Link’s).
I found both of these stagings funny and effective, and I thought they both fit their stories quite nicely. Così fan tutte was perhaps an even better fit than Martha, because it took hardly any tweaking to turn Don Alfonso into the bossy and manipulative host of a TV reality show, and not much tweaking to turn the disgruntled maid Despina into a disgruntled script girl.
Freiberg was my sixty-sixth German opera house, out of the seventy-one I have been to so far.
My photos in this post are from 2018. I wrote the text in 2019.
See also: Marivaux at the Comédie Française in Paris,
for a possible forerunner of Così fan tutte.