Opera in Augsburg

This is a city-owned theater with its own opera ensemble, orchestra and chorus. I have only seen one opera here so far, namely Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) by Richard Wagner (1813-1883), which I have also seen numerous times in Frankfurt am Main, Wiesbaden, Mainz and Dortmund.

Program booklet for Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” in Augsburg

The Flying Dutchman is about a ship’s captain who has to sail the seas for all eternity until he is redeemed, if ever, by the fidelity of a loving woman. This was the fourth opera by Richard Wagner, but he later disowned the first three so this is the earliest one that is commonly performed — and the earliest one that Wagner even allowed to be performed in his own opera house in Bayreuth.

It is a deadly serious opera (Wagner was always deadly serious even when he was trying to be funny) but it was based on a short, funny passage in a novel by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856).

In Heine’s version (as I have mentioned elsewhere) a destitute young Polish aristocrat called Schabelewopski goes to the theater in Amsterdam to see a play called The Flying Dutchman, but he only sees part of it because he meets a lovely blonde blue-eyed Dutch girl who starts flirting with him by dropping orange peels on his head from the upper balcony. In the intermission he finds her and whispers: “Maiden! I want to kiss you on the mouth.” To which she whispers back: “By God, my dear Sir, that is a good idea.” So when everyone else goes back in to see the rest of the play, Schabelewopski and the Dutch girl stay behind and kiss wildly on a black sofa in the lobby. Plus other things that he only hints at through a long —–.

When he finally goes back to his seat the play is nearly over and the wife of the Flying Dutchman, whom Schabelewopski comically refers to as “Mrs. Flying Dutchwoman” (Frau fliegende Holländerin), proves her fidelity and redeems the Flying Dutchman by throwing herself into the sea and drowning herself.

The moral of the story, according to Schabelewopski, is that women should take care not to marry any Flying Dutchmen, but the author Heinrich Heine must have been astounded when Richard Wagner contacted him in Paris and asked if he could use the story for an opera. (We have to take Wagner’s word for it that he asked, because Heine never mentioned it.)

Of course Wagner left out the part about Schabelewopski and the Dutch girl on the black sofa. Still, I can recommend The Flying Dutchman as one of Wagner’s shortest and most accessible operas.

Wagner as a young man was a big fan of Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835), the Italian composer of Norma, La sonnambula, I puritani and other bel canto operas. In Wagner’s Flying Dutchman the influence of Bellini is still evident, which I personally find a very positive thing (several duets and lots of flowing Italian-style melodies), but in later years Wagner tried to eliminate the Italian influence from his music and make it sound 100 % German.

Front of the Augsburg Theater

Today the theater in Augsburg looks very different from the one in Wiesbaden, but originally they were both built by the same architects, Ferdinand Fellner (1847-1916) and Hermann Helmer (1849-1919), who also designed dozens of other theaters and opera houses in places like Budapest, Hamburg, Prague and Vienna.

The difference is that the Wiesbaden theater was not so seriously damaged in the war, and has been carefully restored to its original condition. The theater in Augsburg had already been changed quite a bit by the Nazis in the 1930s, and was then badly damaged by bombings in February 1944. It was rebuilt in a simplified form in the 1950s.

Augsburg Theater with sculpture

The sculpture in front of the building dates from 1990. It is called “Easter” and was made by an artist named Brigitte Matschinsky-Denninghoff (born 1923 in Berlin).

Entrance hall of the Augsburg Theater

The modern entrance hall of the Augsburg Theater also dates from 1990. The main theater (the “large house”) now has seating for about 950 people. Originally there were 1400 seats, including two levels of box seats which were left out when the theater was rebuilt after the Second World War.

“All the World’s a Stage”

Written in red neon script across the wall of the entrance lobby is the motto of the Augsburg Theater, Die ganze Welt ist eine Bühne. This is the German translation of Shakespeare’s famous line “All the World’s a Stage”, from his play “As You Like It” (written around 1598–1600). This amusing passage is also the source of the proverbial “Seven Ages of Man”:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Colonnade of the Augsburg Theater

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

See also: In the footsteps of . . . Schabelewopski?

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