Opera in Würzburg

Würzburg is a city of 130,000 people, located on the Main River not quite 220 kilometers upstream from Frankfurt. There are fine bicycle paths all along the river, so it’s no problem getting here. And if you’re in a hurry, there are about thirty-seven trains per day in each direction, the fastest being the InterCityExpress trains which make the journey from Frankfurt to Würzburg in less than an hour and half.

Mainfranken Theater Würzburg

Like nearly everything else in Würzburg, the old City Theater was destroyed in a thirty-five-minute bombing raid on March 16, 1945. After the war, performances were held in the ruins, and later in the gym of the teachers’ college on Wittelsbacher Platz. The current theater building, on the site of the former railroad station, was opened in 1966.

In 2004 the theater celebrated its two hundredth anniversary, since the original city theater was first opened on August 3, 1804.

Courtyard of the Mainfranken Theater

This seems to have been an under-financed theater right from the start, Throughout the 19th century they kept changing directors and declaring near-bankruptcy every few years. Neither the 20th nor the 21st century has been much different in this respect. Operations were suspended for financial reasons in 1923 and 1930, and there were reports of eminent closure as recently as 2003.

Despite their chronic financial difficulties they still haven’t been shut down, however, and in fact they have plans to renovate and expand the theater building starting in the spring of 2019, while continuing to put on a full program of opera, drama, dance and orchestra concerts.

Mainfranken Theater Würzburg

The later-to-be-famous composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was barely twenty years old in 1833 when he was hired as the chorus director of the Würzburg City Theater for the 1833/1834 season. Aside from his job at the theater, he spent that year writing his first opera, Die Feen, which was not performed at all during his lifetime. The first Würzburg production of Die Feen didn’t take place until February 2005. (I’ve only seen it in a concert performance in Frankfurt.)

Wagner himself later disowned his first three operas and decreed that they could not be performed at Bayreuth, which is why the earliest opera shown there is his fourth, Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) from the year 1843. The Mainfranken Theater Würzburg is preparing a new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) for May 2019 — a huge project for such a small theater.

Stage entrance with bicycles

A few years ago I came to Würzburg to attend the premiere of a new production of the opera Werther by Jules Massenet (1842-1912).

This is a French opera based on a best-selling 18th century German novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who wrote it when he was 25. It is about a young man who is hopelessly in love with someone else’s wife, and it is largely autobiographical except that Goethe didn’t kill himself like his character Werther did at the end of the book.

More recently, I have seen different productions of Massenet’s Werther at the opera houses in Darmstadt, Freiburg, Frankfurt and Brussels.

My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: Massenet’s Werther in Brussels.

3 thoughts on “Opera in Würzburg”

  1. Thank you for this post. It was lovely hearing these interesting facts about the Theater in Wuerzburg.

    I was in Wuerzburg as an exchange student about 150 years after Wagner was there, but this is the first time i have heard about him being a choral director.
    Of course i wasnt that well versed in music at the time ( nor am I now.)

    Two of my favorite musical experiences were in Wuerzburg: the 40th anniversary of the bombing that obliterated the town was commemorated with a Requiem performance though i forget which composer’s. Squirm-in-your-seat moving, especially as i believe they may have been American bombers. I think it took place in the Cathedral in the old town.

    And of course the annual Mozartfest, where in June an orchestra does a plein-aire performance of only Mozart, I think, held in the lovely terraced Gardens of the Residenz. Highly recommended, assuming it is still going on!

    1. Thanks for your nice comment! Yes, they are still doing the Mozartfest in Würzburg, starting today, in fact, and lasting until July 5. Not everything is open-air, however. This year two singers I know are giving concerts as part of the Mozartfest, Marlis Petersen (who is currently starring in an operetta at the Frankfurt Opera) and Julian Prégardien, who used to be a member of the Frankfurt Opera ensemble.

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