My immediate reason for visiting Braunschweig in 2007 was to see Kerstin Maria Pöhler’s staging of the opera La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). This is now one of the world’s most popular operas, but when it first came out in 1853 it shocked opera goers (and the original cast of singers!) because of its highly controversial contemporary topic. It wasn’t about Greek gods or Roman emperors, as everyone expected, but about a French courtesan (sort of an up-market prostitute) who had really lived and in fact had just died six years earlier of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-three.
Since Verdi’s intention in his own day was to create daring contemporary musical drama, I’m sure he would have approved of the efforts of 20th and 21st century stage directors to bring it up to date and relate it to the concerns of modern audiences. For Axel Corti, whose 1991 Frankfurt staging was revived numerous times in the following twenty-two years before finally being retired in 2013, the heroine of La traviata was a Jewish actress and singer who had an affair with a German general in Nazi-occupied Paris in the 1940s, a century later than the original story.
For Kerstin Maria Pöhler, the Artistic Director of the State Theater Braunschweig, this same heroine was a worshiped but abused entertainment star resembling Marilyn Monroe or Maria Callas. I was fortunate enough to see these two very different productions within forty-eight hours of each other and was highly impressed with the poignant and logically consistent interpretations by these two very different stage directors.
According to operabase.com, Verdi’s La traviata is the world’s most often-performed opera. Operabase tabulated the number of performances worldwide over a five-year period from 2011 to 2016. The second opera on this list was Mozart’s Magic Flute. The third was Bizet’s Carmen. The fourth, fifth and sixth were all by Puccini: La Bohème, Tosca and Madame Butterfly.
On previous visits to Braunschweig I had seen the four-act Italian version of Verdi’s opera Don Carlo and the original 1869 version of Boris Godunow by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881).
Here in the large hall of the State Theater there are 896 seats plus standing room for 60 people. Prices for a typical opera performance begin at 14 Euros and only go up to 46 Euros, which is an unusually reasonable price for first-category seats. (Prices as of 2018.)
Ever since the first solo kettle-drummer of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra came as a guest at one of my opera appreciation courses, I have been paying special attention to the kettle-drummers whenever I go to an opera or concert. I had never realized how highly skilled these people have to be, or what a crucial role they play in the total sound created by an orchestra.
My photos in this post are from 2007. I revised the text in 2018.