Operas in Bonn

The Bonn Opera has had some setbacks in recent years, for instance a flood and a fire as well as reduced federal funding now that Bonn is no longer the capital. Nonetheless, they somehow manage to keep putting on first-rate opera performances.

The opera house was built in 1965 (with federal money, to a large extent), and was remodeled and modernized in 1993. It now has 1,038 seats.

Seating in the Bonn opera house

People in the lobby of the Bonn opera house

I think the first opera I saw in Bonn was Salome, by Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949), in a weird staging by the British film director Ken Russell. Or maybe it was CavPag, i.e. Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, as staged by Giancarlo del Monaco, who later staged the same two operas in Frankfurt and several other places.

Also I once saw a German-language version of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in Bonn, in which a sterile modern office was gradually transformed into a sort of jungle by plants which seemed to be growing up out of the floor. This transformation took place during the third act and lasted about 45 minutes, as I recall.

Audience at Verdi’s La traviata in Bonn

I have seen several different productions of Verdi’s La traviata in recent years, including a traditional one in Hamburg, an updated view in Braunschweig, a despairing interpretation in Darmstadt and an amateurish but fun version in the palace courtyard in Weikersheim.

My favorite is still the classic Axel Corti staging at the Frankfurt Opera, in which Violetta dies not in her bed but on the floor of the second class waiting room in the railroad station in Orléans while she is trying to flee from the Nazis.

La traviata photo in a display case at the Bonn opera house

Program booklet for Verdi’s La traviata in Bonn

The Bonn production, which was staged by Andreas Homoki (with Aris Argiris as father Germont), took place on a shiny black surface crisscrossed by white lines. Violetta was standing there alone at the beginning of the overture, but soon fifteen men climbed up onto the shiny black surface from behind and came towards her. They seemed threatening at first, and she obviously felt beleaguered by them, but it turned out they adored her because she was the most famous (and most expensive) courtesan in Paris.

We didn’t see anything of Paris in this production, but they were all wearing period costumes from the middle of the 19th century. The only change of scene was that while Violetta was singing her big aria Sempre libera at the end of act one, white flowers started “growing” up through the floor (as in their earlier Marriage of Figaro production), so by the end of Violetta’s aria we were in a meadow of white flowers in the countryside, and they could go right on with act 2 of La traviata.

After the intermission some women in evening gowns emerged and picked all those flowers, so the shiny black surface was again a Parisian dance floor.

Cardillac photo in a display case at the Bonn opera house

The opera Cardillac by Paul Hindemith (1895 – 1963) is based on a very spooky story called Das Fräulein von Scuderi (in which Madame de Maintenon also appears) by the German author E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776 – 1822), set in the dark and treacherous streets of Paris in the 17th century.

Cardillac program booklet from the Bonn opera

Several brutal murders have alarmed the populace. The victims all had one thing in common. They were all in possession of beautiful pieces of jewelry created by a master craftsman, the goldsmith Cardillac. It turns out that Cardillac himself was the serial killer, because he couldn’t bear to part with the artistic masterpieces he had created.

In some of the scenes, the chorus members hold identical faces to show that together they are not individuals but potentially a volatile mob. At the end they lynch Cardillac (not that he didn’t deserve it), and then leave their identical faces behind, going home to become individuals once again.

Cardillac exhibit in the lobby of the Bonn opera house

In the lobby of the opera house there was an interesting photo display showing various productions of Cardillac from the previous eight decades. Included were two Frankfurt productions from the seasons 1927/28 and 1952/53. Unfortunately they did not include the most recent Frankfurt production from the 1999/2000 season, which logically enough is the only one of them that I have seen.

Cardillac banner across the Franziskanerstraße in Bonn

One of the back corners of the opera house in Bonn

My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: E.T.A. Hoffmann in Bamberg

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