As it was originally built in the early 1970s, the Hessen State Theater in Darmstadt was a grotesque example of car-oriented architecture. It consisted mainly of a large parking garage, with a nondescript theater as an appendage.
There was no front entrance, to speak of, just a blank wall with a couple of doors. The planners evidently assumed that all the spectators (or at least all the important ones) would come by car, park in the parking garage and from there have direct access to the theater lobby. Since they would never see the front entrance, why bother to build one?
Then came the 21st century. From 2002 to 2007 extensive repairs and remodeling were done on the building. The entire stage machinery of the Large House was taken out and replaced, crumbling parts of the foundations and walls were repaired and the whole building was modernized to conform to current fire safety standards. And they patched up the leaky parts of the roof.
At the same time, two changes were made that would have been unthinkable in the previous century. First, they sacrificed part of the parking garage to create a new 100-seat chamber theater with its own lobby and bar. And second, they made a striking new façade and entrance area at the front of the building, for the benefit of the non-motorized majority of opera and theater goers.
This is one of three State Theaters in Hessen, the other two being in Wiesbaden and Kassel. All three of these have their own opera ensembles and orchestras, and put on a full program of opera performances several times weekly from September to June, in addition to numerous theater and dance performances.
The other two opera houses in Hessen, in Frankfurt am Main and Gießen, belong to their respective cities, not the state.
While they were remodeling and rebuilding the theater from 2002 to 2007, they took the opportunity to move the stage entrance, which (believe it or not) used to open directly into the noxious fumes of the parking garage. The only disadvantage of this new arrangement is that several dozen very convenient bicycle stands, which used to be near the old stage entrance, were eliminated and have not been replaced as far as I know.
In its current (remodeled) form, the State Theater in Darmstadt has a Large House (Großes Haus) with 956 seats, which is used mainly for opera performances. There is also a Small House (Kleines Haus) with 482 seats, which now (again) is used mainly for spoken theater and dance performances. For smaller forms and experimental theater, a new 100-seat Chamber Theater (Kammerspiele) was created at the beginning of the 21st century, using some of the space from the previous century’s parking garage.
Operas I have seen in Darmstadt include:
- Verdi’s La Traviata
- Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo
- Händel’s Rodelinda
- Flotow’s Martha
- Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore and Lucia di Lammermoor
- Massenet’s Cendrillon and Werther
- Schreker’s Das Spielwerk
- Vivaldi’s Orlando
- Mozart’s Così fan tutte and even Mozart’s first two operas, both of which he wrote when he was eleven years old, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots and Apollo et Hyacinthus.
During the period of rebuilding, from 2002 to 2007, this smaller hall was also used for opera (meaning it was really hard to get tickets!), as well as spoken theater and dance.
My photos in this post are from 2005, 2007 and 2008. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Opera Houses in Germany.