If you follow the Moselle River 304 kilometers downstream from Metz you will eventually come to the German city of Koblenz, which is where the Moselle flows into the Rhine. Both Metz and Koblenz have beautiful small city theaters that were built in the eighteenth century and are still functioning as lively opera and drama venues.
Both of these theaters have been lovingly renovated with a view to preserving or restoring the original eighteenth century appearance, while concealing the latest in modern stage machinery above, below and behind the stages.
The City Theater in Koblenz was built in 1786/87 at the behest of the Prince Elector Clemens Wenzeslaus of Saxony (1739−1812), who was the ruler of this area for a quarter century at least. He was also the Archbishop of Trier and the Bishop of Augsburg, which in those days was no contradiction. In 1786 he officially set up Residence in Koblenz, where he commissioned this public theater the same year. The obelisk in front of the theater, with his name on it, commemorates the inauguration of a new fountain in 1791.
Clemens Wenzeslaus seems to have been quite the enlightened ruler. One indication of this is that he commissioned the theater not only for himself and his courtiers, but for the general public as well. The Latin inscription on the theater reads: Musis Moribus et Publicae Laetitiae, which means roughly: “To the muses, morals and public amusement.”
The theater now has 500 seats. The most recent complete renovation was in 1984/85. The first opera I saw in this theater was a very lively production of Ariadne auf Naxos, by Richard Strauss (1864-1949), done by young singers and actors with lots of energy and enthusiasm.
In May 2006 I saw a performance here of Die weiße Rose (The White Rose) by Udo Zimmermann (born 1943). This is a short opera about the life and death of Hans and Sophie Scholl, a brother and sister who formed an anti-Nazi resistance group called The White Rose in Munich during the Second World War. In 1943 (eight months before the composer was born) Hans and Sophie were caught distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at the university in Munich. They were condemned to death for this, and were executed the same day.
Since this opera is about resistance against the Nazis, they were allowed to use a Nazi flag on the stage. Ordinarily it is illegal in Germany to display any sort of Nazi symbols.
In 2007 I saw the same opera, as staged by Christoph Quest and featuring Britta Stallmeister as Sophie, at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt.
The composer Udo Zimmermann is better known as an orchestra conductor and opera manager. He was the General Director (Intendant) of the Leipzig Opera from 1990 to 2001, and held the same post at the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 2001 to 2004.
These historic buildings at the Florinsmarkt house the Middle Rhine Museum, which features romantic paintings of scenes in the Rhine Valley, and two small theaters, the Kammerspiele and the Studio-Bühne.
Several years ago I saw a very funny performance here of the operetta Die lustigen Niebelungen (The Merry Nibelungs) by Oscar Straus (1870-1954), an Austrian composer who is not related to Richard Strauss or Johann Strauss. This operetta from the year 1904 is a biting but very melodic spoof of Wagner’s Ring and of German militarism and arrogance during the reign of Emperor Wilhelm II. It was a huge success in theaters all over Germany and Austria for the first four years, until in 1908 right-wing nationalists started demonstrating violently against it, calling it a “mockery of our people’s most splendid possession, our Nibelung saga, the mightiest work of world literature in general.” Theater directors were quickly intimidated by the violence and removed The Merry Nibelungs from their programs.
Straus nonetheless did well with his forty or so other operettas and musicals, not only in Germany and Austria, but later also in France and America. When he had to flee from the Nazis he first went to France and became a French citizen, and later did the same in America, where he was best known for the Broadway version of his operetta The Chocolate Soldier.
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2017.
See also: Opéra-Théâtre in Metz, France.