The National Theater in Mannheim was founded in 1779, but the current building is a modern one that was built from 1955 to 1957. It has a large glassed-in foyer on the ground floor, with stairs going up to the large and small performance halls on the right and left. The acoustics are fine, and you have an unobstructed view from every seat. In addition to opera, they also do operettas, musicals, ballet and spoken theater. Since Mannheim is only 37 minutes by ICE-train from Frankfurt, it’s no trouble to get there and back for an opera performance.
I’ve seen a mixed bag of opera productions here, from a grim version of Verdi’s Troubadour to a funny staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, complete with graphs and pie-charts projected onto the stage while Leporello sang his famous register aria listing the numbers of women his master had seduced in various European countries. (The winner of course is Spain with one thousand and three.)
In 2004 I was glad to see that Andrea Schwalbach’s production of the opera L’Elisir d’Amore by Gaetano Donizetti, which I had seen several times in Frankfurt, was also being performed in Mannheim. Yes, there is a character named Nemorino in this opera, sung by a tenor with a classic aria Una furtiva lagrima near the end. Nemorino is rather shy and is spurned by his beloved Adina until he gets a bottle of Doctor Dulcamara’s world-famous love potion, which is actually just ordinary red wine.
One of my visits to Mannheim I saw the opera Les Troyens (The Trojans) by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). This is an example of a huge monumental opera that is seldom performed in Germany (or anywhere else as far as I know), but which have seen in three different productions up to now. The first was in Leipzig, where thanks to a timely business trip I was able to attend the premiere of their magnificent production in 2003. In Mannheim it was musically just as good, but the staging in Mannheim was unfortunately quite silly and not always comprehensible. In general I like modern staging if I can make sense of it, and I usually defend the stage directors in post-opera pub discussions, but this time I had to admit it was pretty weak.
More recently I saw a fine production of Les Troyens in Frankfurt, as conducted by John Nelson and directed by Eva-Maria Höckmayr in 2017.
My photos in this post are from 2004. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.