The State Opera in Stuttgart has a great reputation for high quality, innovative opera productions. I have seen quite a few operas in Stuttgart, including L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algeria) by Gioacchino Rossini, The Coronation of Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi, Die Walküre by Richard Wagner and Doktor Faust by Ferruccio Busoni.
Every few years they do a new production of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In one of these productions they added two extra silent characters called Death and Mozart. Death was a dancer who came to get Mozart, but the composer made clear through mime during the overture that he wanted to go on living just long enough to finish composing The Magic Flute. He was onstage most of the time, writing and revising the music, and died at the end during the final jubilation. It really worked, and you could see people wiping away tears at the end, if you didn’t happen to be crying yourself.
Another Mozart opera that I saw in Stuttgart was an entertaining production of The Marriage of Figaro. I went with a colleague who hadn’t been to an opera for many years, and she was surprised to see how many young people there were in the audience. It didn’t use to be like that, evidently.
One production I particularly remember was Peter Konwitschny’s powerful staging of Elektra by Richard Strauss. Starting about twenty minutes before show time, as soon as the doors to the auditorium were opened, there was a wordless scene taking place on the stage in which a father, Agamemnon, was playing happily with his three children in and around a large bathtub. This joyful scene ended abruptly when Agamemnon was murdered in the bathtub before the eyes of the children. Then the opera started with the loud Agamemnon motif and went on to show how the children, now grown up, finally avenged their father’s death.
The Stuttgart Opera House was built from 1909 to 1912 as part of the Royal Court Theater (Königliches Hoftheater). At that time Württemberg still had a king, Wilhelm II, although he was in many ways subservient to the German emperor in Berlin.
Unlike many of the nearby buildings, the Opera House was not seriously damaged during the Second World War, but it lost some of its character when it was “modernized“ in 1956 and 1970. In 1982 the original blueprints and plans were rediscovered, and in 1983/84 the building was fully restored to its original form. There are seats for 1,399 people, slightly more than in the new opera house in Frankfurt.
On the ceiling of the Stuttgart Opera House there is a large circular painting showing various constellations of the northern sky. It is the work of a painter named Julius Mössel (1871-1957).
Most of the seats in the Stuttgart Opera House are quite all right. In the second balcony, though, you should try not to sit directly in the middle of the first row behind this ornate golden crown, because it will obstruct your view of the stage.
Other problem areas are the extreme right and left sides of the second balcony, and the back rows of the third balcony, which are very far from the stage. What third balcony? you might ask, since you can’t see one in the picture. Well, it really isn’t an additional balcony, just an extension of the second balcony going much further back than any other seats in the building.
If you don’t mind sitting up in the third balcony, you can not only save a lot of money — some seats cost as little as 8 euros — you can also step outside onto the terrace during the intermission to get some fresh air and have some nice views of the park and the rest of the city of Stuttgart.
Like most of the older opera houses in this part of the world, the Stuttgart Opera has separate staircases going up to the second and third balconies on the left and right sides of the building. The idea of this was that the elegant spectators at the lower levels should be spared the indignity of having to mingle with the less elegant spectators from the cheaper levels upstairs. The staircases going up to the third balcony (“III. Rang”) are narrow, dimly lit, not carpeted and not decorated. They just serve the purpose of getting the not-so-well-off people up to their cheap seats without letting them go through the posh areas down below.
Stuttgart is only 78 minutes from Frankfurt by InterCityExpress train. And when you arrive at Stuttgart central station it’s only a short walk to the opera house, which is located in the nearby Schloßgarten (Castle Park) next to the reflecting pool.
After the opera it’s no problem getting back to Frankfurt, if that’s what you want to do, because there is (and always has been, for the past quarter century) an express train which leaves Stuttgart at 23:05. It stops in Mannheim, which is convenient for opera goers there, and at Frankfurt Airport, which is an unnecessary detour for us but might be of use to some people, and arrives in Frankfurt at 00:42. That’s 19 minutes longer than usual, because of the extra stop at the airport, but it saves staying overnight in Stuttgart.
Once when I took this train in the 1990s I went straight to the dining car, ordered a beer and started sorting out my opera brochures and programs on the table in front of me. A man at the next table asked if I had gone all the way to Stuttgart just to see that Italian Girl (the one in Rossini’s Italian Girl in Algiers). I said no, I was on my way back from a business trip and had just stopped off in Stuttgart for the opera, and I asked if he had also seen it. “Well, I didn’t see much, because I was playing in it.” He turned out to be a long-time flutist from the Frankfurt Opera orchestra who had gone down to Stuttgart for a last-minute substitution. So when I started teaching the Opern-Gespräche in Frankfurt a few years later he was one of my first featured guests.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2005. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.