From the outside, the City Theater in Bremerhaven looks rather cramped and austere, but inside it is pleasant, with wood paneling on the walls both in the lobby and in the auditorium.
The theater was first built from 1909 to 1911, at a time when new municipal theaters were being constructed in middle-sized cities all over Europe. The building was largely destroyed during the Second World War in a bombing attack in September 1944. Only the façade remained standing, and it was incorporated into the new theater that was built from 1950 to 1952.
After nearly half a century of use, the theater had to be thoroughly renovated, modernized and enlarged from 1997 to 2000.
Since the Bremerhaven Theater has only one large balcony with all the seats facing forward, spectators can see the entire stage from any seat in the house — which is not the case in traditional horseshoe-shaped theaters in the notorious ‘Italian’ style.
The opera I saw in Bremerhaven was La Cenerentola (Cinderella) by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868). This was Rossini’s twentieth opera, composed when he was 25 years old and already famous for such operas as Tancredi, The Italian Girl in Algiers, The Turk in Italy and The Barber of Seville.
Rossini and his librettist Jacopo Ferretti wrote La Cenerentola in only 24 days. They based it on the Cinderella story as told not by the Brothers Grimm but by the 17th century French author Charles Perrault (1628-1703). But they made some changes. In the opera there is no fairy godmother; rather, it is the Prince’s wise old advisor, Alidoro, who discovers Angelina (Cinderella) and arranges for her to attend the Prince’s ball. Instead of glass slippers, Alidoro gives her two identical jeweled bracelets, one of which she gives to the Prince so he can find her again and then decide if he really wants to marry her. The reason for this change, according to the Bremerhaven program booklet, was that when the opera had its world premiere in 1817 they didn’t want to take the risk of showing a bare ankle on stage, which might have caused a scandal at the time.
Max Hoehn’s staging of in Bremerhaven kept up with the rapid pace of the music by using the revolving stage and various wheeled-in stage elements for quick scene changes.
One of the wheeled-in elements was the grave of Angelina’s mother (not shown in any other staging I have seen up to now), where she went every day to pray. Alidoro also comes to the grave, to find Angelina and get her ready for the ball. Later, even her father Don Magnifico turns up at the grave, apparently in belated contrition for having degraded the daughter from his first marriage and pilfered her inheritance. This gives him a touch of humanity (but only a touch) which is not present in most other productions of the opera.
Overall, however, Don Magnifico remains a ridiculous personage. While watching in Bremerhaven I noticed a parallel between Le Cenerentola (1817) and a much earlier opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea) by Claudio Monteverdi, from the year 1642. In La Cenerentola, at a point when Don Magnifico thinks the Prince might marry one of his frivolous step-daughters, he imagines at great length how people would come subserviently to him with their wishes and plead with him (and of course bribe him) to intercede with his step-daughter on their behalf. In L’incoronazione di Poppea it was Poppea’s aged nurse and confidante, Arnalta, who had similar comical fantasies of the powerful role she thought she would have after Poppea was crowned as Empress.
But I hasten to add that this was not a matter of Rossini imitating Monteverdi. In Rossini’s time, Monteverdi was a completely forgotten composer, and I doubt that Rossini had even heard of him, much less seen any of his operas.
Bremerhaven, by the way, was my 70th German opera house, out of the seventy-one I have been to so far.
My photos and text in this post are from 2020.