The Thirty Years’ War, one of the longest and most devastating wars in European history, was finally ended in 1648 by the Peace of Westphalia, which was negotiated and signed in the German cities of Münster and Osnabrück. This is one of several reasons why Osnabrück describes itself as the Friedensstadt, The Peace City.
The opera I saw in Osnabrück was, appropriately, Simplicius Simplicissimus by Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963).
This is an opera about the Thirty Years’ War, based on a huge seventeenth century novel by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, who was born in Gelnhausen in the early 1620s. He died in the town of Renchen in 1676, twenty-eight years after the end of the war.
Both the novel and the opera give a vivid impression of why the Thirty Years’ War was such a catastrophe for what is now Germany. Armies from as far away as Sweden and Croatia were involved, but they had no logistics or supply lines. They had to live off the land, which meant stealing everything they needed from the local population, often destroying cities, villages and farms in the process.
On a large-scale topographic map of some rural area in Germany, look for the word Wüstung. This designates the site of a former village which no longer exists. Many of these villages were destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War and never resettled afterwards.
I am now one of the very few people in the world who have seen two different productions of Hartmann’s opera Simplicius Simplicissimus. The first was Christoph Nel’s production in Stuttgart and Frankfurt, starring Claudia Mahnke and Frank van Aken (I saw it in Frankfurt) and the second was a staging by Jochen Biganzoli at the city theater in Osnabrück, featuring Marie-Christiane Haase in the title role. They set part of it in an old-timey German classroom with a tyrannical teacher like the one in Heinrich Mann’s Professor Unrat.
If you click on this Vimeo link you can hopefully still see the trailer of the opera Simplicius Simplicissimus as it was staged in Osnabrück.
There has been a municipal theater in Osnabrück since 1832. The current main theater building was built from 1905 to 1909, at a time when many medium-sized cities in Germany were building their city theaters.
The Osnabrück Theater was damaged by bombing during the Second World War, but was re-built from 1949 to 1950. It currently seats 642 spectators. Access to the theater is now through the new foyer wing on the left, not through the old front doors of the building.
The theater has its own opera ensemble, chorus and orchestra (The Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra), as well as ensembles for spoken drama, ballet and children’s theater.
At last count there were eighty-eight functioning professional opera houses in Germany (more than in any other country in the world), as listed in the Yearbook of Opernwelt magazine. I have seen performances in sixty of these houses so far — the Theater Osnabrück being the fifty-sixth. I have listed all of these in my post Opera Houses in Germany.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2017.
See more posts on Grimmelshausen, author of the novel Simplicius Simplicissimus.