When I think of Berlin I think of opera and construction sites — and here I was lucky enough to get both in the same photo, because they happened to be ripping up the street “Unter den Linden” right in front of the State Opera House (Staatsoper) when I was there in 2005.
Over the years I have seen some lively and innovative productions at the State Opera Berlin, for instance Rinaldo by Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759).
This production was not only hilarious, it was also carefully timed so the gags and the slapstick fit in very well (I thought) with Händel’s music. All the singers seemed to be having a great time performing it, especially Miah Persson as Almirena. It was voted Production of the Year by the critics of Opernwelt Magazine in 2003, and the cast recording was voted CD of the Year.
While everybody seems proud of the recording (I’m listening to Miah sing Lascia ch’io pianga from the second act as I write this), the production remained controversial even internally. One of the people involved later told me she couldn’t understand why all those critics voted for such a stupid production. “Those must all be people with no taste.” Can’t say I was terribly flattered, since I liked the production so much myself. (LOL)
More recently I have seen two more equally brilliant but very different productions of Rinaldo, one at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt with the Polish counter-tenor and break-dancer Jakub Józef Orliński and another using blue-screen technology at the opera house in Chemnitz, Germany.
On another visit to the State Opera Unter den Linden I saw the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835). This is a bel canto opera, and the singing really is beautiful but the plot is often criticized. It takes place in ancient Gaul under the Roman occupation, and in the somewhat naturalistic Berlin production I kept expecting Asterix and Obelix to pop up from behind the bushes at any minute. Norma is the head priestess of the Gauls, but she is secretly in love with the Roman governor and has even borne him two children. (We are asked to believe that nobody in the small Gallic village has noticed this.)
I found the Berlin production quite moving, though, because they stressed the one aspect of the plot that is (unfortunately) timeless, namely the plight of an older woman whose lover (and father of her children) decides to leave her for a younger woman (in this case a younger priestess at the same temple). Since then I have seen different productions of Norma in Karlsruhe, Krefeld and most recently in Frankfurt with Elza van den Heever in the title role.
From 2010 to 2017, the State Opera House was a construction site because they were doing some badly needed restoration and repair work on it. During this time the State Opera Company performed in the old Schiller Theater in the Bismarckstraße, in the (West) Berlin district of Charlottenburg. What this meant was that for seven seasons there were two major opera houses in the Bismarckstraße, within three blocks of each other. (The other being the Deutsche Oper Berlin.)
When the State Opera moved over to the Schiller Theater in 2010, the first opera they performed there was the world premiere of Metanoia by Jens Joneleit, commissioned and conducted by Daniel Barenboim. I didn’t manage to see Metanoia, but I know the composer Jens Joneleit because one of his other works was performed in Frankfurt and he was kind enough to come and talk with us at both of my opera appreciation courses, Frankfurt OperaTalk in English and Opern-Gespräche in German.
My photos in this post are from 2005 and 2008. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.