The new opera house in Erfurt

Germany’s newest opera house is located in Erfurt, the capital city of Thüringen. This is the only new opera house to have been built in Germany so far in the 21st century. (The last one in the 20th century was the one in Kaiserslautern that was completed in 1995, unless you want to include the one in Baden-Baden, which is mainly new but incorporates the facade and entrance hall of an older building.)

The new Erfurt opera is located in a district called Brühl, just across the street from a park called the Brühl gardens.

To an out-of-town visitor this seems like quite a central location, just behind the cathedral, but to the locals it sounded at first like an odd place for an opera house, since this was traditionally an industrial district full of run-down factory buildings. By building the opera house here they not only had plenty of room for an underground car park and a large workshop building, they were also able to use urban development money to help build the opera house, since it was intended to revitalize the whole district. And that seems to have worked, because there are already several attractive new buildings between the opera house and the cathedral, including a new hotel facing the opera house on Theaterplatz.

The new Erfurt opera

The building is in the shape of a rectangle with a glass front by a reflecting pool. Inside there is a striking white spiral staircase and a large black funnel which is actually the part of the main hall where the spectators sit. This funnel is similar to the ‘conch’ in the new Operaen in Copenhagen and the suspended auditorium in the re-designed opera house in Lyon.

Main hall of the Erfurt Opera

The new Erfurt opera house seats 800 people in the main hall, and there is also a “studio stage” for smaller productions, which seats 200. The seating area in the main hall goes up quite steeply from one row to the next, so you can see and hear very well from just about any seat in the house. The building was inaugurated on September 12, 2003, with the world premiere of a new opera called Luther, by Peter Adelhold, in a stage set designed by Hermann Feuchter, with Johannes M. Kösters in the title role.

Staircase in the Erfurt Opera

The first performance I saw in the new Erfurt opera house was the premiere of a new production of the opera Jenufa, by Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), with Hedwig Fassbender as Kostelnicka.

Janáček was a Czech composer who wrote nine operas in his lifetime. Jenufa was first performed in 1904, when he was fifty, and he wrote most of his other operas when he was well over sixty. Legend has it that he used to sit around in the park noting down what people said, in Czech, all around him, and noting down the melodies they said it in. Then he worked these melodies into his operas, so there is a tight fit between the words and the music. That’s why his operas are almost always performed in the original Czech, even if none of the singers or spectators understands that language.

Staircase in the Erfurt Opera

Another visit to Erfurt was to see the operetta Die Dollarprinzessin (The Dollar Princess) by Leo Fall (1873-1925), starring Frauke Schäfer as Alice. This operetta was first performed in Vienna in 1907, at a time when rich American heiresses were all trying to find European aristocrats to get married to.

Alice in the operetta runs her father’s company with an iron hand, and has no time or patience for men of any sort, aristocrats or not. Of course she finally does fall for one, but not until there have been all sorts of wild complications and a trip to Europe. The music is fun, and the Erfurt production is quite clever, including among other things a swimming pool full of dollars, as in a Scrooge McDuck comic.

Conductor’s music stand

Here’s the conductor’s music stand in the orchestra pit, with the score of Leo Fall’s operetta “The Dollar Princess” opened to the first page.

Upper foyer of the Erfurt Opera

From the upper foyer you have access to the seating in the balcony, and there are also nice views of the cathedral from here (too dim for photos, though, at least in the winter). The rounded black wall is the upper part of the funnel, where the spectators sit in the main hall.

Stage entrance

Here at the back is the stage entrance. There is also a large workshop and administration building, with a direct connection to the theater building through the basement. The workshop building was completed first, over a year before the theater was finished, so they could already start making stage sets and costumes in August 2002.

The stage has the same dimensions as the stage of the theater in the nearby city of Weimar, so that if they wanted to they could trade productions back and forth. They have not done this yet as far as I know, but they could.

In the 1990s there was a controversial plan to merge the two theaters of Erfurt and Weimar, to save money. The Erfurt city council voted in favor of the merger in 1998, but the Weimar city council rejected the plan, so it didn’t happen. (Several such mergers have actually been implemented in recent years, for example the merger of the city theaters of Altenburg and Gera, in the eastern part of Thüringen.)

Seating in the new Erfurt opera house

Opera and theater tickets are valid for free travel on Erfurt’s streetcar and bus system from two hours before the performance starts until five hours afterwards. Just take streetcar # 4 in the direction of Hauptfriedhof and get off at Theater, which is one stop after Domplatz (Cathedral Square).

My photos in this post are from 2004. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: My course Opern-Gespräche in Frankfurt am Main.
Hermann Feuchter, Johannes M. Kösters, Hedwig Fassbender and Frauke Schäfer
have all come as featured guests to the Opern-Gespräche in various years.


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