Several years ago I went to the City Theater in Ulm, Germany, to see their premiere of the opera Aida, by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). It was an ambitious production, set in 19th century Egypt under British rule, with a puppet king (shades of “The King and I”) who was dominated by the British colonial administrator.
The stage set was an authentic-looking colonial hotel, intact in the first act, full of bullet holes in the second act and severely damaged by artillery fire in the third and fourth. The staging was resolutely anti-war, which I always like, because Aida is actually a quite militaristic opera, and I think it is the duty of any stage director to counteract this.
What didn’t work so well in the Ulm production was that Verdi’s eerie ancient-Egyptian priests’ music was sung by a chorus of chubby British colonials, presumably Anglicans, wearing khaki shorts and wide-brimmed hats. Incongruous, to say the least.
Also I found the ending rather lame. I mean come on guys, having two people get stuck in an elevator just does not have the same dramatic impact as having them sealed into a tomb with bricks and mortar.
The Ulm City Theater is one of those small city-owned theaters in Germany which were collectively awarded the title Opera House of the Year by the critics of Opernwelt magazine for the year 2004.
Okay, you can’t expect to see any big-name opera stars in these small theaters, and you won’t get the really stunning new productions like the ones in Stuttgart or Frankfurt, but they do have their own opera and drama ensembles, and they provide a substantial schedule of operas, musicals, plays and ballets for over ten months of every year.
The current theater in Ulm was built in the years 1966 to 1969 as a replacement for an older theater that was destroyed during the Second World War. The large hall seats up to 840 people. There is also a “Podium” hall for smaller productions, seating up to 200.
Ulm was where the conductor Herbert von Karajan got his start as a young man, so the square in front of the theater is now named after him.
My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.