Young opera in Weikersheim

Weikersheim is a pleasant country town (population 7,333) in the Tauber Valley, 63 kilometers upstream from Wertheim and 37 kilometers downstream from Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

The surprising thing about Weikersheim is that it has a Renaissance palace (Schloss Weikersheim) with a sizable formal garden modeled after the one in Versailles.

A wing of Weikersheim palace

You can always hear some kind of music coming out of one wing of the palace, because it contains rehearsal rooms for young musicians who are learning under the auspices of Jeunesses Musicales Deutschland, the German section of “the world’s largest youth and music network,” Jeunesses Musicales International.

Entrance to the palace courtyard

Every second summer, in the odd-numbered years, Jeunesses Musicales conducts an opera course in Weikersheim. Young singers and musicians work together under professional leadership to produce a complete opera, which is presented open-air on nine evenings in the inner courtyard of Weikersheim palace. They always try to have three different singers for each of the main roles, so each of them gets to sing three times.

So far I have seen four of these summer productions:

  • Carmen by Georges Bizet in 2003
  • La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi in 2005
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai in 2009
  • La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini in 2019

The palace courtyard in 2004

The palace courtyard is where Jeunesses Musicales presents its open-air opera performances in the odd-numbered years. Since I took this photo in an even-numbered year, 2004, you can’t see how they set it up for the operas.

The stage is usually on the left side next to the fountain. In 2003 for Carmen it was a round construction filled with dirt and wood shavings, so they could bury things in the ground and pull them out at appropriate moments.

Next to the stage there was a metal platform for the orchestra, and on the right side there were two sets of metal bleachers that could accommodate up to 1400 spectators.

Program booklet for Carmen 2003

In 2003 I saw performances of Carmen two consecutive evenings with different casts. The second evening went really well, but the first was a bit chaotic because it rained shortly before the opera was due to start, so they had to place the orchestra inside the palace (not a good solution) and make numerous last-minute changes in the staging. At the time I was slightly acquainted with one of the young staging assistants, and I was highly impressed with how she managed all this. She later worked for several years as a full-time staging assistant at the Frankfurt Opera, so someone else besides me must have noticed that she was really good at it.

The singers in 2003 were all new to me. One of them, Sonja Mühleck, who sang the role of Micaëla on one of the evenings in Weikersheim, was later taken on as an ensemble member at the Frankfurt Opera from 2005 to 2010. During this time she came once as the featured guest to my opera appreciation course Opern-Gespräche at the Frankfurt Adult Education Center. Since 2010 she has been a free-lancer, singing at dozens of opera houses such as Toulouse, Schwerin, Dresden and Altenburg.

The orchestra in 2003 in Weikersheim was the Bundesjugendorchester (BJO), i.e. the Federal Youth Orchestra of Germany. The chorus was the academic choir Ivan Goran Kovacic from Zagreb, Croatia.

My photos in this post are from 2004. I revised the text in 2019.

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