Opera Houses in Germany (Part II)

By Barbara Kingstone

I have a pal who travels to the far corners of the earth following Richard Wagner’s operas. Although the summer is not the best time for opera lovers to see performances, there are alternative enjoy- ments to behold. Second best in my book is seeing fine architecture and collections of treasures up close. Of course there’s Berlin’s Opera House, which is renowned and always well-attended, but also going through some expensive and much-needed renovations.

The residents of Stuttgart love their opera as much as their soccer and located in the city centre is Stuttgart’s opera house, the Staatsheatrer, locally known as the Grosses Haus. Opened in 1912, it could be the prototype of how a majestic hall should be. With a firm, grey-stone pillared exterior hiding a deceptively small interior, it seats only 1,400. A balcony with balustrade wraps around the outside and over the entrance. The circular lobby has the mandatory faux marble columns in front of high arches, along with the original crystal chandeliers. Busts of Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven, Schiller, Goethe and Bach are set on pedestals. Since there was no damage during the Second World War, the original extraordinary detailing is intact. It is worthy of a visit!

It’s quite a different story in Erfurt, a small city that dates back to 742. Here Rococo, Renaissance and Baroque buildings are the norm. Among these buildings, the contemporary rectangular glass block of the Erfurt opera house creates a stark contrast. Opened in 2003, it sits alone on a large plaza. The opera house is comparatively small, accommodating only 800. As expected, its interior is very modern, with a suspended spiral staircase leading to the black painted auditorium.

My favourite opera house is in Bayreuth. Apparently the Markgräfliches Opernhaus (Margrave’s Opera House) wasn’t suitable for Wagner, so the independently owned Festival Opera House was built. But the Magravial Opera House is a fair land of beauty and function, and has the most exquisitely preserved baroque detailing in Europe. When it opened in 1748 it was the largest theatre in Germany, with exceptional acoustics. The façade has become a symbol of the city.

Once inside, gazing at the rose-tinted steps, heavy chandeliers and an abundance of gold and blue (the Prussian royal colours), it’s as though you’ve entered a magic kingdom where the wooden cherubs surrounding the stage cast a spell over every visitor. This magnificent auditorium is made all the more unique by the Synagogue found at the back.