‘I have been an opera subscriber for 75 years’

‘I have been an opera subscriber for 75 years’


norman lebrecht

January 10, 2014

Sophia Marl is 104 years old. She went to school in Bayreuth and remembers Cosima Wagner coming to play the piano.

In 1938 she took out a subscription to the opera at Hagen. Her enthusiasm is undimmed to this day.

She regrets the decline in standards of audience dress, but does not at all mind moder productions.

Read a local newspaper interview here (auf Deutsch).



  • Simon says:


  • Not many people know that Cosima inherited a fair share of her father’s piano-playing talent. But she herself supressed it and only played on occasions. A result of her strict upbringing…

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    The article doesn’t say she went to school in Bayreuth, it says they went to the area while she was in high school.

    I do wonder though how accurate the Cosima Wagner recollection is. That must have been in the mid-20s when CW was well into her 80s and pretty much completely withdrawn from public life. In 1923, Hitler, already a prominent political figure by then, came to Bayreuth and asked to see her but was not received. That must have bummed him out!

    Still, pretty amazing how enthusiastic and also open to new ideas she still is after all that time. And that she’s still taking the bus to the theater when the weather allows it. Of course, living in the densest urban area of Germany, she could also fairly easily go to see opera and concerts in Dortmund, Bochum, Recklinghausen, Essen, Duisburg, Wuppertal, Düsseldorf, Cologne – all of which are within a 1-1.5h radius and all of which have an opera house and/or fullsize symphony orchestra.

  • KarenB says:

    I hope that folks can say the same about me some day!

  • I really enjoyed this article and reading how Sophia Marl has had a subscription at the Hagen Opera House for the last 75 years. In recognition of her loyalty, the house has given her a subscription for life. In spite of being 104, I hope she can use the subscription for many years to come.

    This could be instructive for Americans. The population of Hagen is only 188,529, but it has a full time, year-round opera house. This is not unusual in Europe. And of course, beyond comprehension in America.

    Hagen ranks 115th in the world for opera performances per year, and outranks almost all major American cities. Los Angeles with the 3rd largest metro GDP in the world and a population of 3.8 million ranks 180th for opera performance per year. Little Hagen beats it by 65 positions. Philadelphia ranks 175th. Washington 182nd. Atlanta 355th. Boston, which is supposed to be such a cultured city comes in at 252nd. Tiny Hagen beats it by 137 positions. And so on for almost every major American city.

    We see that America only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. Mighty Chicago barely creaks under the line at 97th, and is outranked by numerous European cities with a tiny fraction of the population and wealth. The situation for opera in the USA could not be disgraceful.

    Steve Smith, who writes for the New York Times, recently mentioned several small chamber music theater works that have been done in recent years in New York and proclaimed with staggering myopia that we are now in a new Golden Age of opera.

    Even in the chance any of these works are worthwhile, without a cultural infrastructure to maintain them, they will almost certainly quickly vanish.

    There is so much denial, if not plain, rationalizing propaganda, behind this description of a “Golden Age.” Why do Americans remain so obtuse when facing their lack of support for the fine arts and the massively deficient cultural infrastructure that has resulted?

    Anyway, a tip of the hat to Sophia Marl and the Hagen Opera House. The numbers of both tell the true story of what support for the arts really means.

    • We might add here that New York City has a metro GDP of 1.2 trillion dollars, about the same size as the entire country of Canada, but that it could not even maintain the tradition rich NYCO.

  • Lars Ludwig von der Gönna says:

    Dear Sir, dear Michael Schaffer.

    I am the german jornalist that met the 104 year old lady for that interview. I think, she was about 13 Years and pupil (not at the University!), when she listened to Cosima in 1922. So my impression was, that Sophia Marl remembered the scene quite correct. In the early Twenties Cosima was not blind or in a wheel chair – that happened in the late 1920s. Sophia Marls visit in Bayreuths Theatre was years later.

    Sorry for my english – it’s the one and only I have.

    Best regards

    Lars von der Gönna, Germany, Essen.