How Germans cherish their opera

How Germans cherish their opera


norman lebrecht

April 30, 2021

From an intensive report in the Christian Science Monitor:

… About a third of all opera performances worldwide take place here, and Germany has cultivated a society where children are schooled in music theory and adults commonly budget for opera season tickets.

“Berlin is a city where I’ve gotten into taxis and said, ‘Take me to Deutsche Oper,’ and the driver launches a discussion about ‘Don Giovanni,’” says Mr. Carico, a freelancer who was formerly salaried at Berlin’s premier opera company. “Music is baked into society here in a way I haven’t experienced in America.”…

Nearly every midsize German city has an opera house, which has gifted fans an enviable set of statistics. Germany is home to 1 of every 7 of the world’s opera houses, and nearly 4 million people attended the opera during the 2018-19 season….

“The state financed us through this situation,” says Mr. Theiler. “We aren’t in danger of going broke because there is a vested interest in keeping us afloat and running, so that we can be here as soon as we are allowed to re-open.”

More than a year into the pandemic, the Saxon State Opera hasn’t let anyone go, keeping about 800 musicians, singers, dancers, administrators, and other workers, including the house tailor. Freelancers on contract were also paid.

Read on here.




  • fflambeau says:

    “The home of Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner has always thrown its support behind classical music…” Isn’t the writer ‘forgetting’ several decades of the 20th century? Pap.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Russia is the same, had a conversation with a tram driver in St. Petersburg about Tchaikovsky. Others too including a taxi driver. Here it’s football.

    • Eric says:

      I once hailed a cab in Berlin and the driver was a Russian lady, who when she heard my destination was the Deutsche Oper immediately started an animated conversation about her favorite operas.

    • Helen says:

      I think TV and newspaper coverage gives the impression that UK football is more popular than it really is. I’ve seen clips of matches on (pre-Covid) TV where the stands appear to be largely empty.

      I recall somebody here referring to a survey which reported that attendance at arts events (presumably in the widest sense) in any one year is higher than football matches.

      I’m fairly sure that gardeners outnumber everybody else.

      • Saxon says:

        The stands at top level English football, at any team, haven’t been “largely empty” for over thirty years. Pretty much every teams sells every seat in the stadium for every match. German football is similar.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    I live in Thuringia. Within a 60 minute driving distance I have nine professional opera houses within my reach – and they all play (Corona permitting) from September to July, not just a “season” of a few weeks. AND they play not just the usual stuff, but every season there will be some discovery, when a “forgotten” opera gets staged. AND there are a couple of extra concert orchestras as well. I, for one, am very glad about these spending priorities…

    • Allardyce Mallon says:

      I spent years in Meiningen and it was my best school, being a répétiteur and assistant conductor. One of the more interesting pieces we did was “Mona Lisa” by Max von Schillings.

  • sam says:

    . “Music is baked into society here in a way I haven’t experienced in America.”

    That’s because you haven’t experienced America as most of the world has experienced America: Half the world’s population listen to music produced in America by American musicians, from Billboards Top 100 to Jazz to rap to tik tok…

    All the opera productions in Germany in the past century COMBINED were seen and heard by less than 10% of any single modest youtube video of music made in America.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      I really don’t think that the writer has ‘tik tok’ in mind when writing about opera in Germany (or anywhere else). I never have tik tok in mind. I presume that, were I to write an article about British pianists, I would be upbraided for my failure to mention ‘tik tok’. Thus, I must now find out wtf ‘tik tok’ is and how it relates to Clifford Curzon and Solomon.

    • Allen says:

      I think you’re confusing music played with music that people actually sit down and listen to.

  • Monsoon says:

    “Music is baked into society here in a way I haven’t experienced in America.”

    Maybe that has something to do with opera and classical music being part of German cultural heritage because many of the most famous composers were German (or from next door in Austria)!

    This like complaining that Germans don’t like golden age cable TV shows like “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” etc. as much as Americans.

    The way I’d look at this, is that opera is actually pretty popular in the United States despite there being little tradition for it like there is in Germany and Italy, where there are no famous American opera composers like Verdi and Wagner.

  • Madeleine Richardson says:

    Culture and the arts are part of European children’s upbringing generally. I have seen French-speaking school parties of adolescents enthralled by Corneille’s Le Cid, children of all nationalities loving classical ballet and even very young children at the theatre.
    In cities like Amsterdam and Antwerp art galleries and museums are frequented by teenagers accompanying their parents or as part of a school group.
    Some months back at a Van Gogh virtual exhibition in Antwerp (museums have generally been open here during the pandemic) there were even babies playing on the floor and trying to catch the images of the artist’s sunflowers.
    I have seen infants being taken in their pushchairs around Greek archaeological museums.
    Nor can there be many Italians who know nothing of opera.

    • Matias says:

      ‘Nor can there be many Italians who know nothing of opera.’

      I suspect that protesters outside La Scala on the seasons’ opening nights are not the most avid opera fans.

  • John Borstlap says:

    If the Germans cherish their opera, why do they then so much damage to the works with their patronizing Regietheater?