Where the Cream of the Cream is singing- Opera Houses in Berlin and the German Theater System
The State Opera House Unter den Linden in Berlin-Mitte before the renovation.
By Beek100 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
In Germany, there are around 126,000 theatre productions a year. If that sounds impressive, just wait. Over 35 million people go to these performances in that year span! Holy Brünnhilde, that’s a lot of people! There are roughly 140 publicly funded theatres and 220 privately funded theaters. Unlike New York, USA and Paris, France, opera houses are not all concentrated in one city. There are opera houses dispersed all throughout the country so that everywhere you go, you will be able to attend a production. 
Multi-part theatres present several genres of performance at one time. For example, they might perform a ballet on Friday, an opera on Saturday, and a musical theatre concert on Sunday. All different types of productions happen under one roof. Repertoire theatres may present several different works over several seasons. They have a permanent ensemble of performers. 
An important note about houses - you have probably heard about A level houses, B level houses, C level houses, etc. This rating scale has nothing to do with the performance hall itself, nor necessarily with the quality of the singers. The rating is based on the size of the orchestral budget. An A level house may have an operating budget of $20 million, whereas a C level house may have an operating budget of $500,000. That’s a big difference in spending power. A C level house would have to be a lot more creative in how they design their costumes and sets, while an A level house has much more freedom of design just because of financial resources.
Regarding budgeting, the Government contributes about two billion euros a year towards publicly supported theatres and orchestras. That may sound like a lot, but in reality, it’s only 0.2% of the government’s budget. Through this funding, around 39,000 people are employed through the arts! That doesn’t even count the businesses indirectly funded because of monies spent by the opera houses at local businesses. With this in mind, you may wonder how helpful private sponsorships are for opera. Only roughly 1% of opera and orchestra budgets are funded through these sponsorships - which mainly go towards funding specific projects. 
Something interesting: In the US, theater can refer to the cinema as well as to acting shows, musical productions, and opera productions. In Germany, theatre usually means a show with only acting or a multi-part house. It does not mean a trip to the movies! Just a little helpful hint for the next time you ask where the theatre is in Germany...
Houses are physically built differently in Germany than they are in the USA. In the USA, houses tend to be much bigger and rectangular in shape. In Germany, houses are small and many are built in a curved shape. This difference in architecture can affect how easily a singer is heard.
When we go to the opera, we typically go to hear the beauty of the musicians and see the magnificent sets and costumes. But, would our experience really be lifted to such a magical level without the beauty of the opera houses themselves? Imagine stepping out of your car to walk into the opera house and you find yourself at a warehouse building… or an office/retail space. Terrible! Part of the magic lies in the luxurious walls of the house and the natural acoustic beauty of the space.
There are a million incredible opera houses in Germany! (Okay, not quite a million, but several). We could talk about all the beautiful houses all day, so let’s focus on the houses in Berlin.
The Deutsche Oper Berlin is a relatively new house in the opera world, built in 1912. For being so young, the house has an interesting history. In 1933, the opera fell under the control of the Nazi regime, headed by the Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda. They remodeled the opera house to seat less people. Carl Ebert, the General Manager of the opera at the time, decided to leave Germany rather than endorse the Nazi’s new use of the opera house. Several other conductors and artists also decided to leave. In 1943, the opera house was struck in a British air raid. After the war ended, Ebert returned to the opera as General Manager once more, with performances continuing at a nearby opera house. In 1961, the house was (FINALLY) rebuilt and opened under the new name Deutsche Oper.   Of course, the opera has other interesting factoids, including how the conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli died of a heart attack while conducting Aida in 2001, and once cancelled and then proceeded with a very religiously and politically charged production of Idomeneo… but you can read up on that another day.  
Aside from all that, the house itself is quite grand! It’s 1961 remodel remained true to the ideals of the original building. It exemplifies a truly ‘democratic’ house, where every seat has an equal and full view of the stage. It is rather large, seating 2000 people. This opera house hires the cream of the cream, including singers Diana Damrau, Markus Brück, Edita Gruberová, and Rolando Villazón. This year, they will be performing several crowd favorites, like Lucia di Lammermoor, Aida, Tosca, The Magic Flute, and The Barber of Seville, along with some of the lesser known operas - The Love of Three Oranges, L’Invisible, and a musical theatre production of A Cuckoo in my Suitcase. All in all, this theatre will always provide you with an incredible experience! 
The Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin holds their productions at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, or the Lindenoper. This opera house is much older, with its first performance in 1742. Since its opening, it has successfully continued its partnership with the Staatskapelle Berlin, or state orchestra. (Sidenote: the orchestra has been around since the 1500’s…) This opera house had the honor of hosting Giacomo Meyerbeer, Felix Mendelssohn, and Richard Strauss as conductors at different points. In 1843, it was destroyed by a great fire! But, it was rebuilt again in 1849. Fast-forward to pre-WWII - when Hitler came into power in the 1930’s Jewish members of the orchestra and opera were fired. The conductors and managers resigned in protest of the Nazi regime. In 1941, the opera house was bombed, but promptly rebuilt the next year. Again, it was bombed in 1945! This time, it took ten years to rebuild it, with performances being held at another nearby opera house. Of course, opera never seems to be without drama. This opera house in particular seems to have a great abundance of it. When the Berlin wall was built, this house found itself isolated in East Germany. With the fall of the wall, the opera was restored to its full glory. It’s getting better and better all the time with continuous renovations and improvements.  
This opera house is particularly beautiful. When first commissioned by Prussian King Frederick II, he ordered it completed in just 2 months. So, needless to say the first performance took place before the house was completely finished, at the insistence of the King. It was meant to look like a temple with its grand portico. But you can also see inspiration from English country estates of that time period. Each renovation (and there have been many) has brought more stage space, better technology, and improvements to the seating area.  In fact, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden has been under construction for the past seven years. Work on the building fell four years behind (and also increased in cost by a couple million Euros), but is set to reopen the first week of October with a production of Schumann’s Szenen aus Goethes Faust. Then, they will take a short hiatus until December so that staff may learn how to operate the new computerized stage equipment. This season will include seven operas, featuring singers like Angela Gheorghui, Piotr Beczala, and René Pape. It will also give sixteen orchestra concerts, featuring music written by past conductors of the Staatsoper as well as brand new works commissioned by the Staatsoper.  
The Komische Oper Berlin is exceedingly gorgeous. It opened in 1892 and promptly closed for bankruptcy in 1896. Its closing was short-lived and it reopened two years later, becoming an extremely successful variety theatre! That is, until 1933 when it closed again… The Nazi regime took the theatre over in 1934 and used it for Nazi entertainment programs. In 1944 and 1945, the opera house was extremely damaged by two separate bombs during the war. The theatre reopened in 1947, but was completely renovated in 1966. This opera house is famous for holding not just operas, but also operettas, musicals, and ballet.  
This opera house is known for valuing the stagecraft and acting just as much as the music. Formerly only showing German repertoire, the house now shows international works with a special commitment to showing Jewish works. This year, the house will be presenting operas, children’s operas, and musical theatre productions. They seem to venture outside the realm of what is familiar, putting on productions by Phillip Glass, Attila Kadri Şendil, Jerry Bock, and Franz Schreker. The casts are made of many highly accomplished singers and several permanent ensemble members. They also have a special dinner theatre show, appropriately titled “Opera and Dinner.” Instead of waiting until intermission to quickly gulp down a glass of wine and a snack, you can sit, relax, and eat while taking in a delightful opera experience. Inside the house, the seating area is rounded and the hall is shallow with two tiers. You could never get a bad seat there!  
No matter where you go in Germany, and especially in Berlin, you are bound to find exquisite opera houses with rich histories and fine musicians. Anytime you are travelling in Germany, I would recommend taking tours of the opera houses. Some houses offer public tours at certain times and some will offer them by request. You are likely to find this information on the website of each house.
Have you visited any of these houses? Share your pictures and experiences with us! What cities and opera houses do you want to learn more about? Let us know! As always, you can sign up to receive our blog via email. Thanks for taking a tour of Berlin with us!
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Most blog posts from June 2017 - June 2018 were written by GVAI's blogger Anikka Abbott who has just started her journalism studies. We already miss her. Learn more about her here or connect with her on Facebook.
Hello, I am Christine, the director of GVAI, a passionate singer, German diction, voice and performance coach. I love music, singing and dancing. Life is an exciting journey and I invite you to walk with me....