Thursday, February 23, 2006

Germany's Opera Houses Defy Economic Crisis

"When it comes to opera, the German landscape is like a voluptuous leading lady with a rich repertoire and the power to woo. But how, when the nation is feeling the pinch of austerity, can its opera houses stay alive?

For those brought up on the belief that opera is an elite form of entertainment accessible only to society grande dames and their aristocratic entourages, it might come as something of a surprise to learn that Germany is home to some 90 opera houses. And many are in eastern Germany, which is more frequently equated with economic crisis and unemployment than high-brow culture.

Indeed a trip around Germany's most eastern reaches reveals that parts of the country are as bleak and depressed as the economic pundits would have us believe. But by the same token, many towns and cities are also home to spectacular opera houses, which appear untouched by the tumultuous events of the past decades....

"The problems in towns like Chemnitz are no different to those in richer German towns, because at the end of the day, those who go to the opera are generally not those who are affected by poverty," [Bernhard] Helmich said, adding that pricing scales in most opera houses cater to all purses. "What is a problem for us is the fact that towns are getting smaller." ...

And although there is evidence to suggest that the number of people taking advantage of the local and national palette of performances has fallen over the past 15 years, some 8 million viewers turned out to watch operas, operettas, musicals and ballets in Germany last season. [Rolf] Bolwin says there is no escaping the fact that "music theater plays a big role for Germans."

The tradition, which grew up in the 17th century in the small princedoms of Germany, has partly been so successful at surviving because it has played a role in the social discourse of the German nation. Helmich says it is astonishing that there are still so many people who remain true to opera. "The fact that closure plans always meet with such hefty protests proves that Germans respect educational and historical theater." ...

Bolwin is determined to see the tradition of that communication live on to fight the next generations of electronica.

"Changes will continue, but we must aim to mobilize all our energies to keep one of the greatest opera landscapes of the world alive." ...

Tamsin Walker "Germany's Opera Houses Defy Economic Crisis" Deutsche Welt February 23, 2006.

Dresden's famous opera house -- home to many world premieres of operatic masterpieces by Weber, Wagner, and R. Strauss -- was destroyed during World War II, but beautifully restored by the East German Communist authorities during the 1970s and 1980s, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

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