OPERA IN GERMANY HITS A HIGH NOTE (and in Australia too)

WORDS: Phil Hawkes PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied - above image Wagner Ring Cycle Brisbane 2023

Come on, opera lovers wherever you are! Think about the musical pleasures in store for you as international travel opens up this year and next. Sure, our opera companies in Australia have much to offer…see below for a selection of performances coming up soon. But if that’s not enough, Germany should be on your mind.

Why? Well, for one thing, the opera tradition is still extraordinarily strong in that country,  with an estimated two thirds of the world’s operas being performed there in any given season. Not just in the major cities, either…even small towns often have their own opera house, some dating back to the 17th century (Munich, 1657) , and carefully restored. Others, like the Leipzig Opera House, were completely rebuilt after WW2.

Leipzig Opera House

Another reason: pricing. Opera and musical events are, in the main, heavily supported with subsidies by federal, state and local governments so the cost of a ticket is much lower than just about anywhere else, including Italy’s La Scala…have a look at London’s Royal Opera House Covent Garden prices and you’ll see what I mean.

Last but not least, there’s a ready supply of young and talented singers, great teachers and top class academies throughout Germany which attract not only locals, but aspiring young people from the EU and all over the world. Added to that is the core cohort of local and foreign performers who are some of the world’s top opera singers, conductors and orchestras. For example, stars like German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Romanian soprano Angela Gheorgiu and Indian conductor Zubin Mehta, still going strong at age 86…amazing. Recently, in Berlin I saw him in full flight conducting an extraordinary performance of Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Staatsoper, a new production featuring a huge puppet on stage. This must have been a very expensive exercise in creativity, rare in these days of budget cuts, and on the night I attended it deserved (and got) a standing ovation. Other upcoming productions include Don Carlo, Salome, The Flying Dutchman and the ever popular Samson and Delilah.

Leipzig is another major crucible of German classical music…it’s where Bach, Wagner, the Schumanns and Mendelssohns among others composed much of their music. An interactive visit to both the Schumann and Mendelssohn Houses is well worthwhile and at the latter, you can actually ascend the podium, read the score on a tablet (swipe left) and conduct a full virtual orchestra! Great fun.

These days, there’s the renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra and Oper Leipzig doing some ambitious things…for example in 2022 they performed all of Wagner’s 13 operas in a festival season of just 6 weeks, a remarkable achievement. I was in town when “Lohengrin” was on the menu, and it was a personal milestone to see this wonderful music drama on stage. On the playlist for 2023: Don Giovanni (Mozart), Carmen (Bizet), Otello (Verdi), Tosca (Puccini), Salome (Strauss), and Wagner favourite Die Meistersinger. You must book well ahead for these.

A Home Away From Home in Germany

In both Berlin and Leipzig, and 11 other European cities, you’ll find Adina Apartment Hotels offering a taste of Oz as they’re part of the Adina (TFE Group) you’ll find at home. You’ll even find Vegemite in most of their restaurants! But the best thing is having that extra living room to use as a relaxation area…and importantly, more room to unpack and re-pack all those extra threads and shoes you’ve acquired. Most of them have pools and a gym, and perhaps best of all, a washer and dryer in your room…indispensable.

Adina Hotel Berlin

Opera in Oz

If international travel is not on your mind in the near future, there’s a feast of
music planned for our shores next year. In Sydney, Opera Australia’s big annual outdoor
blockbuster in March 2023 will be the ever-popular Madama Butterfly on the
harbour stage, and if you haven’t seen this before, “kill for a ticket”, as they say! Likewise, Carmen on Cockatoo Island promises to be a spectacular event.

Jonas Kaufmann will return to Australia to sing La Gioconda in the recently refurbished Sydney Opera House Concert Hall;  while perennial favourite La Boheme is also scheduled along with Don Giovanni and Tales of Hoffmann, among others in the Joan Sutherland Theatre.

In Brisbane, topping off the year will be the grand-daddy of all opera events, Wagner’s Ring Cycle to be performed in a brand new digitally-enhanced version, along with another favourite, Aida.

In Melbourne after Phantom of the Opera finishes in November 2022, there’s significant refurbishment taking place at the Arts Centre, but in 2023 a couple of exceptional concert performances have been scheduled for Hamer Hall: Philip Glass’ mesmerising Satyagraha and Wagner’s Tannhauser. I’d suggest both are not to be missed.