Berlin Deutsche Opera

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The Berlin Deutsche Oper, famed for its large repertoire and high standards, is one of the world's great opera houses. On November 12, 1912, the 2000-seat Deutsche Opernhaus opened with Beethoven's Fidelio.…
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The Berlin Deutsche Oper, famed for its large repertoire and high standards, is one of the world's great opera houses.

On November 12, 1912, the 2000-seat Deutsche Opernhaus opened with Beethoven's Fidelio. The house was intended as a "Winter Bayreuth," modeled after Richard Wagner's own summer festival opera house. Wartime losses caused its financial collapse. The City of Berlin took over and renamed it Städtische Oper (City Opera). In the 1920s it rapidly rose to rival the long-established Staatsoper (State Opera), the Komische Oper, the Volksoper and a new branch of the Staatsoper called, unofficially, the Kroll Opera. When Carl Ebert, the innovative director of the Kroll Opera, became head of the Städtische Oper in 1931, it reached its pre-War high point.

Nazi Culture Minister Joseph Goebbels took over in 1933 and renamed it the Deutsches Opernhaus. Ebert quickly emigrated. Choice of repertoire and staging declined. The Nazis also changed the seating plan. Previously it had a "democratic" arrangement without formal boxes. Such were added in 1936 (derisively known as the "Führer-Loge"). The building was destroyed by bombing in 1942, and moved to the Admiralpalast alongside the Staatsoper, which was also bombed out. After the war, the company (now once again the Städtische Oper) moved into the old Volksoper building, the Theater am Westens, in the British Sector. The Städtische Oper inherited the pioneering tradition of the long-defunct Kroll Opera, particularly after Carl Ebert's return in 1956.

The federal government in Bonn then rebuilt the original Deutsche Opernhaus (minus the Führer-Loge), took over the company in 1961, and renamed it Deutsche Oper Berlin. As rehearsals were underway for the debut of the theater (which was also to be the first television broadcast from an opera stage in Germany), East Germany divided the city with the Wall. Suddenly, musicians, singers, technicians, and administrators living in the Russian Sector could not get to the theater. Meanwhile, similar personnel of the Staatsoper and Komische Oper (both in the Russian Sector) who happened to live in West Berlin, were also cut off. The companies swapped personnel to accommodate the situation. The opening, on September 24, 1961, went on as planned.

Rudolf Sellner became the intendant, and the young American Lorin Maazel was its vigorous conductor. When he stepped down in 1969, the house did not have another general music director until 1979 with the appointment of Jesús López-Cobos (who came in with the new general intendant Götz Friedrich). Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos became general music director in 1992. Christian Thielemann took over the podium in 1997, maintaining the company's post-1961 tradition of young general music directors.

It has the largest repertoire of any opera house in the world, and operates as a repertory house. Karen Armstrong, an American singer, has sung so many modern operas as a star of the company that she was named "Primadonna of the Modern Repertory." Deutsche Oper Berlin has maintained and expanded its reputation in modern repertoire, with composers such as Britten, Zimmermann, Moore, Floyd, Janácek, Henze, Hindemith, Rihm, Reiman, Korngold, and Shostakovich. Among the most strikingly inventive productions was Wilhelm Dieder Siebert's Der Untergang der Titanic. The audience moves through a maze of sets from the foyer to the backstage, representing the doomed ocean liner's corridors and rooms. The audience, as first-class passengers, experience the sinking finally being "saved" by a lifeboat in the courtyard behind the building.