Home field advantage

ectangular structure on Bismarckstraße with an eye-catching façade, Deutsche Oper Berlin is the second largest opera house in Germany. It also has a storied history and great ambitions for the future

Dietmar Schwarz © Peter Badge

Charlottenburg once represented more than just the ‘west’. It was once a completely different world, a big city at the gates of the even bigger city of Berlin. For a long time, Charlottenburg was independent, wealthy and capable of everything Berlin was. For example, in 1912, Charlottenburg built its own opera house, calling it the “Deutsches Opernhaus” (German Opera House) and declaring it would follow the democratic principle of making sure each seat had excellent sound quality and an equally good view of the stage. The programme focused on contemporary music, including Richard Wagner’s grand tales of Lohengrin, Götterdämmerung and The Flight of the Valkyries.

Destroyed during WWII, the Charlottenburg opera house was redesigned and built in 1961. The new building had a striking rectangular shape and a washed-concrete façade. It became the second-largest opera house in Germany. Although the former ‘big city’ of Charlottenburg was now a district in West Berlin, it was no less proud of its opera.

“On the outside, it doesn’t look like a traditional opera house”, says Dietmar Schwarz, artistic director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin for the past five years. Indeed, both the name and the original concept behind the opera have changed very little.

“Contemporary music still plays an important role”, the 60-year-old director notes. Schwarz previously worked at Theater Basel, which was twice named Opera House of the Year under his direction. Although many would argue that ‘contemporary’ music is often physically painful to listen to, Schwarz notes “we all like what we’re used to” and argues that too much of the same thing can have a negative long-term effect. Each season, Deutsche Oper puts on a large-scale production, often a world premiere, which distinguishes it from other operas. This season saw the world premiere of “L’Invisible” by popular composer Aribert Reimann, who was born in Berlin in 1936 – which, of course, gave him a home filed advantage.

For Schwarz, managing the Deutsche Oper has always been a dream job, even though he recognises how difficult it is to preserve an intimate familial atmosphere in such a large operation. Indeed, Schwarz attaches great importance to creating a congenial work environment. For example, when a new production gets underway, he gathers all employees, the conductor and the director to discuss what exactly is in store, thus addressing the technical team just as much as the first violin.

Roughly 100 years ago, Charlottenburg was already a big city. Today it’s a big part of an even bigger national capital. In this constellation, networking plays an important role, which is why Schwarz considers it tremendously important for Deutsche Oper to be a part of Campus Charlottenburg, even if the campus itself is still in an early development stage. Indeed, Charlottenburg has always forged its own path. It also never forgot that too much of the same thing is never a good idea in the long run.

Stefanie Paul
Kluge Köpfe 2017