What a blessing the German municipal theater system is! On the one hand, we owe it to the historical fragmentation of our country into countless principalities – each of which naturally wanted to have a stately stage and its own court orchestra. And on the other hand, the enormous economic power of today’s Federal Republic, which can afford to provide financial support from the state for the wealth of high culture inherited from feudal times.
There are 81 places in the Federal Republic where musical theater is offered all year round. This means that Germany has as many permanently used opera houses to offer as the rest of the world put together. That’s how Ralph Bollmann calculated it. He traveled to all the singing muse temples in this country – and reported on his trips to the provinces in the book “Walküre in Detmold”, with an alert sociologist’s eye and loving admiration for the classic basic work.
The offers in the small and medium-sized stores are often more exciting than in the really big ones. Because in the so-called provinces one can plan more boldly, without considering the airs and graces of stars traveling through. And because the local audience is manageable and you have to bring out more premieres than in the metropolises, where even outdated productions of Aida, Bohème, Carmen and Co. can usually be filled with tourists.
The programmatic daring is cultivated particularly consistently at the Theater Erfurt. On the stage of the Thuringian state capital, which specializes in opera, operetta and musicals, the motto of the 2022/23 season is “Recognize yourself!”, after the famous inscription on the temple of Delphi. In the next season in Erfurt, everything revolves around ancient Greece, across all genres, from the first to the last premiere.
The new general music director Alexander Prior starts in October with Richard Strauss’ “Elektra” – and later even adds the sequel with Felix Weingartner’s “Orestes”: Weingartner, a celebrated conductor during his lifetime, set to music in 1902 what happened in the ancient tragedy after the Death of Clytemnestra and Aegisth happens: Orestes places his fate in the hands of the gods and is acquitted by Athena. Because she manages to calm down the Erinyes as well, the cycle of murder and revenge is finally broken.
And the highly motivated new music director has taken on another repertoire rarity, Gluck’s “Telemaco oder die Insel der Circe” from 1765. The “dramma per musica” revolves around Odysseus’ son, who has to deal with a moody sorceress. The opera reformer Gluck not only offers virtuoso arias here, he also inserts choral scenes and dances into the plot, entirely in the style of Greek dramas. Mikis Theodorakis also followed them when he reworked his “Zorbas” film music into a ballet for the Arena di Verona in 1988. The choreographer Jorge Pérez Martínez brings this festival version to the stage in Erfurt.
The former Greek general music director of the house, Myron Michailidis, conducts the premiere of an opera that he commissioned during his tenure: composer Nestor Taylor was inspired by the autobiographical novel “Eleni” by author Nicholas Gage. It tells of the civil war between communist partisans and right-wing Greek government troops in 1946-49.
As a musical, there is the 1938 Broadway show “The Boys From Syracuse” written by Richard Rodgers based on Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” – the city on Sicily was in ancient times the largest Hellenic settlement outside of their homeland. Their splendor can still be admired in the “zona archeologica” of Siracusa. A rarity related to Hellas can be heard from the bel canto hit writer Gioacchino Rossini, namely “The Siege of Corinth”, a new version of his “Maometto secondo” written for Paris in 1826. In 2022/23, the most popular title in this Erfurt Greece panorama, which is open to discovery, is actually Jacques Offenbach’s antique satirical operetta “The Beautiful Helena”. Hats off to so much courage!