TWO ISLANDS OF ILLUSIONS


The stage of the Bayerische Staatsoper
The island of Ariadne on Naxos 


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The Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich
 

The art form of opera has existed for around 400 years - its tradition in Munich is just as long, dating back to the Baroque period. The first Italian court opera house was inaugurated here in 1653. Munich's considerable reputation as an opera city is based on the connections of composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss to the Bavarian metropolis. Today, the Bayerische Staatsoper is one of the most important opera institutions in the world and is housed in the Munich National Theater. First opened in 1818, the neoclassical-style theater building with its magnificent auditorium for 2,101 seats and its foyers is one of the largest and most beautiful opera houses in the world. For the most famous singers, the most important conductors and the most interesting directors, the stage of the National Theater was and still is an island. An island for illusions, imaginations and excursions. An island for living art: for opera.

Important world premieres have taken place at the Munich Opera: Idomeneo by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1781; its success prompted the composer to move from Salzburg to Munich. 1865: World premiere of Tristan und Isolde, the work that revolutionized the world of music, at the Royal Court and National Theatre in Munich.

The close relationship between Richard Wagner and King Ludwig II of Bavaria also led to the world premieres of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868), Das Rheingold (1869) and Die Walküre (1870) in Munich.

Other important world premieres at the Munich National Theatre: Richard Strauss Capriccio (1942), Aribert Reimann Lear, (1978), Miroslav Srnka South Pole (2016)...

Even today, almost every season at the Bayerische Staatsoper sees premieres and first performances of "new" opera works. For example, Krzysztof Penderecki's The Devils of Loudun, directed by Simon Stone, was staged for the first time in Munich as the festival opening (2022)with overwhelming success. It was conducted by the Bavarian General Music Director Vladimir Jurowski, a conductor who is always resolutely committed to new and often unwieldy works.

The National Theatre

 

Die Teufel von Loudun

This was followed a year later by the opera Hamlet (2023) by composer Brett Dean. This year (2024), the Munich premiere of György Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre, a modern classic, is eagerly awaited.

The Royal Court and National Theater is inaugurated in 1818. It had 2,600 seats and Munich had 50,000 inhabitants! Its architect, Karl von Fischer, was inspired by the Greek temple and the Théâtre de l'Odeon in Paris. Disastrous fire in 1823, rebuilt by Leo von Klenze, reopened in 1825. Destruction of the building in 1943 due to heavy bombing of Munich during the Second World War. Reopened in 1963.

After the Second World War, instead of building an opera house in modern architecture, it was decided to reconstruct the old opera house from 1825. At 2,500 square meters, the stage is one of the largest in the world. The auditorium offers 2,101 seats - and every evening the freedom for 2,101 individual impressions, 2,101 different emotions, 2,101 different opinions, 2,101 individual listening experiences...

Destruction of the National Theater by bombing raids in 1943 and 1944

© Archive Bayerische Staatsoper
© Archive Bayerische Staatsoper

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss are revered as "household gods" due to their personal connection to the Munich Opera. Their works have always played a special role in exemplary productions and musical interpretations.

Mozart's works in particular have been cultivated in Munich since the beginning of Serge Dorny's directorship. Under his premise "I am not the gatekeeper of a mausoleum", the Munich Opera succeeds in presenting completely new perspectives on the works of the Salzburg genius and a Mozart ensemble of young singers is quickly established. 

The Bayerische Staatsoper sees itself as an opera "theater" beyond the mainstream and beyond convention. This has earned it the highest praise time and again. The Opera Award is one of the most prestigious awards in the international opera business: in 2023, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich triumphed as "Opera House of the Year" for the second time since 2018. On top of this, Sergei Prokofiev's War and Peace, newly staged by Dmitri Tcherniakov, was named best opera production.

 

 
Der Rosenkavalier
Lohengrin
Così fan tutte
Le nozze di Figaro
Krieg und Frieden

500 years of living tradition
 

The Bayerische Staatsorchester celebrated its five-hundredth anniversary in 2023. It is one of the oldest and most traditional ensembles in the world. Based in the Bayerische Staatsoper, the orchestra and its 144 members perform both in the orchestra pit and on the concert platform. In 2022, the orchestra was voted Orchestra of the Year for the eighth time in a row in the critics' survey conducted by Opernwelt magazine.

Important general music directors have shaped the high quality of the Bayerische Staatsorchester at all times as music directors of the Munich Opera.

Singular conductors such as Ferenc Fricsay, Sir Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado, Ricardo Muti, Rafael Kubelik, Lorin Maazel, Karl Böhm and above all Carlos Kleiber have also had a formative influence on the Bayerische Staatsoper. 

 

 
Joseph Keilberth
Wolfgang Sawallisch
Zubin Mehta
Kent Nagano
Kirill Petrenko
Vladimir Jurowski
Bayerisches Staatsorchester

Richard Strauss
 

Richard Strauss was born in Munich in 1864. His father was a horn player at the Court and National Theater in Munich; his mother came from the Munich beer brewing dynasty Pschorr (to whom Der Rosenkavalier is also dedicated). At the beginning of his artistic life, Strauss conducted the Munich Opera for the first time in 1886. His compositional work was initially strongly influenced by his admiration for Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt, which is why he is classified as late Romantic. Early tone poems from the 1880s include Macbeth, Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration. After the turn of the century, Richard Strauss turned increasingly to opera as a composer alongside his conducting activities. He achieved his first extraordinary success in 1905 with the then scandalous Salome. Strauss found a congenial partner at this time in the Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. After their first collaboration (Elektra, 1909), Hofmannsthal went on to write the libretti for a further five of the composer's operas (including Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Arabella).

After the Nazis seized power in 1933, the bourgeois conservative Richard Strauss allowed himself to be appropriated as an artist by the new rulers and used politically. The most famous German composer became president of the Reich Chamber of Music, conducted Wagner's Parsifal in Bayreuth (after Toscanini had canceled in protest against the Nazis) and composed the anthem for the opening of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. After the death of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss looked for a new librettist. He found him in the Jewish poet Stefan Zweig, who wrote the text for the opera Die schweigsame Frau (1935). However, this collaboration made him suspect to the National Socialists.

The complex artistic personality of Richard Strauss located many of his operatic subjects in the past: Der Rosenkavalier is set at the time of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, Arabella is set in Vienna in the 1860s, Ariadne in the Rococo style. Richard Strauss' last opera Capriccio, a "conversation piece for music", is also set in the rococo period. Capriccio was premiered in 1942 at the Munich National Theater under the direction of Clemens Krauss.

A constant look back, as an escape from and from the present? Inner emigration into a world of yesterday? After the Second World War, Strauss lived mostly in his villa in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. His last major compositions include Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings (1946) as mourning music for Munich, which was destroyed in the war, and Vier letzte Lieder (1948). Richard Strauss died in Garmisch in 1949 at the age of 85.

The operas of the Munich native and cosmopolitan Richard Strauss are given special attention on the stage of the Bayerische Staatsoper. The Munich Opera has always faced up to Strauss' work anew and posed current questions to him - the answers and interpretations have always been different in their aesthetics.

Productions

  1. 1937-02-01
  2. 1963-05-22
    1965-05-19
    1966-08-17
  3. 1971-05-05
    1972-05-16
  4. 1997-05-20
  5. 2008-05-14
  6. 2010-05-12
    2013-05-14
    2015-05-13
  7. 2021-08-25
Next
  1. 1937

    Ariadne auf Naxos

    Arrival of Bacchus on the desert island. Directed by Rudolf Hartmann.

    © Hanns Holdt

  2. 1963

    Die Frau ohne Schatten

    For the reopening of the Munich National Theater under the direction of Rudolf Hartmann

    © Sabine Toepffer

  3. 1965

    Arabella

    Staged by Rudolf Hartmann with Lisa della Casa as Arabella

    © Rudolf Betz

  4. 1966

    Salome

    1966 staged by Günther Rennert

    © Sabine Toepffer

  5. 1971

    Die schweigsame Frau

    Director: Günther Rennert

    © Sabine Toepffer

  6. 1972

    Der Rosenkavalier

    The "cult production" by Otto Schenk and Carlos Kleiber with stage design by Jürgen Rose (1972). This production thrilled audiences with its scenic opulence for almost 50 years.

    © Sabine Toepffer

  7. 1997

    Elektra

    Staged by Herbert Wernicke with Marjana Lipovsek as Klytämnestra and Gabriele Schnaut in the title role

  8. 2008

    Ariadne auf Naxos

    Production Robert Carsen

    © W. Hösl

  9. 2010

    Die schweigsame Frau

    Director: Barrie Kosky

    © W. Hösl

  10. 2013

    Die Frau ohne Schatten

    An exceptional interpretation by director Krzysztof Warlikowski with Kirill Petrenko on the podium.

    © W. Hösl

  11. 2015

    Arabella

    (Directed by Andreas Dresen) with Anja Harteros in the title role. The show stairs remained.

    © W. Hösl

  12. 2021

    Der Rosenkavalier

    Directed by Barrie Kosky, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Clever new interpretation!

    © W. Hösl

Ariadne auf Naxos
 

Ariadne auf Naxos: Two works are on the program. A light and funny singspiel and a serious grand opera. For reasons of "time management", the organizer, "the richest man in Vienna", decides to perform both pieces at the same time: Take two - pay one!

The artists are now faced with the difficult task of performing the comedic "and" the tragic piece at the same time and in the same place. The place? An island, its name Naxos: desolate, empty, uninhabited.

So is it possible to perform the comic intermezzo "Zerbinetta and her lovers" and the tragic opera "Ariadne" there at the same time? Yes, if you have to. The richest man in Vienna wants it that way. He wants crossover! "Entertainment" and "seriousness" should be mixed - and it works. To the delight of the audience and the recognition of the characters on stage.

The idea of the director of the production of Ariadne auf Naxos, Robert Carsen, is as simple as it is plausible: the empty stage of the Bayerische Staatsoper is the desert island! 

In order to make the desert island / stage habitable, i.e. to fill it with life, you have to play theater on it. To do this, director Carsen, just like the characters in Richard Strauss' opera "Ariadne auf Naxos", resorts to the means of the theater: only through scenery, masks, costumes, props, theater blood and artist's sweat does an empty opera stage become an island of illusions.

Every empty opera stage should be called Naxos, because every empty opera stage is a desert island - only when you play on it, whether Tristan and Isolde or Wozzeck, whether Le nozze di Figaro or La Traviata, only then does it transform into an "island of illusions", an island of art and - sometimes - also an island of a better reality.

 
Ariadne auf Naxos
Ariadne auf Naxos
Ariadne auf Naxos
Ariadne auf Naxos
Ariadne auf Naxos