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Gärtnerplatztheater Munich

Josef E. Köpplinger (artistic director)

Conversations

‘The Gärtnerplatztheater is music theatre for everyone’

The Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz is often portrayed as Munich's ‘people's opera’. What distinguishes the Gärtnerplatztheater in the opera landscape - in Munich itself and beyond?

Whoever goes to the Gärtnerplatztheater can choose among what distinguishes our house. We are one of the few European music theatres that unite all genres of music theatre under one roof: opera, operetta, musical and also dance. In addition, there are productions in all genres that are specifically aimed at children's and youth theatre.

We allow the genres to exist side by side on an equal footing without trying to pigeonhole them. Munich's people’s opera means that it really is music theatre for everyone. We try as far as possible to remove barriers. Theatre is not just about the noble, it is also entertainment. I care deeply that our Federal Theatre stands for an open and colourful society.

What can I expect when I attend a performance at the Gärtnerplatztheater for the first time?

Whoever visits our theatre can either walk in completely 'blindly' or be interested in our productions as an opera fan, which range from the Spieloper - almost the complete Mozart - to Aida, that is to say, the sophisticated bel canto repertoire and also include world premieres. As an operetta fan, you can choose between the revue operetta, the world premiere of an operetta or the classical pieces such as The Merry Widow and The Circus Princess. In dance, we have a very committed ballet director in Karl Alfred Schreiner, who brings contemporary style narrative ballets to the stage.

You have directed the opera house yourself since 2012. How has the profile of the Gärtnerplatztheater changed in almost a decade?

When I started as Staatsintendant (artistic director), instead of the planned three years, we spent five years wandering through the city because our beautiful European opera house was undergoing a general renovation. The exciting thing about it was that we were able to attract audiences who had not previously gone to the theatre and who followed us into the opera house.

This theatre, which opened in 1865 as the Aktien-Volkstheater, later devoted itself to musical theatre, with a focus on operetta and opera.

That's where I started. In addition to cultivating the traditional, it has always been important to me to stage many world premieres in all genres. If you include the ballet, there have been a good 20 world premieres since we started working together here. That is another characteristic and probably the most significant change in the image of our opera house: we demonstrate that new things don't need to be out of touch with the audience. Here, the new and the old stand side by side and with each other in all genres.

Since the second Lockdown, you have offered a successful series of free live streams. Straus & Strauss & Co. is already the tenth stream since the end of November last year. What made you decide to broadcast live performances? And what have you learned from this experience?

I'm learning first and foremost how old streaming is a wonderful thing when the audience can't go to the opera, but it's no substitute for the feeling of a live performance. It never will be, for all its efforts. The smell of the theatre, feeling and breathing with the singers in the collective of the auditorium. 900 people wanting to breathe together, waiting for the top notes, waiting for the drama of the story, laughing together. This is something society needs. It is indispensable to watch the game, to have the mirror held up to us, but also to receive balm for the soul and spirit.

I decided to do live streams because it's the only chance to keep us alive, to provide artists - regulars as well as guests - not only with applause, but with a decent living.

How were you able to implement the streams technically?

We received great support from the Ministry of Arts so that we could get our equipment because we didn't have any appropriate equipment at the beginning. We do the recording itself with in-house staff and one or two external camera operators to bring our performances to the screens, iPhones, tablets and computers as professionally as possible. The high click numbers are gratifying. They are growing, but at the same time there is a growing desire on the part of the audience to actually come back to the theatre. We hope that will soon be possible.

Straus & Strauss & Co. brings together highlights from opera and operetta in a colourful programme. It is still unusual for the two genres to come together so harmoniously on stage. How did the inspiration for this special programme come about?

It was the idea of my dramaturge Dr Fedora Wesseler. When the first lockdown ended in June 2020, we initially had the opportunity to play in front of 50 spectators, which grew to 200 in the last few summer days. In a house with 900 seats, this is of course not ideal. We showed two programmes. One was the operetta programme, ‘Friends, life is worth living’, where we revived the heyday of operetta through the character of Franz Lehàr, portrayed by Erwin Windegger, sitting in the box and talking about operetta and also a little bit of the zeitgeist. The other was the opera programme ‘My yearning, my obsession’.

Since so few people were able to see the programmes, which were so well received, we decided that we would like to interweave them, in keeping with our philosophy, to illustrate how close opera and operetta ultimately are.

It also allowed for the ensemble to rehearse and share their art with an audience again. They are like racehorses pawing with their hooves. They are waiting to show off their beautiful voices again. The reception has been brilliant.

If you hear applause during the stream, it is the theatre staff. About 50 of them volunteered to attend, not only to support their colleagues but also to prove that it is possible to be safe in the theatre.

If we can reopen in the long term after the pandemic, we would like to bring our opera house to Europe. We are a European opera house, cooperating with Barcelona, Toulouse, Dresden, Vienna and Switzerland. We hope to be able to share streams with you in the future and show you all that's going on in Munich.

Straus & Strauss & Co. - Watch the full performance on OperaVision from 6 March to 6 May 2021.