Interior view of an empty auditorium of the Bayerischen Staatsoper in Munich.

Opera and theatre

A guide to Munich's opera and theatre scene

Munich’s stages are legendary – and diverse. We have put together a Q and A as a guide to Munich's theatre and opera scene.

Where can you meet opera stars after a performance?

 

There once was a time when opera stars used to behave in a manner that you’d now only expect from Mariah Carey. They drew up pages of special requests for their hotels, blowing all normal demands out of the water. Bayerische Hof Hotel, for instance, used to build a high-tech kitchen in a suite every time pasta-lover Luciano Pavarotti came to visit. However, the business of being an opera star has become more fast-paced – and, as a result, more demanding. A life spread between San Francisco, New York, Tokyo and Europe requires the artists of today to develop an iron constitution. World-class singers now live lifestyles as disciplined as those of professional athletes. No-one puts away pounds of spaghetti after midnight any more.

World-class singers now live lifestyles as disciplined as those of professional athletes. No-one puts away pounds of spaghetti after midnight any more.

Though star tenor Rolando Villazon is still known for going out after a performance – even then he only ever makes it to the somewhat subdued setting of Spatenhaus opposite the opera. A few world-class conductors also eat at Schwarzreiter at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten – another obvious choice as many of them stay at the hotel during a run of performances.

So if you manage to stretch out your coffee and scones long enough beneath the magnificent art nouveau dome in the foyer, you may be lucky enough to spot celebrities passing by. Every now and then, you may meet the run-of-the mill wannabes from Munich society and the odd CEO in Brenner restaurant once the curtains have closed. And the opera’s very own boss? He doesn’t go out much. The artistic director of the Staatsoper (State Opera), Nikolaus Backler, prefers to invite guests to his apartment in Schwabing.

What exactly is the difference between the Volkstheater (Folk Theatre), Residenztheater (Residence Theatre) and Kammerspiele (Kammerspiele Theatre)?

 

The Kammerspiele: Currently unlike nowhere else on the Munich theatre scene. And also always clearly on the move. Following the arrival of current artistic director Matthias Lilienthal (who moved to Munich from Berlin), the theatre has significantly changed its profile, becoming a mix between a club and a stage for experimental theatre. It now hosts performances and theatrical hybrid events. The theatre itself doesn’t call its events “performances”, they’re more like projects.

The Residenztheater is one of the largest and best equipped venues in the German-speaking world.

Another factor important to the theatre’s management team: promoting the internationalisation that first began under Lilienthal’s predecessor, Johan Simons of the Netherlands. This change is reflected, for example, in the increasingly international ensemble or in its work with directors like Philippe Quessne, Rabih Mroué or Toshiki Okada.

And of course, in its English subtitles. This aspect is the theatre’s real unique-selling point on the Munich theatre scene – for the time being at least. So if you’re feeling adventurous, what are you waiting for?!

The Volkstheater: Despite having a name that sounds as though it is steeped in tradition, the Volkstheater is actually a very young establishment and only opened back in 1983. The current artistic director Christian Stückl was born and bred in Oberammergau, regularly directs the Passion Play and is a trained wood sculptor – so his Bavarian roots run pretty deep.

The average age of the ensemble and directors is younger than at the Residenztheater, and the same goes for the range of works. This is best demonstrated at the annual “Radikal jung” festival (“Young Radicals”), which showcases incredible performances by young theatre makers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland – an event that is always worth a visit.

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The Residenztheater: It is one of the largest and best equipped venues in the German-speaking world. It currently attracts huge crowds from the middle class elite and middle-aged academics. Nevertheless, it remains something of a revolutionary at heart; it’s just grown up a bit, that’s all.

If you are looking for a popular, well-known piece of global literature (Shakespeare, Schiller, Moliere, Ibsen), this is the ideal place for you. And anyone, like artistic director Martin Kušej himself – born and bred in Carinthia and future director of the Burgtheater in Vienna – who has a penchant der Stadt München. for southern German and Austrian dramas (Schnitzler, Grillparzer) will love it, too.

How do you spot a true opera fan?

 

Unlike in Hamburg, Frankfurt or Berlin, in Munich it is completely normal for guests to gather at the stage entrance on Maximilianstrasse to get the singers’ autographs after an opera performance. Experienced pros have each evening’s cast list signed. And no, they don’t end up on Ebay but are added to lovingly compiled collections.

At the opera’s glass door, you have the biggest chance of meeting people like Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko in person – after all, everyone has to pass the concierge sooner or later. And they are all actually delighted to meet fans. And take selfies with them, too.

Despite the often nit-picking critiques in the local papers, the standard of all Munich productions is normally incredible. The bar is traditionally set quite high in the city on the Isar.

The standard of all Munich productions is normally incredible. The bar is traditionally set quite high in the city on the Isar, so it’s no wonder the critics have been a little spoilt. A celebrated production in other cities comes out as average at best in Munich. The large number of private theatres sometimes bear the brunt of this and aren’t treated to good criticism too regularly.

Nevertheless, this shouldn’t put anyone off. If you’re open-minded and curious and Munich “Abendzeitung” newspaper’s review of the première isn’t too bad, you can normally expect to experience an exciting few hours.

What’s the best way to act in Munich’s theatres without revealing yourself as a newbie?

 

If you don’t want to stand out on your first trip to a Munich theatre, you need to watch what you say, even while you’re still at the counter: No-one, and we mean no-one, says “Residenztheater”. Or even “Bayerische Staatsschauspiel” (Bavarian State Theatre). Everyone calls it “Resi”. And: Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera) is an institution of the Free State of Bavaria, which is housed in a building named Münchner Nationaltheater (Munich National Theater). Mixing up the two terms, saying “Münchner Staatsoper” for instance, is sure to garner some raised eyebrows, at the very least.

Another insider tip for using the right lingo: In the opera’s foyer, directly behind the marble-adorned entrance hall, there are three raised busts of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. If you want to meet at the bar there during the interval, arrange to meet your companion for champagne “at the house deities”.

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Seating, cloakroom and catering: What else do you have to look out for on a trip to a theatre?

 

Your ticket will be printed with “rechts” (right) or “links” (left), and this is based on the audience’s perspective and not on the perspective from the stage. The cloakrooms at the Staatsoper and the Resi are free, though the Kammerspiele charges €1. None of the theatres have enough ladies’ toilets, which is why we recommending locating one before the start of the production so you can head straight there at the start of the interval – otherwise you may not spend the 20 precious minutes with a Hugo cocktail in your hand but in a queue instead.

Speaking of the interval: The opera has recently changed its caterers. You no longer enjoy the traditional dish of vanilla ice cream with hot raspberries in the “beim Käfer” restaurant as guests did for 53 long years before. Now it is served in “beim Dallmayr”.

 

 

Text: Margot Weber; Photos: Wilfried Hösl, Frank Stolle, Luis Gervasi, Vittorio Sciosia, Felix Löchner

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