Wednesday 1 August 2012

Death in Duisburg?

Deutsche Oper am Rhein, logo
Since 1956, there has been an opera company based in Düsseldorf and Duisburg, in Germany's Ruhr valley, called Deutsche Oper am Rhein. The company performs at Opernhaus Düsseldorf (originally build in 1875 and re-built in 1956 after war damage) and Theater Duisburg (built in 1912 and re-built in 1950 after being completely destroyed in the war). In fact, it is much more than just an opera company, more like a cultural hub. There is the opera company and opera studio, the ballet (Ballett am Rhein) along with a ballet school, the Duisburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra, plus work with young children. Now all this is threatened.

Deutsche Oper am Rhein has always seemed one of the prime examples of how culture was embedded into German civic live in a way that it isn't in the UK. A collaboration between the state capital, Düsseldorf (population 1.5 million) and Duisburg (population 500,000 million), which supports and array of work that is impressive by any standards. In 2012/13 there are 13 new opera production, and 19 revivals, with everything from Handel to Wagner, Lehar to Montsalvtge and Zemlinsky. The season's ballet programmes include work by the ballet's director, along with Jerome Robbins, Hans van Manen, Anthony Tudor, Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine. Plus a lively programme of visiting companies and events.

But the city of Duisburg is drowning in debts, 2 billion euros of them, and the cultural project costs the city 10 million euros per year. So the agreement between the two cities is scheduled to end in September 2014. To howls of outrage in artistic quarters.

This would have a disastrous effect on cultural life in Duisburg and the Duisburg Philharmonic Orchestra (70% of whose work comes from Deutche Oper am Rhein) would be seriously threatened. Düsseldorf would be left needing to make some pretty serious economies in the whole Deutche Oper am Rhein structure.

Richard von Weizsäcker, the first President of the re-united Germany, said 'culture is not a luxury we afford ourselves or can do without, but the spiritual survival that guarantees our actual inner survival'

It will be interesting to see whether this forward thinking model can survive the economic realities of the 21st century.

There is an on-line petition to save the company, do sign it.

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