10 Mar 2023

The Grandest of Opera: 10 years of Baden-Baden

Ten years of the Baden-Baden Easter Festival! That means a decade full of musical highlights.  In 2023, there are two reasons to celebrate: not only the anniversary of the Easter Festival, but also the 25th anniversary of the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus, which with its 2500 seats is regarded as the largest opera house in Germany. The Easter Festival in the spa town on the edge of the Black Forest in early spring has a charm all its own. Only in Baden-Baden can we also enjoy the Berliner Philharmoniker in the capacity of an opera orchestra.

"Welcome to Baden-Baden!" In 2013, musicians of the Berliner Philharmoniker signed the golden book of the city at the city hall.

The list of opera productions that the orchestra has presented in the past ten years is wide-ranging, from Mozart’s Magic Flute, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Tosca, to Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, Wagner’s Tristan and Parsifal, Verdi’s Otello and Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, staged in 2022 under the baton of Kirill Petrenko. In the last two years, Petrenko has also conducted concert performances of Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa and Iolanta. In addition to the opera performances, which form the heart of the festival, orchestral concerts with international soloists and conductors as well as exciting chamber concerts with ensembles of the Berliner Philharmoniker complete the concept of the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden.

Mystical, enigmatic, and musically beautiful

This year, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Kirill Petrenko present one of Richard Strauss’ most enigmatic, symbolic and important operas: Die Frau ohne Schatten. The title role is sung by Elza van den Heever, who delighted the press with her interpretation in her role debut in 2020. As the Emperor, she is joined by the American singer Clay Hilley, currently one of the most sought-after heroic tenors. No less brilliant are Miina-Liisa Värelä and Wolfgang Koch as the Dyer and his wife, who have both already impressed in these roles at Bayerische Staatsoper. The mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster sings the demonic Nurse. The director is Lydia Steier, herself a trained singer and currently opera director at the Luzerner Theater, who has earned an international reputation for her intelligent, insightful productions.

Kirill Petrenko conducts a performance of “Queen of Spades” 2022.

Of heroes, lovers and pleasure seekers

Works by Richard Strauss also dominate the orchestral concert conducted by Kirill Petrenko. In addition to the lush, sonorous tone poem Ein Heldenleben, in which the composer draws parallels to his own life, the Four Last Songs reflecting farewell and death will be sung by soprano Diana Damrau. In the second programme of the orchestral concerts, Daniel Harding and the Berliner Philharmoniker evoke the fin de siècle era: they present Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with its famous Adagietto, a tender musical declaration of love to his wife Alma, which later became famous through Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Daniel Harding opens with Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, which in their brevity are a counterpart to the monumental symphonies of the time, but are in no way inferior to them in terms of expression or emotional power. A contrast to these two orchestral concerts is the performance of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno with Emmanuelle Haïm at the helm of the Philharmoniker. Although the composer wrote this work at the age of 22, it contains everything that distinguishes his later oratorios: intense emotion, delicate arias, and opera-like ensemble scenes. The story tells of a young man addicted to pleasure who finally realises how fleeting all outward beauty is – a timelessly topical subject.

Clear the stage for the next generation

It is no longer possible to imagine the Easter Festival without the concert by the National Youth Orchestra of Germany, whose patron is the Berliner Philharmoniker. Coached by members of the Philharmoniker, the young instrumentalists perform Richard Strauss’ Serenade in E-flat major for 13 wind instruments, Gideon Klein’s Partita for string orchestra and – under the direction of Kirill Petrenko – Robert Schumann’s Fourth Symphony.

A constant part of the festival programme: a concert with the Bundesjugendorchester. Sir Simon Rattle conducted in 2015.

Music in many places

There will also be music non-stop away from the Festspielhaus – 13 chamber concerts will be given by members of the Berliner Philharmoniker: in the Weinbrenner Saal and the Runder Saal of the Kurhaus, in the Malersaal of the venerable Hotel Maison Messmer, in the Stiftskirche, in the Casino and in the Baden-Baden Theatre. Permanent ensembles such as Bolero Berlin, the Scharoun Ensemble, the Philharmonic String Quartet and the Brahms Ensemble will be performing as well as groups that come together regularly for individual projects. The string quartet is the focus of these concerts, with programmes ranging from Haydn to Modernism. Here, too, the focus is on works by Richard Strauss, as well as by Max Reger, Anton Bruckner and Hans Pfitzner.

A varied chamber music programme is also part of the Easter Festival. Various ensembles of the Berliner Philharmoniker present chamber music at different venues.

In addition, works by composers such as Erwin Schulhoff, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Hanns Eisler and Alexander von Zemlinsky will be presented, and the Ensemble Bolero Berlin will follow in the footsteps of Astor Piazzolla. With the theme of “Richard and the Women”, members of the Theater Baden-Baden ensemble and the Philharmoniker will jointly explore the feminine in music. The Berliner Philharmoniker’s education programme is aimed at young audiences with its Zukunft(s)Kultur format, and another highlight of the festival is the lecture by Nobel Prize winner for literature Herta Müller on the subject of ciphers in art. What ciphers will be revealed in Strauss’ Frau ohne Schatten?


Find the full programme of the Easter Festival here.

by Nicole Restle
photos by Monika Rittershaus