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Staatsoper Berlin Finally Reopens. Sort Of.

The season includes seven full-scale premiere productions and 16 symphonic concerts with the house orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, which will perform both at home and at the Philharmonie.


Christine Gottschalk, a restorer, works in the main corridor of the building, constructed in 1742.

Gordon Welters for The New York Times

Mr. Flimm admitted that after seven successful seasons at the Schiller Theater, which housed 100 premieres and had an attendance rate of roughly 90 percent, he had “a tear in the eye” as he faced the task of moving back to the Staatsoper Unter den Linden and mounting productions in unfamiliar conditions.

The “Faust” staging will repurpose partly constructed sets that were intended for a new opera, “Saul,” by the German composer Wolfgang Rihm, which was canceled at the last minute when Mr. Rihm fell ill.

The new premises include a 115-meter (377 foot) underground tunnel connecting the rehearsal center to the main stage, a feature that contributed to the delayed reopening but will also increase the speed of operations.

Matthias Schulz, the incoming general director who officially begins his tenure in April, was confident that the house would quickly become part of a vibrant cultural district that includes the Humboldt Forum — the city palace that is being rebuilt and scheduled to open in 2019 — Humboldt University, the Konzerthaus and the Museum Island.

“It will adjust the city’s point of gravity,” Mr. Schulz said.

The opera house was erected in 1742 as part of a cultural forum under the Prussian King Friedrich II, but it was subsequently destroyed three times — by fire in the 19th century and twice during World War II. The German Democratic Republic-era building, whose interior is sometimes referred to by locals as “socialist rococo,” was last reopened in 1955.


The Staatsoper on the historic Boulevard Unter den Linden.

Gordon Welters for The New York Times

The current renovation included over 90 different companies attending to details such as the walls’ gilded ornamentation and the chandeliers.

Mr. Schulz, working with Mr. Barenboim, hopes to create awareness of the Staatsoper’s historic roots while also establishing an accessible profile. He plans to set up a children’s orchestra involving all of the city’s public schools. He has also obtained support to increase the international opera studio by a third and intends to nurture artists with unconventional ideas about programming.

Mr. Barenboim said that a strong house ensemble, including talented young singers, has been core to the Staatsoper’s identity since his arrival in 1992, when he brought in the now-international soloists René Pape and Dorothea Röschmann. The “Faust” cast consists exclusively of ensemble singers.

“We will get the Anna Netrebkos and Placido Domingos in other productions,” he said.

Mr. Barenboim is also credited with bringing the Staatskapelle Berlin into the international spotlight after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The orchestra, the third oldest in the world, currently receives €1.8 million ($2.12 million) in additional funding from the federal government.

When the city committed itself in 2008 to renovating the Staatsoper, which needed to be reinforced from groundwater leaks, the conductor insisted that the acoustics also be improved. While he and Stefan Rosinski, the former Berlin Opera Foundation general director, advocated a full modernization of the interior, the mayor at the time, Klaus Wowereit, favored a historic preservation in keeping with German laws about cultural heritage.


Seating in the auditorium has been reduced to 1,356, from 1,398, to improve comfort and visibility.

Gordon Welters for The New York Times

The theater’s original ceiling has been raised by 5 meters (about 16 feet) and the space above the highest balcony has been lined with a ceramic, acoustically transparent net that evenly distributes sound. The reverberation time has been increased from 1.1 to 1.6 seconds and, according to the head acoustician Martijn Vercammen of Peutz Consult GmbH, the tone quality will be warmer and have more space to develop.

The opera foundation’s current general director, Georg Vierthaler, admitted that rebuilding the hall would have been an easier way to create optimal acoustics, but he said the final decision was a “pragmatic approach” because it offers listeners “an attractive, representative environment” in which to experience opera.

The number of seats has been reduced from 1,398 to 1,356 to create more comfort and better visibility. Mr. Schulz said the size of the theater — which has less capacity than either of the city’s other two opera houses, the Deutsche Oper and the Komische Oper — is a boon to creating a powerful live experience.

“One can really feel the vibrations of a singer or a cello,” he said.

Mr. Vierthaler said that while the Staatsoper enjoyed the longest history and most privileged location of the three opera houses, the foundation was committed to ensuring “that Berlin audiences and the whole world understand them as equally important.” Although the Staatskapelle should have the means to be on par with the Berlin Philharmonic in terms of quality, he continued, “that is not a contradiction.”

Starting in 2018, for two seasons, the federal government has pledged €10 million to the Opera Foundation. The allocation of funds has yet to be decided. Meanwhile, Mr. Schulz is working to expand private fund-raising.

Mr. Barenboim said that the Staatsoper would pursue the same artistic goals it has since he took the reins over two decades ago but also “continue to better itself” and “spare no effort in producing the highest quality possible.”

“It looks like it will be more successful than the airport,” he joked with regard to BER, the international airport that was scheduled to open in 2010.

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