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John Tusa's Opera Journey

John Tusa revisits three provincial German towns where in 1955, as a 19-year-old national serviceman, he discovered opera and finds out why, 62 years on, it's still thriving there.

John Tusa revisits the provincial German towns where as a 19-year-old national serviceman he first discovered opera in 1955 and finds out why, 62 years on, it's still thriving there.

Back then, he was based in the centre of the country, at the garrison in Celle. None of his fellow officers seemed to think it at all unusual when John vanished off from time to time to spend an evening in nearby Hanover glorying, for example, in the Verdian climaxes of what was billed as "Die Macht des Schicksals". Though only when the orchestra struck up the opening bars of The Force of Destiny overture did John realise what he'd booked seats for!

From Hanover, it's a 300-mile round trip to Essen, in the much-bombed Ruhr valley, but to enjoy the wonders of Mozart's Idomeneo, or to travel to the far north of the country to have his first ever taste of Wagner, it was worth it...

More than 60 years on, original programme pages in hand, John retraces those journeys to find out what makes German opera, outside the great houses of Berlin and Munich, tick. Because tick it certainly does.

Along the way, John meets the current "Intendants" (directors) of all three houses, their artistic directors and house singers. Today, still, Germany counts its opera houses in the dozens - as many as 80 or 90 of varying sizes - most with an ultra-loyal public who are happy to pay not-many euros to enjoy often world-class singing and playing. So what's the trick? And - in the Facebook age - is the audience of young people shrinking? And what are the houses doing to counter that?

Oh, yes: and at Hanover, John enjoys the latest Forza del Destino, while in Essen, it's still Mozart (Clemenza di Tito in 2017), and in Kiel, he catches up with Wagner - The Valkyrie.

Producer: Simon Elmes.

Available now

1 hour

Music Played

  • Leonard Bernstein

    3 Dance episodes from 'On the town'

    Orchestra: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Leonard Slatkin.
    • Barber/Bernstein/Gershwin/Copland: Great American Showpieces.
    • Angel.
    • 7.

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