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An interview with: Matthias Schulz, Director of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden
On 1st April 2018 Matthias Schulz takes up his post as sole Director of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden after two years working in tandem with Jürgen Flimm. He talks of emotional experiences during his time at the helm and looks forward to some highlights in the coming season.

You’ve now been at this illustrious musical institution for two years – based in the Schillertheater initially and now at the core premises on Unter den Linden. What sensations do you have when you’re on your way to work?

It’s a daily delight for me to be commuting to work here in the old heart of Berlin and I love crossing Bebelplatz and walking up to our pink-tinged building. I’m continually moved by how strongly the staff and artists identify with the place, which has witnessed so much upheaval over the years.

Has there been one particular moment that kind of sums up your personal fascination with the Staatsoper?

A very special moment came when the very first note was struck by the Staatskapelle Berlin in the newly modified hall. It was very touching to witness the emotional response of many of our long-serving orchestra members and technicians when they returned to the premises and heard the improved acoustics. They all knew in their hearts that this wasn’t just any old reopening. And it has served as a motivation for everything that lies ahead.

What does it mean for you to be staging opera on these premises?

I set great store on narrowing the perceived gap between opera and audience. The Staatsoper has 1,400 seats, which isn’t huge but is quite sizeable nonetheless. The audience is close to the goings-on onstage, can pick up the nuances of expression of the singers and actors and every detail of the music in its full dynamic breadth. Then there are the new technical features: the stage’s tilting mechanism, the 30-metre-high fly tower, the 9-metre deep trap room – facilities that enable new theatrical worlds to be created in seconds. We want to waken people’s curiosity in opera as a living art form offering a multi-sensory experience.

What are the main things to look forward to in the coming seasons?

Our root position chord, if you like, remains “Verdi – Wagner – Strauss”. Plus Mozart, who I feel has been missing from the programme in recent years. But we’re also putting on a new Baroque Festival and the “Linden 21” programme presenting innovative forms of musical theatre.

“Linden 21” uses a range of different performance spaces on the premises. What can the audience expect from the programme?

I could single out three of the projects. In the old orchestra rehearsal room we’re doing “Usher”, an opera fragment by Claude Debussy based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher”, which the Belgian composer Annelies Van Parys has adapted for a chamber setting and embellished. In Philippe Quesne’s version the audience is sitting right there in the gloomy mansion. On the main stage we’re presenting “himmelerde” with the “Musicbanda Franui”, which uses a panoply of instruments associated with the mountains. The band has also done an amazing job transposing Schubert lieder into their language and will be teaming up with the “Familie Flöz” from Berlin, Anna Prohaska and Florian Boesch to present a very unusual evening of musical theatre. The Apollosaal will host “A Monteverdi Project” as part of the Baroque Festival – the world premiere of a work by Israeli director and choreographer Saar Magal, which explores shifting forms of love and sexuality against a backdrop of technological developments. Among the musicians is double bass player Haggai Cohen-Milo, who’s equally at home in jazz and classic settings. This piece is taking shape during the rehearsal phase, which is more protracted than would normally be the case. It’s something I want to do: open up the house and also allow scope for improvisation.

What are the must-sees?

Obviously I’m looking forward hugely to the grand premiere of “Medea” by Luigi Cherubini in the French version with Daniel Barenboim. To Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Hippolyte et Aricie” with Simon Rattle as part of the Baroque Festival, where Ólafur Eliasson will be in charge of the entire stage set. And to the world premiere of Beat Furrer’s psychological drama “Violet Snow”, which is going to be extremely striking visually. Prokofiev’s only comedy, “Betrothal in a Monastery”, is a real discovery for us and has, for decades, been a favourite of Dmitri Tscherniakov, the production’s director and set designer, ever since the time he spent watching it repeatedly in Moscow as a teenager. I’m also delighted that we’ll be mounting a new “Berlin version” of Jörg Widmann’s 2012 opera “Babylon”. It’s a rare opportunity to tinker with a piece of modern musical theatre.

Interview: Annette Zerpner