Kammeroper: Miniature Forms of Musical Theatre

The Kammeroper is now a second house of the Theater an der Wien: a success for some and a defeat for others


Under new management, the intimate Kammeroper still consitutes a unique venue | Photo: VBW

In June it seemed as if the Vienna Kammeroper (Chamber Opera) had sung its final season. It seemed like such a loss: The little theatre at the rim of the opera scene in Vienna would have been celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2013. But in a new twist to the story, in the last months, as if behind the scenes, suddenly the money was finally released, along with new management. This season, the house of mini-music theatre has come under the artistic umbrella of Theater an der Wien.

In May 2011, the Ministry of Education announced that it was discontinuing its subsidies for the Kammeroper’s 2012/13 season. This came after a series of radical budget cuts: Its budget of €650,000 a year in 2008 had become €150,000 by 2011.

The announcement caused an uproar on the international opera scene. The Kammeroper had been considered a proving ground for young singers for many of the winners of the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition, founded 30 years ago by Hans Gabor – also the founder of the Kammeroper. It provided a mutually beneficial constellation: a hunt for young talent combined with a place to perform.

Since 1961, the theatre’s home has been the former dance hall of the Post Hotel on Drachengasse in the 1st District. Adapted for opera performances, the house has a mere 300 seats. Works performed in such an intimate space are special. As such, the term “chamber opera” is imprecise. It can include very early opera, late 16th century works, with small instrumental groups and just a few singers. Or 20th century works with specialty ensembles. This often leads to performances of rarely heard works, which in itself is a good argument for a Kammeroper to exist.

From June to September 2011 there was a successful online petition to save the theatre, and funding seemed again secure, with some support and plans to rent the theatre to other groups. What happened next is unclear, even to those most closely involved. According to Elisabeth Thun-Hohenstein, press spokesperson at the Kammeroper until last June, “We had the approval for the money from the City; it looked as though the theatre had been saved. And then it never arrived. It seemed politically planned.”

Perhaps it was: Much of the funding for musical theatre remains in the hands of the major houses, to the detriment of the much smaller, so-called “free” music theatre scene. In reaction, 13 companies banded together (see: www.musiktheater-wien.at) in 2011 as a platform for alternative musical theatre, from the ensemble adhoc, to Teatro Barocco, to Zoon Musiktheater. Then again, the new Kammeroper does plan to work together with a few smaller Viennese groups, such as the Neue Oper Wien, the Wiener Kammerorchester, and the Bach Consort Wien.

Despite all the unanswered questions, the reopening has awakened high hopes. Roland Geyer, general director at Theater an der Wien and thus, now also of the Kammeroper, looks ahead in imaginative and constructive ways to future possibilities and the satisfaction of needs.

One great need is a source of singers, a gap in an opera house like his that does not have a large ensemble on the payroll.

The new Artistic Director and Business Manager of the Kammeroper, Sebastian Schwarz, draws a parallel to the development of a new aircraft: He has created a new ensemble called JET, the “Jungen Ensemble des Theater an der Wien”. This “Young Ensemble” consists of seven talented singers, selected from three hundred, who have completed their studies and already have experience in several roles. They are under contract for two years. They will put on five operas this season as well as seven “portrait recitals”.

And so, the tradition of the Kammeroper as a stage to test young wings continues, a fact welcomed by Thun-Hohenstein.

The opening concert is on 8 October; the first opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio by Rossini, will have its premiere on 21 October (See Opera Events, page 24). Toi! Toi! Toi!

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