View from the stage into the auditotium of the Bavarian State Opera, Munich
View from the stage into the auditotium of the Bavarian State Opera, Munich  
Photo:  Wilfried Hösl  /  Bayerische Staatsoper
Millions of people attend music theatre performances in Germany every year. Half of the over 11,000 events are opera performances, followed by dance, musicals and operettas.

Music theatre with its various genres – opera, dance, musical and operetta – is clearly the favourite with Germany’s theatre audiences. The 2016-17 season saw a total of 7.2 million visits to such performances in Germany, of which some 3.8 involved opera, 1.6 million dance, 1.4 million musical productions and 400,000 operetta. In the same season there were roughly 5.2 million visits to performances of spoken theatre. [1] The infrastructure that sustains this tradition is correspondingly expansive. Germany has 83 fully professional, publicly funded opera houses or opera divisions in multifunctional theatres. These are augmented by many independent ensembles performing opera, dance and musicals, professional private theatres (especially for musicals) and national and international festivals offering a wide variety of productions. Their distribution among Germany’s types of music theatre constitutes what might be called the ‘music theatre market’. Op eras make up approximately half of all stage performances; musicals account ford another 20 per cent, as do ballet and dance theatre combined, with operettas mak ing up roughly 8 per cent (see Fig. 4)

Germany’s music theatre landscape, along with its orchestral landscape, has been proposed for inclusion in the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. [2] Its importance becomes clear when viewed in an international context. According to figures from the Operabase platform, roughly 7,000 opera and operetta performances took place in Germany during the 2017-18 season – more than in any other country on earth.

Scene from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Bavarian State Opera
Scene from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Bavarian State Opera (2016/17)  
Photo:  Wilfried Hösl  /  Bayerische Staatsoper

The number of music theatre performances in the German-speaking countries is also high when considered in relation to population, though here Germany is even surpassed by Austria and Switzerland. There were also a good many performances in Central and Eastern Europe as well as Scandinavia. Russia, in comparison, which holds second place worldwide in number of performances (though lagging far behind Germany), ranks 24th when considered on a per capita basis. [3]

The German theatre system

Germany’s theatre system falls into two categories: publicly funded theatres and private theatres, with the former further sub-divided into state theatres, municipal theatres and regional theatres (Landestheater) (see Fig. 1). State theatres are those prestigious houses which are, with rare exceptions, wholly owned by one of Germany’s federal states (Länder) and are at least 50 per cent financed from the state’s budget. Most state theatres were originally court or ‘residence’ theatres (i.e. housed in the seat of residence of a ruling family). They are usually keepers of a proud theatrical tradition and can boast of houses with above-average seating capacity and stage size. With the end of the German Empire and its many principalities in 1918, most of the former court theatres became state theatres, with the state govern ments taking charge of the institutions as legal successors to the former monarchies. State theatres can be found in most of Germany’s federal states, the exceptions being North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein. Owing to historical circumstances (former residences) or cultural-political deci sions, many state theatres are not located in today’s state capitals. In addition to Düsseldorf, Magdeburg and Kiel, no state theatres are found in Potsdam and Erfurt.

‘The number of music theatre performances in the German-speaking countries is high when considered in relation to population.’
Arnold Jacobshagen

Funding and staffing

Music theatre is the most expensive form of theatre. The bulk of all public expenditure for culture goes to the funding of theatres and orchestras, [4] and music theatres are the ones that require the most. Staff costs make up the lion’s share of the financial burden, amounting on average to about three-quarters of the budget. Of this, roughly half is paid to artistic staff and the other half to non-artistic employees (see Fig. 2). The Stuttgart State Theatre, currently Ger many’s largest theatrical undertaking in terms of both budget and staff, has over 1,400 permanent employees in its three departments (opera, ballet and drama). Even a small opera house will have a payroll running into three figures. It has become a recog nised economic fact that opera productions are structurally unable to cover their expenses and need to receive third-party funding. The reasons for this were first examined by the British economists William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen in 1966. [5] In general, the economic dilemma facing the performing arts is the virtual impossibility of increasing productivity in their core area (i.e. stage perfor mances). While the Industrial Revolution has caused immense productivity increases in progressive sectors of the economy over the last two centuries – with correspondingly rapid wage increases – staging a standard repertory opera today still requires more or less the same rehearsal time, the same number of employees and the same number of skilled man-hours that were necessary at the first performances some 150 or 200 years ago. This means that theatres have in evitably needed increasingly large injections of money, which can no longer be offset by raising ticket prices. As a result, according to figures from the German Theatre and Orchestra Association (Deutscher Bühnenverein), every public theatre ticket is subsidised on average by approximately €133.

These economic conditions are the reason why cost cutting and efficient management alone cannot resolve the structural financial problems of the theatre. Al though in recent years most German theatres have sharply cut back costs and consistently exploited opportunities to economise, they have not been able to boost their revenues (i.e. the percentage of total expenses covered by their own proceeds), which have remained on average at roughly 18 per cent over the last decade. Conversely, this means that roughly 80 per cent of expenses are not covered by box-office returns and must be made up by subsidies and allocations from the public coffers (41.7 per cent from municipalities, 38.5 per cent from states and 0.5 per cent from the federal government). [6] In other words, music theatre companies are inevitably loss-making concerns whose upkeep is only legitimate because they fulfil a cultural mandate. In addition to preserving cultural heritage and promoting contemporary productions, regional and local authorities can justify taking over the funding of theatres because, otherwise, the public need for performances of appropriate quality would be assumed by non-subsidised private businesses, which would mean far higher prices and a much narrower range of productions.

Figure 2
Expenses of publicly financed theatres (music and spoken theatres)
Figure: Expenses of publicly financed theatres (music and spoken theatres)
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Singers are the heart of any opera, operetta or musical performance, and there is no other stage profession offering a comparable career range. The largest ensembles of singers are employed at Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf and Duisburg (nearly 60 members) and the Frankfurt City Theatres (roughly 40). The number of guest contracts in Germany now far exceeds that of ensemble members: the number of permanent positions dropped further, after a major downturn in the 1990s, and has fallen from 1,462 to 1,184 since the turn of the millennium. At the same time the number of guest contracts (including dance and spoken theatre) has risen from 8,557 to 22,041 (see Fig. 3). This development, which reflects the growing internationalisation of the opera business, poses a danger to Germany’s emphasis on ensemble theatre (see under ‘Types of production’). Career opportunities for soloists in musical theatre have declined in recent years, partly due to competition from greater numbers of graduates and young, better trained up-and-coming singers from abroad.

Staff numbers in artistic ensembles (orchestra, chorus, ballet), which declined with the merging of orchestras and theatres at the end of the last century, have largely stabilised over the last decade. Grading an orchestra into salary brackets according to the number of permanent positions (category A/F1: more than 130 musicians; A: 99-129 musicians; B: 66-98; C: 56-65 and D: up to 55 musicians) is an impor tant indicator for the artistic capability of a music theatre. [7] Most theatres have a B-level orchestra, i.e. an orchestra large enough to permit performances of the standard opera repertoire without outside assistance. Choruses are also included in the grad ing of orchestras, meaning that theatres having an A-, B-, C- or D- level orchestra will have a chorus on a corresponding scale. Dance ensembles have suffered greatly from staff cuts since the turn of the millennium, mainly because many theatres shut down their entire dance departments.

Scene from "Wozzek", Alban Berg, state theatre Kassel
Scene from "Wozzek", Alban Berg, state theatre Kassel (2021)  
Photo:  Nils Klinger  /  Staatstheater Kassel

Compared to non-artistic staff (21,808 employees), the artistic staff at German theatres is clearly in the minority, with 15,779 permanently employed workers in the 2016-17 season. Most people employed at German theatres work in various technical capacities. Altogether the number of non-artistic employees has grown by more than 1000 positions over the last decade, although admittedly there were almost equally as many in the year 2000.

Figure 3
Staff at publicly financed music theatres
Figure: Staff at publicly financed music theatres
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Types of production

In addition to the large number of permanent institutions, there are two typ ical features of the German theatre landscape: the repertory system and the ensemble principle. Both are being eroded by the internationalisation and globalisation of the music markets. German music theatre has traditionally worked with permanent ensembles of singers who have become a tight-knit community over time and share common artistic outlooks. While large opera houses give many sing ing roles to international guest soloists, multifunctional theatres tend to recruit soloists from within their standing ensemble. On the whole, the importance of fixed ensembles vis-à-vis guest soloists is declining.

The traditional repertory system is typified by year-round operations; productions change every evening and the performance venue is closed for only a few days. This approach presupposes a permanent ensemble, ideally with a suitable singer for each type of role. The main advantages of the repertory system are programme diversity and the artistic quality of an ensemble attuned to each other over a long period of time.

The ‘stagione’, ‘semi-stagione’ and ‘en-suite’ theatre systems have established themselves alongside the repertory system. An exclusively repertory system is virtually unheard of outside the German-speaking countries and some other parts of Central and Eastern Europe.

The Italian word stagione (literally ‘season’) defines a theatrical operation where one production is shown continuously during a given part of the year. Originally the term was used to describe a season which comprised less than a full year, perhaps only a few weeks or months, such as the carnival season, the summer season, the autumn season and others. Both in Italy, its country of origin, and in many other countries this principle still holds sway today.

For some time, there has been a heated debate on the relative economic merits of the repertory and the ‘stagione’ systems. Basically, the repertory system allows a far wider range of works. This translates into such an overwhelming advantage in terms of cultural politics that it should not be put at risk by focusing exclusively on economic factors. At the same time, it is useful to compare the two systems from economic and artistic vantage points. The daily rotation of productions in the repertory system means continuous set changes requiring a large number of stage technicians, lighting experts, stage hands etc. Furthermore, the sets need to be stored over longer periods and maintained in the workshops. Simultaneously performing and rehearsing several pieces requires additional rehearsal stages. In contrast, the ‘stagione’ system makes it possible to rehearse with greater concentration and to achieve higher performance quality because of the continuous series of performances. Its disadvantages are the limited exploitation of the potential audience and the reduced number of performances per season. In a repertory-type opera house, one and the same production can be seen many times by visitors who return at longer intervals. However, with a ‘stagione’ system, it frequently happens that a production is no longer running by the time word of its high quality has made the rounds. In any case, there are significantly fewer performances per season in a ‘stagione’ system compared with a repertory theatre, because theatres close between show days and have periods of closure between productions.

Figure 4
Events and attendance at publicly financed music theatres
Figure: Events and attendance at publicly financed music theatres
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One tried and tested compromise between the ‘stagione’ and repertory systems is the so-called ‘semi-stagione’ or ‘block system’. Here the season is divided into several programme blocks, within which a small number of different productions are shown alternately. Many German opera houses have gradually shifted in recent years from a repertory to a ‘semi-stagione’ system. Theatres using the ‘semistagione’ approach work overwhelmingly with guest soloists.


Among the different types of staged music, opera is the number one crowd puller: a total of 3.8 million visits to around 5,700 opera performances in Germany in the 2016-17 season (see Fig. 4). Ballet and dance theatre come second, numbering some 1.6 million visits, which puts them ahead of musicals with 1.4 million and operettas with roughly 400,000 visits per annum.

Since the turn of the millennium it is only in dance theatre that the number of visitors has remained constant, with occasional vacillations. The figures have sharply declined in opera and the musical and have even been halved in the case of operetta. Yet these findings do not reflect a decline in audience interest so much as a substantial reduction in output: the number of performances in music theatre alone has dropped by more than 2,500 in the new millennium. There are various explanations for this decline. First and foremost is the above-mentioned gradual shift in many theatres from a repertory to a ‘stagione’ system, for the much larger number of days without performances in the ‘stagione’ or ‘semi-stagione’ system has caused a substantial downturn in overall offerings. Moreover, operations have frequently been limited while theatre buildings are being renovated and venues temporarily closed. The State Opera Unter den Linden in Berlin, for example, was shut down from autumn 2010 to autumn 2017 for general remodelling and had to carry on its operations in the much smaller Schiller Theatre.

Szene auf einer Theaterbühne: Mann mit Kaffeetasse neben weißgekleideter Frau
Photo:  Thomas Jauk  /  Theater Dortmund
Szene auf einer Theaterbühne: Mann mit Augenklappe in rotem Konfettiregen in Wohnzimmerkulisse
„Die Walküre“, Richard Wagner, Theater Dortmund (2022)  
Photo:  Thomas Jauk  /  Theater Dortmund
Szene auf einer Theaterbühne: Mann mit Schwert vor Dame in blauem Kleid in einer Küche
Photo:  Thomas Jauk  /  Theater Dortmund

Ein wesentlicher Indikator für das Publikumsinteresse in den einzelnen Sparten des Musiktheaters ist die sogenannte Auslastung, d. h. die Besuchszahl im Verhältnis zur Anzahl der verfügbaren Plätze. Hierbei ist allerdings zu berücksichtigen, dass die Vorstellungen in den Bereichen Oper und Musical in der Regel in Sälen mit deutlich höherer Platzkapazität stattfinden als solche im Tanz oder in der Operette. Zugleich hat die zuletzt stark rückläufige Aufführungsanzahl von Operetten zu einer Stabilisierung der Auslastung in diesem Bereich beigetragen. Im Spartenvergleich schnitt in der Auslastung  in der Spielzeit 2019/20 das Musical mit 86,2 Prozent am besten ab, gefolgt vom Tanz (82,1 Prozent), der Oper (75,9 Prozent) und der Operette (73,5 Prozent). Die für die Spielzeit 2020/21 erfassten Auslastungszahlen liegen vor allen in den Bereichen Tanz (75,8 Prozent), Operette (66,6 Prozent) und Musical (75,1 Prozent) deutlich unter denen der vorangegangenen Saison, während die der Oper mit 73,4 Prozent nur um 2,5 Prozent gesunken sind. Aufgrund des eingeschränkten Angebots bedeuten aber auch diese Zahlen nur eine Momentaufnahme der Corona-Pandemie.

Trends in programming

The smaller number of succesful contemporary musical works for the stage, unlike spoken theatre, makes for a generally more stable repertoire. This comprises a ‘canon’ of some 50 works by Verdi, Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, Wagner, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Donizetti, Offenbach, Gounod, Humperdinck, Janáček, Smetana, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Bellini, Gluck, Beethoven and Weber, all of which appear more or less regularly in opera houses worldwide. In addition, there are about 100 to 200 works not only by the composers listed above, but also e.g. Massenet, Debussy, Lortzing, Britten, Handel, Borodin, Stravinsky, Monte verdi, Shostakovich, Ravel, Prokofjev and Giordano. This range is regularly augmented by rediscoveries (recently e.g. Cherubini, Thomas, Weinberg, Szymanowski and Rameau) and a few contemporary pieces (e.g. by Adams, Adès, Glass, Sciarrino and Rihm). [8]

Figure 5
Operas most frequently performed in Germany
Figure: Operas most frequently performed in Germany
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Die Übersicht der Opern mit den meisten Aufführungen in Deutschland präsentiert auf den vorderen Plätzen relativ wenige Überraschungen: Der Kanon der beliebtesten Werke hat sich seit Jahrzehnten in der Publikumskunst klar etabliert. Bemerkenswerter dagegen ist die Vielfalt des Opernangebots jenseits der allerersten Ränge: Hier finden sich zahlreiche Werke aus dem 20. und 21. Jahrhundert sowie ungewöhnliche Wiederentdeckungen aus dem älteren Repertoire, die für die Lebendigkeit und Variabilität der Kunstform Oper einstehen. So sind in den Jahren 2014 bis 2019 (den letzten fünf Spielzeiten vor der Corona-Pandemie) allein in Deutschland weit über 800 verschiedene Opern zur Aufführung gelangt, darunter mehr als 400 zeitgenössische Werke, deren Uraufführung nach 1945 stattfand. Diese Zahlen widerlegen die verbreitete Vorstellung, dass es sich bei der Oper um eine gleichsam „museale“ Kunstform handeln würde. Auch wenn die Mehrzahl der meistgespielten Opern aus dem 19. Jahrhundert stammt, konnten sich zuletzt immer mehr jüngere Werke auf den Spielplänen behaupten – eine Entwicklung, die zu Optimismus Anlass gibt.

Neben der Ausdifferenzierung des Werkrepertoires ist die Vielfalt der Inszenierungsstile hervorzuheben, welche auf den deutschen Bühnen zu erleben sind.

Scene of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s "Die Soldaten" at Cologne Opera (2017/18)
Scene of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s "Die Soldaten" at Cologne Opera (2017/18)  
Photo:  Paul Leclair

In addition to its theatre statistics, the German Theatre and Orchestra Association also publishes annual statistics of works performed during each season in the German-speaking countries, broken down into opera, operetta, musical, spoken theatre and dance. The works are listed alphabetically with date of première, place of performance, number of performances and attendance. In the 2016-17 season the most frequently performed operas in Germany were Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (246 performances), Mozart’s The Magic Flute (237), Bizet’s Carmen (189), Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (168) and Puccini’s Tosca (157) (see Fig. 5). A comparison with figures elsewhere in the world is revealing: In the seasons from 2011-12 to 2015-16, for example, by far the most frequently performed opera worldwide was La traviata with 4,190 performances, followed by The Magic Flute (3,310), Carmen (3,280) and two Puccini operas, La bohème (3,131) and Tosca (2,694). In contrast, The Magic Flute had far and away the greatest number of performances in Germany during the same period (1,886, including adaptations for children until 2013-14), followed by Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (1,275), with third to fifth place going to La traviata (1,042), Carmen (903) and La bohème (841), as was largely consistent with the international trend. Operas frequently staged in Germany from 2011-12 to 2015-16, but not among the top 25 worldwide, included five other works on original German librettos in addition to The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel, namely, The Flying Dutchman (ranked 13th in Germany), The Abduction from the Seraglio (14th), Der Freischütz (15th), Tristan und Isolde (23rd) and Der Rosenkavalier (24th). Among composers, pride of place on the international scene during the five-year period clearly went to Verdi, with 16,265 performances. Then came Mozart (11,876), Puccini (11,494), Rossini (5,070), Donizetti (4,393) and Wagner (4,456), with the latter being particularly well-represented on German stages owing to the large total number of performances. Finally, contemporary opera has little chance of placing among the top 50 on the international landscape. The only exception among living composers is Philip Glass (1937- ) at 41st place. Only three 20th-century operas, all by Puccini, managed to find their way into the front rank: Tosca (premièred in 1900), Madama Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (1926). [9]

Figure 6
Operettas most frequently performed in Germany
Figure: Operettas most frequently performed in Germany
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Im Bereich der Operette war das Repertoire zuletzt auch unabhängig von der Pandemie weitaus weniger stabil als in der Oper. Obwohl in dieser Sparte seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg so gut wie keine neuen Werke mehr entstanden sind, hat in jüngster Zeit das zunehmende Interesse an „Ausgrabungen“ auch in diesem Repertoire einige Verschiebungen der Spielplananteile hervorgebracht. Während in der Spielzeit 2021/22 erstmals seit vielen Jahren nicht mehr „Die Fledermaus“ von Johann Strauß, sondern „Die lustige Witwe“ von Franz Lehár die Hitliste anführte, sind neben Strauß und Lehár auch Paul Abraham und Jacques Offenbach mit jeweils mehreren Werken auf den vorderen Plätzen vertreten (vgl. Abbildung 5).  Zugleich fanden auch weitere früher seltener gespielte Werke ihren Weg zurück in die Spielpläne. Wichtige Impulse erhielt diese Entwicklung insbesondere durch das Wirken des Regisseurs Barrie Kosky an der Komischen Oper Berlin, der seit 2013 dort regelmäßig mit viel beachteten Neuinszenierungen in Vergessenheit geratener Operetten hervorgetreten ist.



Praxis: Theater und Ausbildungseinrichtungen

Öffentlich finanzierte Theater

Die öffentlich getragenen oder überwiegend aus öffentlichen Mitteln geförderten Musiktheater stellen den weitaus größten Teil des Musiktheater-Angebots in Deutschland. Die 83 Häuser gliedern sich in Staatstheater, kommunale Theater und Landestheater.

Private Theater

Eine Reihe meist kleinerer Musiktheater in privater Trägerschaft sorgt deutschlandweit für die Aufführung unterschiedlichen Repertoires. Zu ihnen zählen u. a. Kammeropern, Operettenhäuser und Musicaltheater.


Es gibt in Deutschland zahlreiche Möglichkeiten: Hochschulen, Universitäten und spezielle Institute bilden auch für das Musiktheater aus.

Weitere Institutionen


Im Themenkreis Musiktheater sind mehrere Verbände in Deutschland überregional aktiv. Zu ihnen zählen u. a. auch mehrere Interessenvertretungen und Berufsverbände.


Diverse Zeitschriften und Jahrbücher widmen sich dem Thema Musiktheater; das Spektrum reicht von Magazinen und populärwissenschaftlichen Angeboten bis hin zu Forschungsveröffentlichungen.


Zu den Fördereinrichtungen für den musikalischen Nachwuchs zählen vor allem Wettbewerbe. Es gibt aber auch Stiftungen, die insbesondere auf dem Gebiet des Musiktheaters tätig sind.

Where operetta is concerned, the repertoire is less stable than in opera, even though practically no new works have been written for this genre since World War II. In recent years a growing interest in ‘excavations’ has led to several shifts in the operatic repertoires of German theatres. While Die Fledermaus continues to top the charts virtually every season, Johann Strauss is now followed by Jacques Offenbach, Franz Lehár and Emerich Kálmán, each with several works (see Fig. 6). Comparing the programmes of recent decades shows that several previous success stories are entering a steep decline while other pieces that were rarely performed in the past are reappearing in the repertoire.

The musicals repertoire is subject to even greater fluctuations, due in part to the large number of newly composed and/or produced pieces. Moreover, cost and capacity considerations have led more and more municipal theatres to stage musicals and to stand out from their competitors by mounting rediscoveries. For a long time the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber ruled supreme in their market, but in recent years great successes have been achieved by composers who are in fact stars from the world of pop music: Elton John (The Lion King), Phil Collins (Tarzan) and Udo Lindenberg (Hinterm Horizont). The composer Martin Lingnau achieved rousing success in Germany with three musicals – DasWunder von Bern, Heisse Ecke and Die Königs vomKiez – and the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus attracted great attention in 2018 with David Bowie’s Lazarus.

The business of musicals is driven entirely by popularity and commercial success. German productions of musicals – beginning in the 1980s with Lloyd Webber’s Cats in Hamburg – tend to be staged in private and non-subsidised theatres with no permanent orchestras or ensembles, following in the footsteps of the world’s most important centres, New York’s Broadway and London’s West End. The German musical market seemed saturated at the end of the 1990s after a long-lasting boom. Market consolidation and mergers by the big promoters followed, while unprofitable theatres were closed. A run of seven years was considered standard for a successful show in the mid-1990s, but since then there has been a clear trend towards runs of just one to two years or even less. By and large the German musicals market is still popular, despite the stark decline since the mid-1990s. Hamburg is Germany’s leading venue in attendance, ranking second in the European musicals environment after London. Besides commercial theatres, German theatres with public funding are also mounting classics from the standard repertoire as well as a few original German musicals. Usually the statistics are headed by the latest hit musicals from Broadway or the West End, produced commercially and ‘en suite’ and usually mounted at only one German venue.

When comparing categories, it becomes clear that, as far as musicals are con cerned, production quantity does not count for very much. In any one season, the most popular musicals in Germany will, in a single production, reach larger audi ences than the most frequently performed operas, which appear in dozens of stagings during the same period. But all categories show a trend towards greater diversity in repertoire, which raises hopes for a vibrant continued evolution of the still extraordinary German landscape for music theatre in the 21st century

Perspektiven und Herausforderungen

Aufgrund der Vielfalt, Dichte und Qualität des Angebots wird die deutsche Musiktheaterszene im internationalen Vergleich als führend und maßstabsetzend wahrgenommen. Zugleich stellen sich gegenwärtig und in näherer Zukunft auch infolge pandemischer, ökologischer und weltpolitischer Krisen sowie des demografischen Wandels bedeutende Herausforderungen, die für die deutsche Opernlandschaft richtungsweisend sein werden. Die Erfahrungen der Corona-Pandemie haben die Resilienz und Beständigkeit des Bühnensystems unter Beweis gestellt. Sowohl das Ensembleprinzip als auch das Repertoiresystem als zwei Spezifika der deutschen Theaterlandschaft haben sich in dieser außergewöhnlichen Krisensituation hervorragend bewährt und ihre Zukunftsfähigkeit offenbart. Zugleich sind unter den besonderen Bedingungen der Pandemie neue Wege beschritten worden, die auch für künftige Entwicklungen prägend sein dürften. In der Spielplangestaltung war man gezwungen, Werke in kleinerer Besetzung anzubieten, was besonders der Aufführung zeitgenössischer und experimenteller Opern sowie barocker Werke zugutekam. Dies hat zu einer weiteren Diversifizierung des Repertoires beigetragen und dabei vor allem solche Spielplansegmente gestärkt, die auch unter Klima-, Kosten- und Nachhaltigkeitsgesichtspunkten künftig an Attraktivität gewinnen werden. Zugleich wurden durch die Bereitstellung digitaler Angebote und die Stärkung der theaterpädagogischen Aktivitäten wichtige Voraussetzungen geschaffen, um neue Besucherpotenziale zu erschließen, die bislang noch nicht zum Stammpublikum der Theater zählten.

An zahlreichen deutschen Theaterstandorten besteht mittel- und langfristig die Notwendigkeit umfassender baulicher Sanierungen und Instandsetzungen, um die Spielfähigkeit der Bühnen zu erhalten. Nicht zuletzt wegen der erheblichen Energie- und Betriebskostensteigerungen haben sich die finanziellen Spielräume der meisten Bühnen deutlich verringert. Auch unter Klima- und Nachhaltigkeitsaspekten sind viele Theater bestrebt, ihre Produktionsweisen zu optimieren, Energiesparmaßnahmen durchzuführen und klimaneutral zu werden. Proaktiv etwa haben Häuser wie das Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen, das Deutsche Nationaltheater Weimar oder das Theater Regensburg Nachhaltigkeitsziele benannt und sich anhand entsprechender Verhaltensregeln betriebsökologisch neu ausgerichtet. Unterstützung erhalten sie dabei von externen Fachkräften, etwas den Nachhaltigkeitsexpert*innen vom Öko-Institut e.V. oder der Deutschen Theatertechnischen Gesellschaft (DTHG), die praxisnahe Hilfestellungen in Form von Informationen, Austausch und Weiterbildung anbietet. Zudem beteiligen sich immer mehr Musiktheater wie die Oper Leipzig oder die Deutsche Oper Berlin in spartenübergreifenden Netzwerken wie dem Aktionsbündnis Nachhaltigkeit. Auch das Thema Barrierefreiheit hat in den vergangenen Jahren in der Musiktheaterszene in Deutschland an Aufmerksamkeit hinzugewonnen. Positive Aufnahme finden etwa Angebote für Menschen mit eingeschränktem Sehvermögen, etwa die vom Staatstheater Braunschweig und der Deutschen Oper Berlin angebotenen Live-Audiodeskriptionen bei ausgewählten Aufführungen; „Tastführungen“ geben den Teilnehmenden vorab zusätzlich die Möglichkeit, sich durch Anfassen oder andere Formen der haptischen Wahrnehmung eine sinnliche Vorstellung von den äußerlichen Gegebenheiten – Bühnenbild, Kostüme oder Requisiten – der Inszenierung zu machen.  

Gleichzeitig sind infolge der Konkurrenz mit dem Film und digitalen Medien aber auch immer wieder neue technische Ansprüche an die Theater herangetragen worden. Vor allem in den Bereichen der Bühnenmaschinerie, der Video- und Lichttechnik sowie der Tontechnik kam es in den letzten Jahrzehnten zu bedeutenden Entwicklungen. In jüngerer Zeit gehören hierzu auch – bislang nur vereinzelt und häufig in experimentellen Zusammenhängen – Eindrücke aus der immersiven Welt der virtual und der augmented reality (VR bzw. AR). Als künstlerisch besonders gelungen ist in diesem Zusammenhang die 2020 gezeigte, später wiederaufgenommene Produktion von Christoph Willibald Glucks „Orfeo ed Euridice“ am Staatstheater Augsburg zu nennen, die ihr Publikum per VR-Headset in eine rein virtuelle Unterwelt entführte. Auch an einem der weltweit prominentesten Opernzentren Deutschlands, den Bayreuther Festspielen, ist mit Jay Scheibs ab 2023 gezeigter „Parsifal“-Inszenierung das Thema AR bereits angekommen. An der Deutschen Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf und Duisburg, hingegen werden AR-Brillen bislang weniger als Teil der künstlerischen Inszenierung eingesetzt und dienen vielmehr als „digitales Opernglas“, das Informationen und Extras sowie aufführungssynchrone Einblicke in den Orchestergraben während der laufenden Vorstellung bietet. Die neuen Möglichkeiten erzeugen beim Publikum hohe Erwartungen, deren Erfüllung mit enormem Aufwand und großen Kosten verbunden ist. Die aktuellen Sanierungsvorhaben großer Opernhäuser wie in Köln, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt oder Stuttgart erfordern Investitionen in kaum noch darstellbaren finanziellen Größenordnungen. Vor allem kleinere und mittlere Musiktheaterstandorte, die künftig mit ähnlichen baulichen Notwendigkeiten konfrontiert sein werden, sollten sich frühzeitig auf mögliche Szenarien und die hiermit einhergehenden öffentlichen Diskussionen vorbereiten. Hierbei wird es eine wesentliche Rolle spielen, die Bedeutung des Theaters als öffentlicher Raum und gesamtgesellschaftliche Aufgabe zu vermitteln – was nur dann gelingen kann, wenn tatsächlich auch die Repräsentation eines gesellschaftlichen Querschnitts im Publikum gewährleistet ist. Viele Theater konnten durch digitale Angebote ihre Reichweite deutlich erhöhen, und die allgemeine Verfügbarkeit exzellenter Videoproduktionen von Opernaufführungen dürfte das Interesse am Live-Erlebnis auch bei weniger theateraffinen Bevölkerungsgruppen steigern. Besonders während der Corona-Epidemie konnten vor allem größere, technisch gut ausgestattete Häuser Aufführungen, die lockdownbedingt nicht vor Publikum gezeigt werden durften, im Live-Stream einer Vielzahl an Menschen zugänglich machen. Auch kleinere digitale Format wie der „Digitale Fundus“ des Staatstheaters Nürnberg boten während der Corona-Zeit Gelegenheit, sich niederschwellig mit dem Thema „Musiktheater“ auseinanderzusetzen. Eine inklusivere Spielplangestaltung und die Ausweitung der theaterpädagogischen Arbeit tragen ebenfalls dazu bei, die Theater zukunftsfest zu machen. Die Perspektiven der deutschen Musiktheaterlandschaft werden auch künftig von Tradition, Innovation und Vielfalt geprägt sein.

About the author

Arnold Jacobshagen is professor of musicology at Cologne University of Music and Dance and co-editor of the reference work Sachlexikon des Musiktheaters.
Empty State Autorenbild


  1. Deutscher Bühnenverein [German Theatre and Orchestra Association], ed., Theaterstatistik 2016/2017: Die wichtigsten Wirtschaftsdaten der Theater, Orchester und Festspiele (Cologne, 2018). See also Fig. 4 regarding attendance figures for music theatre.
  2. The application for inclusion in the UNESCO List of the Word’s Intangible Cultural Heritage was submitted to UNESCO by the German foreign ministry in April 2018. A decision is not expected until 2020.
  3. All figures are taken from the Operabase platform, which has covered the international opera scene since 1996. According to its own self-description, Operabase can draw on more than 430,000 performances in its database, most recently an average of 25,000 per season. See the statistics at (accessed on 25 July 2018).
  4. Statistisches Bundesamt [Federal Statistical Office], ed., Kulturfinanzbericht 2016 (Wiesbaden, 2016), p. 48.
  5. See James Heilbrun and Charles M. Gray: The Economics of Arts and Culture (Cambridge, 2001).
  6. See statistics in ‘Einnahmen der öffentlich finanzierten Theater (Sprech- und Musiktheater)‘ (accessed on 22 October 2018).
  7. See also Gerald Mertens’s essay ‘Orchestras, Radio Ensembles and Opera Choruses’ in the present volume.
  8. Deutscher Bühnenverein, ed., 2016/17 – Wer spielte was? Werkstatistik (Cologne, 2018).
  9. See (accessed on 26 September 2018). As no data was available for the five-year period from 2012 to 2017 by the time of the editorial deadline, figures for the comparison were taken from the 2011-12 to 2015-16 seasons. We also drew on the German Theatre and Orchestra Association’s statistics on individual works for the seasons concerned.