Compared with neighbouring North-Rhine and Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate is much more rural, with cities smaller and spread much more widely: this is the region of the Rhine gorge, the picturesque Mosel and the hills and forests in between. The one built-up area is in the neighbouring state of Saarland (which is small enough to be combined with its larger neighbour in practical and transport terms), with its former industrial capital of Saarbrücken. And of course Mainz is effectively contiguous with the Frankfurt/Wiesbaden metropolitan area in Hesse. Culturally, then, the attractions are dispersed, with just five main theatres offering opera on a regular basis (Ludwigshafen, across the Rhine from Mannheim, occasionally acts as a receiving house for visiting productions, including Halle’s Ring cycle in 2013, for example).


Kaiserslautern, in the northern Palatine Forest due west of Mannheim, is one of Germany’s best-kept secrets. If it is known at all by outsiders it is for housing Europe’s biggest US-led NATO base at nearby Ramstein. But for a town of under 100,000 it hits above its weight in operatic terms, thanks to its vibrant theatre. The history of Kaiserslautern extends back to the time of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century, whose favourite hunting territory this area became. Today’s it’s known for its technological industries and thriving university and, while some 60 per cent of the city centre was lost to wartime bombing, it still maintains something of its historic atmosphere. It’s also well-connected, lying on the main rail line between Mannheim and Saarbrücken which in turn provides direct ICE/TGV services to Frankfurt and Paris, as well as local services to Trier, Koblenz and Karlsruhe. And meanwhile its forest and hilly setting provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor pursuits.

Theatre: The Pfalztheater (Palatinate Theatre, right) is a modern building opened as recently as 1995 (replacing both the bombed-out prewar original and a converted cinema that sufficed after the war), and is right in the centre of town, a 20-minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof (down Richard-Wagner-Strasse and then a right turn down the main pedestrianised shopping streets). The comfortable 632-seater house of Parkett and single Rang stages opera, theatre and ballet in fairly spread-out runs of individual productions, and given the mix it's not often feasible to combine different operas in a single short visit. Yet the adventurous programming for a company this size (including, for instance, rare Strauss and Schreker in 2014/15, Zemlinsky and Wagner in 2015/16) makes it a considerable draw, and performance and production standards are remarkably high for somewhere that feels, to an outsider, out in the sticks.

Practicalities: There isn’t the choice of hotel accommodation found in more prominent places, perhaps, but as an alternative Kaiserslautern is easily commutable from Mannheim and even Karlsruhe, since it lies within the region’s extensive S-bahn network (and last trains to Kaiserslautern from those two are quite early). Neustadt and der Weinstrasse would also make a reasonable base, 20-30 minutes each from Kaiserslautern and Mannheim. Connections westwards to Saarbrücken and Trier are too minimal late evening to be worth considering.

2015/16 repertoire: Bluebeard’s Castle/Der Zwerg (Zemlinsky), My Fair Lady, Il barbiere di Sivilgia, Eugene Onegin, Tristan und Isolde, Idomeneo.

Tickets: €20–38.

Reviews of performances in Kaiserslautern: Bluebeard's Castle/Der Zwerg

Nearby (average journey times by train / per-hour frequency pre-performance / per-hour frequency post-performance): Karlsruhe (90/2/1), Mannheim (55/3/2).


Set at the confluence of the Mosel with the Rhine, Koblenz has always been a strategic city historically and militarily (it is ringed by historic castles and forts) and is now the major centre of tourism for the region. There’s plenty of history to explore in its attractive old town area and along the extensive river promenades. In season, boats vie with each other to offer cruises up and down the Rhine, from an hour’s viewing of local castles to the full Rhine Gorge day trip.

Theatre: Koblenz is possessor of its original 18th-century theatre – a rarity in this war-ravaged country. Opened in 1787, Theater Koblenz has a tiny horseshoe auditorium seating just 469, divided between ten short rows in the Parkett and three shallow, two-row circles, the lowest of which, just above the Parkett level, has the most expensive seats in the house. The compactness gives intimacy to performances, though side circle seats offer better views of the rest of the audience than the stage, as is often the case with such designs. The auditorium has never been updated to incorporate air conditioning, so it can get steamy in summer. The business side of the theatre is modern, though, allowing the company to be surprisingly adventurous with its repertoire for such a tiny nightly audience (while not being at all expensive, tickets lack the really cheap options found elsewhere – understandable in the circumstances), and production and musical values are high. The downside of size is the lack of a pit large enough for a full symphony orchestra, which has necessitated it being positioned behind the stage for larger productions. Runs of individual works are usually quite long and there are usually a couple of operas in rep at any one time, though as the theatre also houses spoken drama and dance, performances may not be adjacent. Theater Koblenz is situated about ten minutes’ walk east of Koblenz-Mitte station (the Hauptbahnhof is a further 15 minutes away) and is handy for the Altstadt restaurants and hotels, just across the main road (there’s even a hotel and steakhouse right next door).

Reviews of performances in Koblenz: Peter Grimes

2015/16 repertoire: Fidelio, My Fair Lady, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, L’elisir d’amore, A Streetcar Named Desire (Previn), plus revival of Die Zauberflöte.

Tickets: €27.50–41. Advance ticket sales for the whole season open in late August.

Practicalities: There are plenty of hotels at all prices, and the Altstadt has more eating choices than most places of this size. Despite its central position in the region, however, Koblenz only just works as a base from which to travel to see other cities’ operatic performances – curtain-down time may prove crucial. Bonn is the most practical, though even Frankfurt is workable if you can face a two-hour, late-night return journey (last train back leaves around 11.15pm). The Hauptbahnhof is a little to the south of the centre, but is the main rail hub for the region, with lines southwest towards Luxembourg and Mannheim (via the Mosel valley) and east along the picturesque Lahn to Limburg, as well as along the Rhine corridor, north to Bonn and Cologne, south through the gorge to Bingen and Mainz. However, Koblenz-Mitte station is more convenient for the city centre and theatre, and most local services call there (no facilities other than platform ticket machines).

Nearby (average journey times by train / per-hour frequency pre-performance / per-hour frequency post-performance): Bonn (64/2/1), Frankfurt (115/2/1), Mainz (66/2/1), Trier (84/2/1), Wiesbaden (90/2/1).


The city of Mainz, situated across the Rhine from the mouth of the River Main, is one of Germany’s most historic settlements. A key border fortress in the time of the Roman Empire, it subsequently became the most important archbishopric north of the Alps, played a key role in the Napoleonic Wars (briefly becoming a French département – as it was again later, between 1919 and 1930) and in 1946 was named capital of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. As birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, the city has long been an important centre of publishing, with the famous music publisher Schott’s still a key player. Roughly 80 per cent of the city was destroyed over the 33 air raids that hit it during World War II, but the bulk of the red sandstone cathedral – which celebrated the millennium of its consecration in 2009 – survived the onslaught and has been sensitively restored as a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. The other main attraction is the Gutenberg Museum, tracing the history of printing and featuring one of Gutenberg’s rare bibles.

Theatre: The original Mainz Court Theatre, built in the 1830s, was in the neo-classical style, and its facade still fronts the present-day building. Everything behind it, though has changed a fair few times. The building was gutted in the wartime raids, rebuilt in 1951 and almost completely redone again in 1998–2001 when the auditorium was reconfigured to improve the acoustic and general facilities. It now feels like an ultra-modern building inside an old one, with its glass-decorated foyer, rooftop dome and restaurant. It now seats approximately 1,000, in Parkett (14 rows) and two Ränge. The Parkett has a gentle rake and rows 8 and back are overhung by the level above, but this doesn’t feel too restrictive until row 10 (row 5 acts as a gangway, so has extra-generous legroom). One design flaw in the latest rebuild is that the innermost first couple of seats in each row of the side Ränge have their view of the stage impaired by the transparent glass railing and its frame – but they are priced as ‘restricted view’ accordingly.

As opera shares space with theatre and dance, runs of performances can be sometimes short and/or spread widely, but it’s often possible to catch a couple of different operas on consecutive nights. With so much local competition (Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Darmstadt), production values are high and there’s a valuable emphasis on more interesting repertoire in among the seat-fillers. Mainz State Theatre sits on Gutenbergplatz in the centre of the Altstadt, about 15 minutes’ walk from the Hauptbahnhof and close to both the historic Markt and the cathedral. Buses stop close by.

2015/16 repertoire: Der Zwerg (Zemlinsky)/Gianni Schicchi, Faust, Der fliegende Holländer, Rigoletto, Dialogue des Carmelites, Veremonda l’amazzone d’Aragona (Cavalli), plus revivals of Tosca, Médée, Perelà (Dusapin).

Tickets: €15.50–44. Although the full season’s dates are listed on the website, it’s usually only possible to book tickets in person or online a month or two in advance of performances, except for long runs of musicals (in 2015–16, Monty Python’s Spamalot!).

Practicalities: Compared with Frankfurt, just 40 minutes or so up the Main, Mainz feels approachable and human in scale. With its proximity to the spa town of Wiesbaden, a few minutes by S-Bahn across the Rhein, and to Darmstadt 30 minutes to the south, it makes the ideal base for exploring the operatic stages of the region. Accommodation tends to be cheaper than in Frankfurt, too, especially when there’s a trade fair on in the financial metropolis, and it’s become my own preferred ‘headquarters’ when in the area, even when not visiting the Mainz Staatstheater itself. If you’re flying to Germany, Frankfurt airport lies halfway between that city and Mainz, while the Hauptbahnhof is a major stop on the ICE and InterCity rail networks, as well as the hub of local S-bahn services (Mainz-Römische-Theater is also convenient for the centre of the city, while some destinations require a change in Mainz-Kastel across the river, in Wiesbaden or at the airport station).

Nearby (average journey times by train / per-hour frequency pre-performance / per-hour frequency post-performance): Darmstadt (33/2/1), Frankfurt (38/3/4), Wiesbaden (10/6/4).



2015/16 repertoire: Don Giovanni, The Pirates of Penzance (ENO/Mike Leigh production), Platée, Rusalka, Peter Grimes, Rigoletto, Falstaff, plus revivals of Un ballo in maschera, Die Zauberflöte, Madama Butterfly, Die Dreigröschenoper. 

Tickets: €18–47.



2015/16 repertoire: Fidelio, Sweeney Todd, Die Grossherzogin von Gerolstein, Tosca, The Excursions of Mr Brouček, The Arabian Princess (Arriaga), Falsche Welt, Dir Trau Ich Nicht! (stage work from JS Bach cantatas).

Tickets: €20–42.

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