Greiz is a town of 26,555 people (at last count) in the Elster Valley 33 kilometers south of Gera.
When I was asked to conduct a teachers' workshop there I first had to look at the map to see where it was (it sounded vaguely familiar somehow, but I couldn't quite place it), and then just to make sure I sent an e-mail back asking if they really meant Greiz and not Zeitz, which is about the same distance to the north of Gera.
They really did mean Greiz, which turned out to be an attractive but *very* quiet little town. On a Friday evening the only open restaurant we could find was a Greek place on the second floor of a sterile new shopping center. My colleague thought she remembered a nice little restaurant in the Old Town, but when we finally found it there was a sign in the window saying "Restaurant for Rent."
At my workshop the next morning I was surprised to see a number of familiar faces. Turns out they were teachers who had been to previous workshops of mine in Gera, Leipzig, Reichenbach or Dresden. I thought it was really nice of them to come all that way to Greiz (sorry Greizers, please don't take it personally but any trip to Greiz is bound to be "all that way") just to attend my workshop.
Opera in Gera
If I told you that this tattered little theater was voted Opera House of the Year for 2004 you wouldn't believe me, would you?
Well it was, sort of, because this year the critics of Opernwelt magazine didn't award this title to one of the big opera houses like Stuttgart or Frankfurt am Main, as they usually do, but rather to The German City Theaters, collectively.
These remarkable city-owned theaters, often in small places like Gera with a population of 111,000 and falling, put on a full-scale program of opera, drama, ballet and concerts for nearly eleven months of the year, using their own full-time ensembles and orchestras.
Several years ago I was given a complete personal tour of the Gera City Theater (thanks, Peter!) but this was before I had a digital camera so you will have to take my word for it that the interior is quite beautiful. An unusual feature is that they have an ornate concert hall upstairs, in addition to the large hall where they put on operas and plays.
To survive, the Gera City Theater was merged several years ago with the theater in the nearby town of Altenburg. People at the Gera Theater, especially in the orchestra, were highly skeptical about this at the time, but the merger seems to have worked, at least as far as an out-of-town audience member can tell. I went to Altenburg in 2003 and saw the joint company's production of Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), a very large and challenging opera by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), who by the way was later forced to emigrate to escape from the Nazis and became one of Hollywood's elite composers of film music in the 1930s and 40s.
When I went to Gera in 2004 the first phase of construction was well underway in their project to expand and modernize the Gera City Theater. This first phase was the construction of a new wing on the west side of the building. It includes a new Studio Theater for up to two hundred spectators, a new rehearsal stage with the same floor dimensions as the theater's main stage (ask any theater person how important that is!), expanded foyer and restaurant areas and additional rooms for the administration and technical departments. The first phase began in September 2004 and was completed in August 2005.
The second phase, 2005-2007, included replacement or modernization of the theater's stage machinery and technical systems, as well as a through renovation of the main theater building.
The third phase involved restructuring the theater's immediate surroundings, including the square in front of the building and the restaurant terrace on the left.