EIn the 40 years of its existence, he has never experienced such a “media hype” about the Frankfurt Chamber Opera, says founder and director Rainer Pudenz, and is still amazed at how much attention the action of his free opera troupe in the Frankfurt Vaccination Center in May 2021 caused. At the time, several television stations reported from the festival hall how, based on an idea by Pudenz, the mezzo-soprano Dzuna Kalnina and the flautist Walter Dorn played classical music from the balcony of the hall to the waiting vaccinates and helpers in front of the booths below for several afternoons. Pudenz reports that he has even received inquiries from the Chinese and Russian media.
He himself doesn’t seem to want to attach too much importance to the idea that he had come up with at his own vaccination appointment due to “the boring and frightening atmosphere” in the original hall. He reported it to the Frankfurt Health Department and received immediate support, he recalls. However, the whole campaign is marked for Pudenz and the chamber opera, which also organized musical city walks and performances in retirement homes during the hot phase of the pandemic.
“Comprehensibility is the be-all and end-all of a production”
In any case, Pudenz and his freelance comrades-in-arms are not lacking in creativity, ingenuity and flexibility – which distinguishes them from the established opera business of the permanent houses, as was shown during the pandemic. While the opera houses switched to streaming concerts and some fell into lethargy, the free group acted lively, in the vaccination center even in the lion’s den, so to speak.
“Opera houses lack imagination,” agrees Pudenz, who got to know the business from scratch. Born in 1956 in Lünen in Westphalia, but grew up in Frankfurt, he left home as a teenager and earned money at the age of 14 as a stage dresser at the local municipal theaters. Already at this time he got to know many musicians and singers. “I was known like a sore thumb,” he says. He also learned the directing trade at a young age, as an assistant director in Stuttgart, Essen and Freiburg. That was the usual way back then, because music theater courses only developed later.
Pudenz feels particularly connected to Walter Felsenstein’s style of directing, which one of his students introduced him to. “The Felsenstein school always starts with the word,” he explains: “Comprehensibility is the be-all and end-all of a production.” to get away from flowery” older versions. Pudenz thinks little of surtitle systems: they distract the viewers from the scene. Even singers with not so good knowledge of Italian understand the German lyrics more directly.
But Pudenz was soon “fed up” with the operation of the opera houses, which began to play all the pieces in their own language, for other reasons as well, as he puts it. “The factory production of operas” didn’t appeal to him any more than the “machinery” set in motion for it, in which he saw himself squeezed as a part. In addition, the opera business in the 1970s was much dustier and more elitist than it is today.
After various jobs, there was a chance encounter in 1982, which sparked the founding of the chamber opera. On the Oeder Weg he ran into an acquaintance whom he knew from his time as a cloakroom clerk and who had meanwhile completed an apprenticeship as a conductor. “Let’s do an opera,” he suggested briefly at the end of the conversation. He then asked the city of Frankfurt and the state of Hesse for support for his request and finally received “2,000 to 3,000 marks” for it. “That was a different time,” admitted Pudenz: “If you felt like doing something, you went out and did it.”