Martin Muehle … Mein Seelenort: Der Rosengarten in Mannheim - Deutsche Oper Berlin

From Libretto #7 (2023/24)

Martin Muehle … My private place of peace: the Rosengarten in Mannheim

A snatched audition in Mannheim and then a flight back to Brazil? How Martin Muehle found a home from home in the city

My haven of serenity is the Rosengarten in Mannheim. Sounds a bit fanciful, I know, but the building is emblematic of my new home, Mannheim, and its culture. On my first visit in 2011 I had no idea how much culture Mannheim actually has to offer.

In 2011 I’d flown to Vienna from my native Brazil to prepare for my role as Siegmund in THE VALKYRIE and I was doing the occasional audition on the side. One of them was in Mannheim and I still have this clear memory of emerging from the train station with my little suitcase and not liking what I saw. The thought of singing here was a real turn-off to me, so I brought a relaxed nonchalance to the audition and evidently did well. Next thing I knew they were wanting me to sign up as permanent ensemble member.

Moving to Germany long-term wasn’t part of my game plan, though. Brazil was good for me: I had a house, a dog, a laid-back life. I’d studied singing in Lübeck and associated Germany with northern reserve and permanent drizzle. But when Mannheim came back with their offer a year later, I changed my mind. It was an honour and good for my career, after all. The Nationaltheater had a wide repertoire of works and I’d be able to set out my stall as a singer.

So, I moved to Mannheim in 2013 and have been living there ever since and have never regretted it. I’ve come to know a new and different Germany from the one I first encountered. I could already speak German and had a connection to the country, what with my grandmother coming from Hamburg. I wasn’t ready for the warmth with which the Mannheimers took me in – and the love they have for their opera house. One constant over the years has been opera fans bumping into me in the street and telling me how glad they are that I’m singing here. It’s one of the nice things about living in a small city: it’s involved with you.

Muehle in the auditorium of the Mozart Hall. The concert hall is part of the Rose Garden and performance venue for the Mannheim National Theatre Orchestra © Thomas Pirot

The move proved to be a shot in the arm for my career. The Rosengarten was a turning point: when I sang Gustav Mahler’s »Das Lied von der Erde« there I got this powerful sense of having truly arrived in Germany. That was in 2015 and around that time I stopped imagining myself upping stakes at short notice and returning to Brazil. I have more career opportunities here. I was a late starter, my vocal chords are still fresh and my path is onwards and upwards. And I’m ready to take on complex roles, having matured as a singer and a human being.

For that reason, too, I’m looking forward to singing Herman in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME. It’s my first contact with Tchaikovsky. I’m looking to lay bare all Herman’s tragedy and melancholy on the stage of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I adore the richness and romance of the music and the link to Russian culture really comes across – I feel it on a soulful level. The Deutsche Oper Berlin will be involving me in the gestation of the production from the start and that’s a real privilege. There’ll be a lot of rehearsing, but the role will be tailored to me and that may raise the quality of my performance. Art takes time.

I do a lot of reflecting on my role and also on art in general and the part that opera can play in our lives. Brazil and Germany take very different approaches. In Germany there’s an emphasis on directorial auteur-ism that sometimes grates with me. I have nothing against modern productions – as long as the emotion doesn’t get submerged. The best productions are those where the audience leaves with its head fizzing but also with its heart singing.

We need the emotional profundity of opera as a counterweight to the fast-paced, superficial world we live in. I sometimes get the feeling the Germans are shy of really letting go and feeling big emotions in a big way. Maybe they’re wary of kitsch. Yet opera is first and foremost about feelings. Even if you don’t know the storyline of a given work, it must be able to move you – regardless of whether you’re watching a performance in Porto Alegre or Mannheim.


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