Bonn Opera House Intendant expects renovation of opera house to take years

Bonn · he Association of German Architects Bonn-Rhein-Sieg took a look at the state of the ailing opera house in Bonn. It quickly became clear: there is a lot to be done.

 In the opera hall: Jens Lorenzen (r.) explains what all needs to be renovated.

In the opera hall: Jens Lorenzen (r.) explains what all needs to be renovated.

Foto: Stefan Knopp

After almost 20 years of back and forth about the future of the Bonn Opera, the December council decision did not feel like the milestone foreseen by General Director Bernhard Helmich. The council had decided to examine the building and see how much renovation was needed, to draw up a space requirement plan for the auditorium, prepare cost estimates for redevelopment during ongoing operations, but also for a new building, to increase citizen involvement, and more. "This is the first serious step ever, at least since 2012," Helmich said on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, he had experts as guests: the Association of German Architects Bonn-Rhein-Sieg inspected the opera building from the outside and inside and listened to an explanation of why it is in need of renovation. The Opera House was completed in 1965 - together with the Beethoven Hall it was intended to form a gateway to the city. In the meantime, cracks have appeared in the structure and parts of the building have been covered with nets for two years to catch bits of falling concrete. The roof also needs some work done.

The single-glazed windows are no longer up to date, wooden panelling in the foyer and auditorium is a fire safety abomination, "and we don't know what’s behind there," explained technical opera director Jens Lorenzen. Contaminated construction material, health and safety issues with the stage machinery, which still dates from 1965, as well as the ventilation system - "Experts found lots of defects," he said. The transformer and medium-voltage system had already been renewed while the theatre was in operation, and since then they have known how time-consuming and disruptive such work is. And it cannot be done during the six-week summer break, according to Lorenzen.

In addition, the opera wants to open itself up to the city community and the culture management itself needs to be modernised, which means planning new space. According to Helmich, this is "often a political phrase behind which little is hidden". This kind of opening up would include finally setting up a room for box offices, opening up catering areas and using the opera forecourt more – there have already been summer sporting events there in the past years.  And an educational theatre concept with workshops and the like is also on the cards, the keyword being "community building", provided the building can be renovated.

If not, a new structure could go up on the same site or next to the Beethovenhalle, and the council resolution includes examining the space there. But the aim is to redevelop the building. There will be no time or financial constraints, says Helmich. "But it will definitely take years". One participant said that the fact that the opera is not a listed building should be seen as an opportunity when planning things like extensions. The opera house and its forecourt should also play a central role in the redesign of the Rhine promenade, said Petra Deny, head of the city planning office. The balustrade and stairway from the 1990s are to be rebuilt to achieve "more openness to the Rhine". This thinking also assumes that Bonn’s opera house will stay where it is. (Originalartikel: Stefan Knopp / Translation: Jean Lennox)

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