Southern Ruhr

The Ruhr conurbation, or Ruhrgebiet, fairly neatly divides into two horizontal bands of towns and cities from an operatic perspective, but it is also distinct in landscape terms between the flat north and hilly south. For the purposes of this guide, I am concentrating upon the line from Mönchengladbach in the west to Hagen in the east, passing through Düsseldorf and Wuppertal.


As the capital of North-Rhein-Westphalia and with the seventh largest population among German cities, Düsseldorf is the main cultural hub for the whole Rhein-Ruhr region. The city is well enough known and written about not to need further introduction, though other musical draws include its Tonhalle concert hall by the Rhein and a history that included Robert Schumann as its ill-fated director of music in the 1850s. Its opera company, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, by its very name claiming national status, spills beyond the city to encompass a second base in neighbouring Duisburg (see above). Düsseldorf, though, offers the fuller programme, making it, with the addition of ballet, as busy as the opera companies in Cologne and Essen. It is reasonably well regarded for the scope of its repertoire, and a new Ring cycle has been announced for the 2016–17 season.

Theatre: Düsseldorf Opernhaus is situated on the edge of the Altstadt, the city’s nightlife centre, conveniently next to the well-connected Heinrich-Heine-Allee U-Bahn (underground) station, which is a short three stops from the Hauptbahnhof (or about a half-hour walk). The building, on the site of the bombed-out 19th-century Stadttheater, is a functional and sleak 1950s construction, which can seat just short of 1,300 patrons in a large Parkett and three shallow tiers. Row 14 and back in the Parkett, plus the very sides, are in the overhang, and sides of the upper two tiers offer a somewhat restricted view of the stage.

2016/17 repertoire: Otello, Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, Der Graf von Luxembourg, Don Pasquale, Das Rheingold, plus revivals of Carmen, L'elisir d'amore, Die Zauberflote, Die Entfuhrung, Hansel und Gretel, Aida, Tosca, Lucia di Lammermoor, Le nozze di Figaro, Ariadne auf Naxos, The Golden Cockerel, Don Giovanni, Der fliegender Hollander, Turandot, Don Carlos.

Reviews of performances in Düsseldorf: The Fiery Angel (Prokofiev)

Tickets: €15–82.

Practicalities: As Düsseldorf is a leading centre for shopping and commerce, there’s no shortage of hotel accommodation, though prices tend to be higher than the rest of the region, especially during trade fairs. There are plenty of options near the Hauptbahnhof, though the area to the south is somewhat insalubrious – the more upmarket places are in the Altstadt or near the Königsallee luxury shopping street. A handful of places include a free Ruhr-wide travelcard for the duration of your stay – always something worth looking out for (equivalent to c.€27 per day, including the full extent of the day you leave). Düsseldorf makes a convenient base for visiting all the other opera houses in the region – Duisburg and Krefeld are even linked by tram. The international airport is an easy ride away via S-Bahn.

Nearby (average journey times by train / per-hour frequency pre-performance / per-hour frequency post-performance): Dortmund (60/3/3), Duisburg (16/7/4; plus tram/U-bahn), Essen (40/6/5), Gelsenkirchen (40/2/2), Hagen (45/2/1), Köln (33/4/2), Krefeld (30/3/2; plus tram/U-bahn), Mönchengladbach/Rheydt (33/2/1; plus further deps changing MG Hbf), Wuppertal (20/3/2 + Schwebelbahn connection).


On the face of it, Hagen is one of the more unprepossessing of the Ruhr’s towns: a bit down on its luck, saddled with municipal debt and with few cultural sites, though it is scenically situated among hills and adjacent to some of the River Ruhr’s leisure hotspots on its reservoirs. However, its theatre is one of the region’s more enterprising, tackling interesting repertoire (neglected American operas have been a recent theme) with energy and skill - but catch it soon, since recent budget cuts are currently threatening the company's very existence.

Theatre: Theater Hagen is a Jugendstil building from 1911, reduced to a shell by American bombardment in 1945 and rebuilt four years later. Unfortunately, the rather tired state of the seating suggests not much more has been done to the auditorium since, though it’s otherwise a comfortably intimate, rectangular space with 774 seats distributed between Parkett/Orchester and two upper tiers. A neat widget on the website shows what the view is like from different parts of the theatre. The venue is on one of the main shopping streets, approximately ten minutes’ walk from Hagen Hbf. Note that the box office (including Abendkasse) is in an annexe to the right-hand side of the main frontage and difficult to find from inside the foyer. Hagen uses the semi-stagione system with extended, overlapping runs that also feature musicals.

2015/16 repertoire: Die Zauberflöte, Fidelio, Madama Butterfly, Das Land des Lächelns, Jonny spielt auf (Krenek), Eugene Onegin, Der Rosenkavalier

Reviews of performances in Hagen: Vanessa (Barber)

Tickets: €15–38, bookable online.

Practicalities: It’s possible to stay in Hagen, but other than on a flying visit it may prove preferable to stay in neighbouring Dortmund, Essen or Wuppertal for their greater general cultural attractions and connectibility.

Nearby (average journey times by train / per-hour frequency pre-performance / per-hour frequency post-performance): Wuppertal (25/3/1), Essen (39/2/1), Dortmund (30/1/2).


Theater Mönchengladbach is one half of the Theater Krefeld–Mönchengladbach operation (see Northern Ruhr for Krefeld) and uses the ‘semi-stagione’ scheduling system. The two theatres share an orchestra, the Lower Rhine (Niederrhein) Symphony, meaning that although seasons run concurrently, individual performances broadly alternate in short batches between the two venues and it is possible to see a couple of different operas in the same theatre on consecutive nights. Although Mönchengladbach and Krefeld are only 25km or a 20-minute train journey apart, the theatres enjoy distinct audiences, as suggested by the fact that a new production given in one venue one season will usually be presented afresh in the other the following year. Repertoire, though limited in number of productions each season, is an eclectic mixture of popular classics with some rarer material – the company was the only one outside the Wagnerian heartland of Leipzig/Berlin to present Rienzi in the composer’s bicentenary year, for example.

Theatre: just to confuse matters, Theater Mönchengladbach is not in Mönchengladbach itself, but in the neighbouring town/suburb of Rheydt, six minutes south by train – the generously lobbied postwar building (90% of Rheydt was bombed in the war) sits in a little park just a few minutes’ walk from Rheydt Hbf. Its plain, square auditorium seats c.778 divided between Parkett and Balkon.

2015/16 repertoire: Un ballo in maschera, Der Rosenkavalier, Katya Kabanova

Reviews of performances in Mönchengladbach: Les contes d'Hoffmann

Tickets: €12-38, bookable online and printable.

Practicalities: if not using the area as a base, there’s little reason not to stay in Rheydt itself: Parkhotel Hayma ( is reasonably priced and just across the road from the park and theatre. Restaurants and shopping streets are within walking distance. With one of Germany’s major football teams in the vicinity, hotels can get heavily booked out on home match nights. Otherwise, central Mönchengladbach can be reached by twice-hourly trains and additional local buses after performances.

Daytime: there’s little to see in Rheydt, so head to Mönchengladbach itself – this was only 60% destroyed by the RAF and a few older buildings survive, notably the Münster, or abbey church, on the top of the hill that forms the historic heart of the city (church closed Mondays) and a few fragments of the former city walls. There’s also one of the country’s leading contemporary art museums, the Abteiberg (, also closed Mondays), all about 15 minutes’ walk uphill from Mönchengladbach Hbf. Aachen is an hour away and Düsseldorf 20 minutes.

Nearby: Krefeld, Düsseldorf, Aachen, though late-evening train connections are thin on the ground.


Wuppertaler Bühnen has unfortunately recently lost its whole operatic ensemble (and closed its separate Schauspielhaus) in a drastic cost-cutting exercise, and a reduced roster of operas - only half a dozen in 2015/16 compared with eight or more in previous seasons - will now be cast with guest singers. Yet artistically, the company has been on a roll and always seems to throw up something worth travelling for each season, culminating in a Parsifal of international stature in March 2015. Performances are given at the Opernhaus in the Barmen district of the city, also the home of the world-renowned Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal contemporary dance company. The company operates almost to a ‘stagione’ system, with often only a small overlap between productions and meaning it’s usually only possible to see a single work in one short visit.

Theatre: an intimate, modern, semi-circular auditorium in a reconstructed Jugendstil shell from 1905, seating c.360 in the stalls, c.150 in the first tier and c.120 in the second tier. Good sight-lines from most seats, though rows 1-3 and 5 of the stalls are not raked.

2015/16 repertoire: Eugene Onegin, Lulu, Madama Butterfly, West Side Story, plus revivals of St John Passion, Tosca

Reviews of performances in Wuppertal: Krol Roger (Szymanowski)

Tickets: €8-41, bookable online and printable.

Practicalities: Wuppertal, the one-time textiles hub of Germany, is a ribbon city strung out for some 13km along the leafy valley of the Wupper river, and a conglomeration of formerly separate towns. The opera house is adjacent to Barmen DB station and close to Adler Brücke station on the Schwebebahn, the ‘swinging railway’ that is suspended over the river and is the city’s main transport link. Most of the hotels and other infrastructure, though, are in Elberfeld, close to Wuppertal Hauptbahnhof and some ten minutes to the west by Schwebebahn (an easy connection). There’s a vast redevelopment of the Hauptbahnhof frontage underway until 2017, which is making getting between station and town a bit of a hassle, but it’s still manageable. Wuppertal is second only to Essen in convenience as a base to stay while visiting different theatres in the region. Especially if you are using Wuppertal as a base, it’s worth considering staying in one of the handful of hotels that provides a ‘free’ (ie included) Ruhr-wide travel pass (worth €27 a day and valid on all non-Intercity transport, including the Schwebebahn) for the duration of your stay, including the InterCity and Central hotels. Apart from the theatre café there’s nowhere to eat immediately close to the Opera House, and in Elberfeld, the Luisenviertel offers more restaurants than the central shopping area.

Daytime: Riding the Schwebebahn is an attraction in itself. Elberfeld is home to a leading art collection, the Von der Heydt Museum, and there are several concentrations of grand villas built by textile magnates in the late 19th century worth wandering past, particularly in the Briller and Zoo areas – pick up a walking guide from the Tourist Office at Schloßbeiche 40. Near the Opera House in Barmen is the birthplace of Friedrich Engels (now a museum) and behind it a further museum of early industry. For a more rural experience, take the S7 train to Solingen-Schaberg and explore the picturesque, wooded lower Wupper valley on foot, with a chance to marvel at the engineering wonder of the Müngsten Bridge, the highest steel railway bridge in Germany, and visit Schloß Burg, the one-time seat of the Dukes of Berg, now a regional museum covering the history of the Bergischer Land. Otherwise, Cologne is only 45 minutes away from Wuppertal by train and much of the rest of the region is equally accessible.

Nearby (average journey times by train / per-hour frequency pre-performance / per-hour frequency post-performance): Düsseldorf (25/4/2), Hagen (25/3/1), Essen (46/3/1), Dortmund (49/1/1), Cologne (45/3/2).

Disclaimer: this guide has been compiled in good faith using facts available at time of writing, but please double-check practical matters – repertoire, prices, train frequency etc – with the appropriate websites and organisations before making any travel or ticketing arrangements.

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