Opera & Democracy: Transatlantic Conversations & Concerts

The Thomas Mann House and musicologist Kai Hinrich Müller, a 2023 Fellow, will convene a transatlantic series of talks and concerts dedicated to the democratic potential of the opera – an art form that was also a great passion of Thomas Mann. Various events in the U.S. and Germany will explore the relationship between opera and democracy and how the opera can contribute to diverse and inclusive societies. The series is hosted by the Thomas Mann House in collaboration with partner institutions in the U.S. and Germany.

"It is precisely this idea of art and culture that drives the fight for democratic values and determines the program of the event at the TMH."
– Sophie-Charlotte Opitz (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)


The Series

This series commemorates the centenary of the reopening of Berlin's legendary Krolloper in 1924, one of the leading opera houses of the interwar period and today a symbol of both the renewal of opera in the 20th century and the struggle for democratic values in times of crisis. To honor this anniversary, panel discussions with international scholars and artists will explore the multifaceted history of this important institution and delve into the complex relationship between opera and democracy today. The focus will be on the democratic potential of opera and its possible contributions to a diverse and inclusive society. Topics range from aspects of the democratization of opera, to questions of power and representation, new formats, casting and programming policies, audience expectations as well as to academic challenges and opera's ability to amplify the voices of silenced or persecuted artists. Each conversation will be accompanied by concerts, sometimes world premieres, that present excerpts from rarely performed stage works, among them works by persecuted artists discovered in archives. Further information on all events can be found below.


Jan 20, 2024 | Thomas Mann House, Los Angeles

Opera & Democracy

Location: Thomas Mann House, Los Angeles

Music: Kurt Weill: The Yes-Sayer / Works by Richard Wagner, Lily Reiff, Edmond Dédé

Artists: Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, Jan Vogler, Umi Garrett

Keynotes: Joy Calico, Michael Steinberg

Conversation: Daniela Smolov Levy, Kira Thurman, Alex Ross, facilitated by Kai Hinrich Müller

More information here.

Mar 3, 2024 | Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste / Bayerische Staatsoper

Opera & Democracy II: Den gewaltsam Verstummten zuhören ...

Location: Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts / Bavarian State Opera, Munich

Music: Viktor Ullmann: Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke / Gideon Klein: Streichtrio (1944)

Artists: Susanne Gargerle, Tilo Widenmeyer, Allan Bergius, Noa Beinart, Robert Dölle, Vladimir Jurowski

Conversation: Lydia Grün, Vladimir Jurowski, Kai Hinrich Müller, facilitated by Andrea Thilo

In cooperation with the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts and the Bavarian State Opera

More information here.

Apr 11, 2024 | Cologne University of Music and Dance

Opera & Democracy III
: Demokratieförderung an der HfMT – Musikwissenschaft und Musikpädagogik im Fokus

Location: Cologne University of Music and Dance, Chamber Music Hall

Music: Jan-Hendrik Herrmann

Conversation: Antje Valentin, Nora Pempel, Andreas Niessen, Lukas Schumacher / Johann Honnens, Sabine Meine, Kristina Preis, Hannah Kopp, facilitated by Marco Lombardi

With support by: Förderfonds | Engagement für Vielfalt, Toleranz und Demokratie an der HfMT Köln

More information here.

Apr 16-20, 2024 | Various locations, New York

Opera & Democracy IV
: Listening to Exile

Locations: 1014 – space for ideas, Goethe-Institut, Austrian Cultural Forum New York, Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History

Music: Rosy Geiger-Kullmann: Excerpts from Emanuela, Ritter Lanzelot and Columbus (World premiere) / Paul Aron: Songs from Exile / Ernst Toch (arr. Paul Aron): Edgar & Emily / Ruth Schonthal: Excerpts from Princess Maleen / Erich Zeisl: Excerpts from Hiob / Works by Tania León, Ursula Mamlok and Alyssa Regent

Artists: Ellie Pope, Toby Banks, Benjamin Warschawski, Benjamin Sokol, Elliot Roman, Weiyu Wang, Rea Abel, Clara Cho and more / New Chamber Ballett (Choreography: Miro Magloire)

Conversation: Michael Steinberg, Brigid Cohen, Gracia Golden (Artistic Freedom Initiative), Kai Hinrich Müller,  facilitated by Olivia Al-Slaiman

More information here.

May 11-12, 2024 | Dresden Music Festival

Opera & Democracy V

Location: Palais im Großen Garten, Dresden

Music: Rachel Danziger: Excerpts from The Village Countess / Amélie Nikisch: Excerpts from My Aunt, Your Aunt

Artists: Nefeli Spyropoulou, Ekaterina Krovateva, Bálint Németh, Friedemann Gottschlich, Benjamin Hewat-Craw, Alexander Breitenbach

In cooperation with the Dresden Music Festival, Musica non grata and Terezín Music Academy

More information here here.

June 11, 2024 | Black Opera Research Network

Opera & Democracy VI

Location: Online

Conversation: Philip Miller, Tshegofatso Moeng, Allison Smith, Kai Hinrich Müller, Joy Calico, and Joshua Tolulope David.

An event by the Black Opera Research Network.

More information here.

Sep 22, 2024 | Brown University, Providence (RI)

Opera & Democracy VII

Location: Brown University, Providence

Music: Darius Milhaud: Excerpts from Esther de Carpentras / Scaramouche / La création du monde / Video art by Steven Subotnick

Artists: Michal Friedländer, Hagar Sharvit, Angeline Sun, Consuelo Sherba, Lois Finkel, Katherine Winterstein, Daniel Harp

Keynotes: Kai Hinrich Müller, Katharina Galor

Conversation: Gayle Murchison, Edwin Seroussi, Samuel Turjman Thomas, facilitated by Katharina Galor

More information coming soon

Oct 17, 2024 | Bauhaus Archive – Museum of Design, Berlin

Opera & Democracy VIII

Location: Bauhaus-Archive – Museum of Design, Berlin

Music: Marc Blitzstein: Excerpts from Parabola and Circula (World premiere) / Cathy Milliken: Songs from Driving with Fatima

Artists: Michal Friedländer, Karl-Heinz Steffens and more

In cooperation with bauhaus music weekend 2024

More information coming soon

Jan 31, 2025 | Hamburg State Opera

Opera & Democracy IX

Location: Hamburg State Opera

Music: Ernst Krenek: The Dictator / Excerpts from Pallas Athena Weeps

Artists: Members of Hamburg State Opera, Volker Krafft

Under the patronage of General Music Director Kent Nagano

A collaboration between the Thomas Mann House, Los Angeles, the Hamburg State Opera, and the Körber Foundation.

More information coming soon


"The new Thomas Mann House series comes at the right time: the world is boiling and burning everywhere."
- Marco Frei (Bayerische Staatszeitung)


More about the Krolloper

The Kroll Opera House in 1930. Copyright: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-09067 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

They may shut down our opera house, but they cannot kill the idea, declared conductor Otto Klemperer after the closure of Berlin's iconic Krolloper, a cultural institution emblematic of the fusion of politics and art. Founded in the 19th century, it reopened in 1924 with a performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, initially as an offshoot of the Berlin State Opera, then as an independent entity under Otto Klemperer (1927-31), who contributed to the institution's artistic significance. The opera soon became a gathering space for the avant-garde and an “intersection of social and artistic interests,” as Thomas Mann phrased it. The Krolloper pursued the idea of an inclusive and accesible opera, which was supported by social democratic politics and in line with the democratic achievements of the Weimar Republic. With the rise of reactionary forces, it was forced to close in 1931. Its musical and artistic heyday thus came to an end, but its history did not: after the Reichstag fire, the Krolloper housed the last parliament of the Weimar Republic, which fostered it's important role for the history of democracy and culture in Germany. It was also there that the Nazis abolished the Weimar Republic in 1933. Many artists affiliated with the Krolloper, such as Otto Klemperer, were persecuted and forced into exile. Otto Klemperer eventually moved to the U.S. and became the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

More about Kai Hinrich Müller

The series is led by Thomas Mann Fellow Kai Hinrich Müller, who studied musicology, business administration and law at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn and received his doctorate in 2013 with a thesis on the history of the early music movement. His habilitation followed in 2022. In his research, he deals with Richard Wagner and his reception in the Bayreuth circle as well as the so-called völkische Bewegung (nationalist movement), forms of anti-Semitism in music history, musical life in the interwar and especially Nazi period, as well as transatlantic opera history with a special focus on U.S. exile. He teaches at the Cologne University of Music and Dance, directs projects in Germany and abroad, and is the academic and artistic director of the Terezín Music Academy in the former Theresienstadt ghetto and the Bauhaus Music Weekend.