Obituary: Influential Director & Artistic Director Jürgen Flimm Dies at 81

By Francisco Salazar

On Feb. 4, 2023, German theater and opera director Jürgen Flimm died at the age of 81 in Berlin.

Born on July 17, 1941, Flimm was born in Gießen and studied the theory of drama, literature, and sociology at the University of Cologne. He would begin his career with his first position as assistant director at the Munich Kammerspiele in 1968.

He later went on to obtain positions as director at the National Theatre Mannheim and as a senior director at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg from 1973 to 74. Following his positions, at these theaters, he worked as a freelance director and director at the Schauspiel Cologne.

In 1985, he once again joined the Thalia Theatre, where he worked as a leading director for 15 years, and under his leadership, the theater became artistically and economically successful and one of the major voices in German theater.

He went on to direct productions by Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Schnitzler, and Shakspeare.

Aside from his theater career, he also directed operas around the world. His 1978 production of Luigi Nono’s “Al gran sole carico d’amore” started Flimm’s partnership with Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

He went on to direct works by Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Verdi, Gounod, Stravinsky, Franz Schreker, and others. He also worked at some of the most important opera houses around the world including the Teatro alla Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Berlin State Opera, the Zurich Opera, the Vienna State Opera, and the Hamburg State Opera.

He also directed a production of Wagner’s Ring for the Bayreuth Festival in 200 and was responsible for the scenic realization of the world premiere of “Der Riese vom Steinfeld” by Friedrich Cerha at the Vienna State Opera.

OperaWire raved about Flimm’s productions noting he “was a strong director.” Additionally of his last revival of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” at the Metropolitan Opera, OperaWire said, “Flimm, who was brought back to direct the production, keeps the drama’s pace healthy and fluid…he embraces this central theme with solid results.”

Outside his work on stage, Flimm was a professor at the University of Hamburg and was a member of the Academies of Arts in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt.

He received the title of an honorary doctor of the University of Hildesheim as well as numerous German prizes. He was also the president of the Deutsche Bühnenverein (German Stage Association), and was the Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival from 2007 until 2010 as well as the Intendant of the Berlin State Opera from 2010 to 2018.