Photo: Joachim Schamberger, Bienen School artist in residence, gives direction to students during the spring 2018 production of Theodora.

Northwestern University Opera Theater’s 2017–18 season demonstrated the breadth of human emotion under the creative leadership of Joachim Schamberger, Bienen School artist in residence and director of opera. 

The fall quarter’s “Moments of Mortality” offered audiences a triple bill of one-act operas exploring the themes of death and mortality: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Riders to the Sea, focusing on the last surviving son of an Irish family cursed with losing its men at sea; Darius Milhaud’s Le pauvre matelot, in which a sailor returns home after 15 years away, posing as a stranger to test his wife’s fidelity; and Gustav Holst’s Savitri, a parable of death claiming the title character’s husband.

In selecting these works, Schamberger considered a question as old as human awareness: What happens at the moment of our death? “These three one-act operas are shining light on that final hour in very different ways,” says Schamberger. “How will we face death? A last threshold, a portal, a gate to the other world, a bright light, a tunnel—we are left to our imagination when it comes to picturing the ultimate passage.” 

"Being able to combine entertainment with commentary on social issues through art and music is an invaluable experience for any aspiring young artist.” - Joachim Schamberger

In February, Schamberger directed the first Northwestern production of one of the world’s most widely performed operas, Mozart’s Don Giovanni—with a modern twist. Set in present-day New York, the production emphasized Mozart’s themes of power, abuse, and consent in the context of the #MeToo movement. Throughout the story, Don Giovanni, his romantic conquests, and his revenge-seeking enemies used social media and other modern conventions, which served as a vehicle for the notorious libertine’s escapades. 

Schamberger called the production “a wonderful opportunity for our students to work on one of the best operas ever written, during a time when its subject matter is so relevant to current events. Being able to combine entertainment with commentary on social issues through art and music is an invaluable experience for any aspiring young artist.” 


Spring quarter brought Handel’s Theodora, a rarely performed dramatic oratorio based on the life of a 4th-century martyr. Set in Roman-occupied Antioch, the story follows Theodora and her converted Christian lover, Didymus, as they endure punishment and sacrifice but remain true to their faith. Composed in the mid-18th century, Theodora received little acclaim at its premiere but today is widely recognized as a masterpiece. 

In reflecting on the work’s themes, Schamberger writes, “Persecution of minorities is a long-standing and tragic symptom of modern civilization. Those in power often suppress people who hold differing beliefs, especially when they become a perceived threat. While the roles of persecutor and persecuted change through history, the mechanism essentially remains the same: only one belief is correct, and those who disagree deserve to be punished.” 

Joachim Schamberger has staged productions throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia and is frequently invited to teach at music festivals and conservatories around the world. A graduate of the Musikhochschule in Würzberg and the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program, he also studied digital film production and 3D animation at the New York Film Academy. His expertise includes vocal and dramatic interpretation as well as style and language coaching. Schamberger served as visiting professor of opera at DePauw University before joining the Bienen School faculty in fall 2017.

Northwestern University Opera Theater’s 2018-19 season features Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw from Nov. 15 to 18 and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress from Feb. 28 to March 3, 2019. A third production to be announced for May 23 to 26, 2019.

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