In the 2012/13 season the Semperoper Dresden will continue its credo of combining tradition with innovation, perhaps a seemingly contradictory aim. We believe that music theatre can only be sensibly developed when its history and roots are acknowledged. Yet tradition is moribund unless it reflects and advances contemporary tastes and ideas, continually provoking our curiosity. In this season the Semperoper welcome three great names, and three great artists, who each in their own way stand for tradition and innovation.
The first of these is Christian Thielemann, the most renowned German conductor at work today, who takes up the reins as Principle Conductor to the Staatskapelle Dresden from the 2012/13 season. Semperoper audiences can thus look forward to many years of brilliant music-making from this self-confessedly passionate opera conductor. Furthermore, in his position as Artistic Director of the Salzburg Easter Festival, he has secured our collaboration with one of the world’s leading international festivals. On the 1st of September Christian Thielemann will assume his new duties at a special concert with the Staatskapelle, and in November will conduct his first opera, »Der Rosenkavalier«, at the location of its original premiere, the Semperoper Dresden.
The second important figure in upcoming season is Hans Werner Henze, the 85-year of composer and conductor, whose modern musical language does not shy from traditional styles of composition, and who has collaborated with contemporary writers to update classical texts. We are dedicating a special programme of concerts, operas and ballet productions to this great artist, beginning in September with the Dresden premiere of Henze’s Civil War drama »We come to the River«, a work rarely performed according to his original specifications on three separate stages, and which thus will offer an entirely new spatial impression of the Semperoper.
Finally, in the new season we celebrate that most radical innovator of 19th century European music theatre: Richard Wagner, whose 200th birthday falls in 2013. In this festive year we intend to shine a light on Wagner’s time in Dresden, when, as Kapellmeister to the Court Opera, he wrote many of his most famous works. Our audiences in 2013 can expect a new »Fliegende Holländer« as well as premieres of Halévy’s »La Juive« and Spontini’s »La Vestale«, two works which Wagner greatly admired and conducted in Dresden. His »Liebesmahl der Apostel« will also return to the place of its original premiere, the Frauenkirche. Together with many other cultural institutions in the city, the Semperoper is contributing to a diverse programme of events which will trace Wagner’s footsteps through Saxony.
The magnificent Semperoper dominates the Theaterplatz on the river Elbe, forming the centrepiece of the historic old city. The original building opened its doors in 1841, constructed to a design by Gottfried Semper which combined a late Classical style with Renaissance elements. Following a devastating fire in 1869, the citizens of Dresden immediately set about rebuilding their beloved opera house. This was completed in 1878, also to a design by Semper. In 1945, during the final months of World War II, the Semperoper was once again razed to the ground. After a second reconstruction was successfully completed in 1985, the reopening of one of Europe’s most beautiful opera houses was celebrated with a performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s »Freischütz«. The 25th anniversary of this third opera house was on 13 February 2010.
The dazzling interiors were painstakingly reconstructed by local craftsmen and artists according to original plans, whilst the stage machinery and technical fittings in the auditorium are state-of-the-art. A modern annex was added to house the administrative offices and rehearsal rooms. Internationally renowned for its brilliant acoustics and incomparable performances, audiences from around the world continue to flock here to enjoy a unique evening in the Semperoper Dresden.
Not only one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world, the Semperoper is renowned both here and abroad for the brilliant star-studded performances by Saxon State Opera as well as numerous international guest artists. This is the home of the Staatskapelle Dresden, an orchestra which looks back on 460 years of uninterrupted music-making. The State Opera Chorus was founded by Carl Maria von Weber in 1817. Operatic history has been written here, with the Semperoper playing host to numerous important premieres, such as Richard Wagner’s »Rienzi«, »Der fliegende Holländer« and »Tannhäuser «. The house is inextricably linked to the name of Richard Strauss, 21 of whose stage works were premiered in Dresden, including »Salome«, »Der Rosenkavalier« and »Elektra«.
Over the centuries the Semperoper has sought to balance tradition with innovation, with each successive general manager placing their own personal stamp on this fascinating blend of old and new.
Dr. Ulrike Hessler, who has been until her sudden death in summer 2012 general manager of the Semperoper Dresden since the 2010/11 season, has introduced a fourth programme of events for children and young people to complement the traditional focus on opera, concerts and ballet: Semperoper Junge Szene.
The calling card of the world-famous orchestra of the Semperoper Dresden is its inimitable sound, which has been maintained throughout its long history. Founded in 1548 by Prince Moritz von Sachsen as a court ensemble, the Staatskapelle Dresden is one of the oldest orchestras in the world, enjoying a wealth of tradition. Over various musical epochs up to the present day it has retained its position as one of the classical world’s leading orchestras.
This former court ensemble has been shaped over the years – and into the 21st century – by prominent conductors and internationally esteemed instrumentalists, such as composers Heinrich Schütz, Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner, and conductors Ernst von Schuch, Fritz Busch and Giuseppe Sinopoli. Christian Thielemann, the Principal Conductor since season 2012/13, continues this tradition from the 2012 season. Numerous recordings from the beginning of the 1920s document the Staatskapelle’s astonishing sound, which audiences in the world’s great centres of classical music can regularly enjoy during the ensemble’s extensive schedule of tours.
The baroque city has always been a centre of dance, with a permanent ballet company existing since the time of Carl Maria von Weber. After an early artistic blossoming in the 1920s, many great choreographies have subsequently been performed on the Semperoper stage under ballet directors Tom Schilling, Harald Wandtke and Vladimir Derevianko. The Canadian Aaron S. Watkin, ballet director since 2006, has brought a unique artistic vision to Semperoper Ballett. His aim is to dissolve of borders between classical and contemporary styles of dance, thereby realising highly imaginative and innovative choreographies. With a new and exciting repertoire based on traditional narrative ballets, modern dance and with first-class soloists from around the world, Aaron S. Watkin is also making waves on the international ballet scene.
From the 2010/11 season on the Semperoper’s new youth programme, entitled Semperoper Junge Szene, is exploring fresh material and forms of presentation while at the same time developing new works of music theatre. This will stimulate the interest of audiences both young and old, helping to build an audience for Junge Szene events. With this new venture, the Semperoper Dresden hopes to reveal the inherent joy in that most sensual of all art-forms: opera. The aim is to convey the joy of performance and to help visitors discover the delights of creativity: »That which we do not know, we do not miss.« (Zoltán Kodály).