On 29 September 2018, Peter Theiler’s directorship was inaugurated with a new production of Arnold Schoenberg’s key work »Moses und Aron«, staged by the hugely imaginative Catalan director Calixto Bieito. Both thematically and musically, Schoenberg’s work represents a unique departure and challenge for audiences, while at the same time exploring the relationship between thoughts, words and images through the biblical story. Under the baton of Alan Gilbert, the Semperoper stage was graced by two international stars in the title roles: Sir John Tomlinson and Lance Ryan. This opening production of the new Semperoper programme also looked back to the much-acclaimed East German premiere of »Moses und Aron«, staged in Dresden in 1974 by Harry Kupfer.
While »Ariadne auf Naxos« is one of the operas by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal not to be premiered in Dresden, in many respects this eclectic work of theatrical wit, ancient tragedy and commedia dell’arte reflects the spirit and tonal language of the somewhat earlier »Rosenkavalier«. The Staatskapelle’s high regard for »Ariadne auf Naxos« is confirmed by the orchestra’s three recordings of this masterpiece. The young German-French stage director David Hermann made his debut at the Semperoper with this production. Christian Thielemann, one of the leading Straussian interpreters of our time, conducted a brilliant roster of soloists featuring Krassimira Stoyanova, Stephen Gould, Daniela Sindram and Daniela Fally. The production was a co-production with the Opéra national de Lorraine Nancy and the Opéra de Lausanne.
Bedřich Smetana’s comic masterpiece »The Bartered Bride« is not only the Czech national opera par excellence but also a work that celebrates the close cultural ties between the German and Czech peoples. This tale of the girl Mařenka, who is supposed to marry the rich but dull Vašek, but of course loves poor Jeník, is certainly one of the most popular Czech operas. For her debut at the Semperoper, the internationally acclaimed French director Mariame Clément chose to set the story in the 1980s, turning Smetana’s opera into a bitter comedy about love and money. The production was conducted by Tomáš Netopil, one of the most renowned Czech maestros of the younger generation.
The ballet-opera »Platée« is one of the most unusual works of the 18th century, in which Jean-Philippe Rameau pokes fun at the mythical subject matter of its time. The title role for tenor – in fact an ugly marsh nymph – is one of the most musically dazzling parts in the entire French repertoire. In recent years »Platée« has been successfully revived at numerous theatres. This 2019 staging was the first performance of an opera by Rameau in the Baroque city of Dresden since 1752. Two tenors headed the production: conductor Paul Agnew, who himself has sung the role of Platée on numerous occasions, while the opera was staged by singer and director Rolando Villazón, here making his Dresden debut in the latter role.
David Bösch is one of Germany’s leading stage directors, at home in both spoken theatre and the opera house. In 2017 he celebrated his debut at the Semperoper with Korngold’s »Die tote Stadt«. Just two years later he brought Giuseppe Verdi’s early work »Nabucco« to the stage. A real highlight of the 2018/19 season, this production tells the biblical story of religion and violence through images that oscillate between the ancient world and the present day. »Nabucco« was the first premiere to be conducted by the Semperoper’s new principal guest conductor, Omer Meir Wellber.
Giacomo Meyerbeer’s »Les Huguenots« is a key work of the 19th century, and for many decades was frequently performed in Dresden. The historical tale of a religiously divided society whose tensions will eventually boil over into bloody massacre celebrated its triumphant return to the Semperoper in 2019. The performance also marked the return of acclaimed director Peter Konwitschny, his first appearance in Dresden following the scandal surrounding his production of »Die Csárdásfürstin« in 1999.
Bruno Maderna’s 1971 chamber opera »Satyricon«, based on the satire of the same name by the ancient poet Petronius, is one of the most famous Italian operas of the post-war period. In recent decades, this unsparing description of a decadent society has become more topical than ever. In his production, director Georg Schmiedleitner provides a savage commentary on a »high society« consumed by selfishness and cynicism. The Dresden premiere was conducted by Pietro Borgonovo, a specialist for contemporary Italian music. »Satyricon« was created in cooperation with the Salzburg Easter Festival and the Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti in Modena.
Complementing the musical theatre works for children, this local premiere of Jacques Offenbach’s political satire »Häuptling Abendwind« (»Vent-du-soir ou l’horrible festin«) from 1857 was produced specifically for an audience of young adults. Together with stage designers Timo Dentler and Okarina Peter, director Manfred Weiß designed a set that conjures up the world of hobby cowboys and Indians as well as the novels of genre writer Karl May, whose Villa Shatterhand (now home to the Karl May Museum) is located in the town of Radebeul, directly beside Dresden. From campsite cosiness and a fake-idyllic Wild West, this macabre and grotesque farce about foreign cultures turns into a provocative self-questioning about how we deal with outsiders today. »Vent-du-soir« was performed by members of the Giuseppe Sinopoli Academy under the baton of Thomas Leo Cadenbach.
This brilliant adaptation of Sarah Kane’s play »4.48 Psychosis« was the first full-length opera by the young British composer Philip Venables, and simultaneously one of the most important German premieres of recent years. In 2019, this shooting star of the contemporary music scene entrusted his score to the Semperoper, which commissioned Dresden poet Durs Grünbein to translate Kane’s complex poetry into German. Venables’ fascinating psychological portrait could be experienced in Semper Zwei, performed by the acclaimed soprano and new music specialist Sarah Maria Sun, heading an ensemble of six female singers.