Following Giacomo Meyerbeer’s »Les Huguenots«, another key work of »grand opéra« was scheduled to be performed at the Semperoper in the 2020/21 season: »William Tell«, Gioachino Rossini’s final opera and at the same time his most challenging and sophisticated score. Based on the Swiss legend with its infamous arrow shot through an apple, the opera tells how authoritarian oppression can foster the political consciousness of a people. Together with set designer Harald Thor, Austrian director Georg Schmiedleitner developed Rossini’s opera into a dystopian vision of a society in search of meaning. Unfortunately, the performance could not be realised as scheduled in the autumn of 2020.
Achim Freyer’s 2006 production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera »The Magic Flute« was performed over 300 times at the Semperoper. High time, therefore, in the 20/21 season, to retell this timeless masterpiece. Under the baton of the Semperoper’s principal guest conductor Omer Meir Wellber and directed by Josef Ernst Köpplinger, the new production was presented on 1 November 2020 as the first premiere of the new season. The interval-free version lasting two hours came just one day before the second lockdown. Omer Meir Wellber created a lively and crystalline Mozart sound with the Dresden Staatskapelle to complement Köpplinger’s interpretation of Mozart’s opera as a coming-of-age story centred around Tamino. The fantastical plot is told through the eyes of a child using powerful (video) images that cleverly quote the worlds of fantasy and science fiction.
Claudio Monteverdi’s »L’Orfeo« is regarded as the first true opera. This epoch-making work has only been staged once before at the Semperoper, in 1941 in the arrangement by Carl Orff. For this new production, the Semperoper engaged conductor Wolfgang Katschner and his Berlin ensemble »Lautten Compagney«, doubtless the most renowned German interpreters of the music of Monteverdi and his contemporaries. The young stage director Nikolaus Habjan made use of life-size puppets in his version of »L’Orfeo«. The performance could not be realised in the spring of 2021 and has been postponed to a later season.
Nine of Richard Strauss’s operas were premiered in Dresden, including »Salome«, »Elektra« and »Der Rosenkavalier«. While »Capriccio« – his so-called »conversation piece for music« – is not on the list, this work by the great composer, who was already 78 years old at the time of its premiere in 1942, is still integral to the Semperoper’s repertoire. And, of course, its topic is close to the heart of the Staatskapelle and the orchestra’s principal conductor, Christian Thielemann. Together with his production team, stage director Jens-Daniel Herzog, who recently thrilled audiences at the Salzburg Easter Festival and in Dresden with his interpretation of »Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg«, developed an interpretation that takes Richard Strauss’s wistful view of the Rococo world a step further to examine the use of memory as an escape from the world and a protection against the exigencies of the present.
By means of flashbacks and dreamlike images, Udo Zimmermann’s chamber opera »Weiße Rose«, which premiered at Hamburg State Opera in 1986, tells of the final hours of siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, members of the eponymous resistance movement against the Nazis, who were executed in 1943 for alleged treason. The work is an admonishment to audiences never to forget. Staged for Semper Zwei by Swiss director Stefan Grögler (here making his debut in Dresden), this is the first production of the work since its premiere in the Saxon capital in 1987. One of the most frequently performed chamber operas, »Weiße Rose« is by Dresden’s Udo Zimmermann, a leading light of Europe’s contemporary music scene. His operas »Levins Mühle« and »Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin« were premiered by Dresden State Opera.
The 1980 film »Blues Brothers«, featuring James Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, is a veritable cult classic that injected new life into an almost forgotten musical genre: the blues. In the version created and directed by Manfred Weiß, the story of the Blues Brothers and their songs is staged as an homage to the lively blues scene of the GDR. Unfortunately, the performance in Semper Zwei could not be realised in January 2021 and has been postponed to a later season.
Aribert Reimann’s chamber opera »Die Gespenstersonate«, which premiered in Berlin in 1984, is a perceptive and intelligent work of social analysis based on the play by Sweden’s August Strindberg. Aribert Reimann is Germany’s leading composer of contemporary opera and was the Staatskapelle’s composer-in-residence for the 2020/21 season. His setting of Shakespeare’s »Lear« enjoyed international success. The surreal »Gespenstersonate«, which begins as a strange dinner party, quickly turns darkly bitter as the vices and dark secrets of all of the guests gradually come to light. Director Corinna Tetzel was scheduled to stage her version of this work for audiences at Semper Zwei in the spring of 2021. However, the performance has been postponed to a later season.