Vincenzo Bellini’s »Norma« was the opening premiere of the 2021/22 season and the first new production of this key bel canto work at the Semperoper for 117 years. Previously, Ernst von Schuch conducted the opera at the Dresden Court Opera (as it was then known) in 1904. In this new production, Peter Konwitschny, supported by stage and costume designer Johannes Leiacker, updated the story from Gaul at the time of the Roman occupation to the modern age, thereby highlighting the contemporary relevance of the conflict between Norma’s private happiness and public responsibility as well as between patriarchal structures and women’s desire for emancipation. Conductor Gaetano d’Espinosa successfully led his first premiere at the Semperoper, directing an outstanding ensemble headed by Yolanda Auyanet as Norma, Dmytro Popov as the capricious Pollione and a touching Štěpánka Pučálková as Adalgisa.
Conceived as a five-act grand opera for the Opéra de Paris, Giuseppe Verdi’s »Don Carlos« was performed at the Semperoper in the Italian version »Don Carlo«. Following on from »Les Huguenots«, this opera continued our exploration of the traditions of grand opéra. Originally scheduled for the 2019/20 season as part of the Salzburg Easter Festival with Christian Thielemann conducting, the production – staged by Vera Nemirova – later enjoyed its acclaimed premiere under the baton of Ivan Repušić. Stage designer Heike Scheele constructed a monumental library as a backdrop for this opera dealing with the power of ideas and their suppression. A particular feature of this production was the premiere of an instrumental prologue specially composed by Manfred Trojahn, which visualises the prehistory of the opera and transports us into Verdi’s sound world. Audience and critics were thrilled by the performances of Vitalij Kowaljow as Filippo II, Riccardo Massi as Don Carlo, Andrei Bondarenko as the tempestuous Marquis of Posa, Hibla Gerzmava as Elisabetta di Valois and Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli.
A co-production with the Salzburg Easter Festival
The Dresden premiere of Gioachino Rossini’s »Il viaggio a Reims / The Journey to Reims« demonstrated the Semperoper and the Staatskapelle’s mastery of the comic world of Rossini’s bel canto opera with its mix of sentimentality and brilliant coloratura. But to really work, any production still requires an ideal cast, such as a sensational Emily D’Angelo as Angelina, Maxim Mironov as Ramiro, Maurizio Muraro as Don Magnifico and Andrey Zhilikhovsky as Dandini, as well as an imaginative, charming and contemporary staging. The internationally sought-after Italian director Damiano Michieletto made his celebrated debut at the Semperoper with this production. Conductor Alessandro De Marchi shaped the music with a keen sense of the demands of both score and story.
A co-production with the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
After a pandemic-related postponement, the first world premiere of Peter Theiler’s directorship was performed at the Semperoper in January 2022, namely the commissioned work »Die andere Frau« by Torsten Rasch with a libretto by Helmut Krausser. Composed for large orchestra and a small cast of soloists, this piece demands intimacy as well as a sense of vast distances. Together with stage designer Arne Walther and video artist László Zsolt Bordos, director Immo Karaman developed an exciting spatial concept in which the audience was placed on a platform directly on the stage with a view into the auditorium. The action took place on a transverse footbridge, with the Staatskapelle and conductor Michael Wendeberg in the orchestra pit. Video projections onto the circles created an emotional echo chamber for the dramatic on-stage action. The opera is based on the Old Testament story of Abraham, Sarah and the handmaiden Hagar – not only a dramatic tale of migration, abandonment, the abuse of power, childlessness and »surrogacy«, but also of the common roots of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Markus Marquardt, Magdalena Anna Hofmann, Annelie Sophie Müller and the Iranian-American jazz singer Sussan Deyhim (who interpreted ancient laments about the destruction of the city of Ur from the auditorium) all performed with tremendous commitment and passion. This work dealing with complex human relationships was a successful experiment warmly received by both audience and critics.
Audiences eagerly awaited the first »Aida« with Christian Thielemann conducting the Staatskapelle. And their expectations were more than met: this was a musical interpretation that brought to life Giuseppe Verdi’s brilliant instrumentation as well as the lyrical beauty of the arias and the gripping drama of the large choral tableaux. The production featured a scintillating vocal ensemble with Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role, Francesco Meli as Radamès, Oksana Volkova as the antagonist Amneris, Georg Zeppenfeld as Ramfis and Quinn Kelsey as Amonasro. Director Katharina Thalbach, supported by her set designer Ezio Toffolutti, created a »golden frame« for the opera, within which the eternal aspects of this tragic tale of a love caught between the affairs of state and individual freedom could told be while cleverly referencing Egyptian fashions of various epochs.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this international co-production of Giacomo Puccini’s »Madama Butterfly« with the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation, Det Kongelige Teater Copenhagen and the San Francisco Opera was staged in Dresden in 2022 following its premiere in Japan. The director of the production was Japan’s Amon Miyamoto, an artist familiar with the traditional Japanese theatrical forms of Nō and Kabuki as well as with European theatre, musicals and opera. This staging of »Madama Butterfly« was his first collaboration with the Semperoper. He developed his unique take on this tale of a doomed Japanese-American love affair – which displays stereotypical Western notions of 19th-century Japan – together with set designer Boris Kudlička and fashion icon Kenzō Takada, who died in 2020. Brilliant music-making was ensured by a star-studded cast headed by Kristine Opolais as Cio-Cio-San, Christa Mayer as Suzuki and Freddie de Tommaso in the role of B. F. Pinkerton, all performing under the baton of Omer Meir Wellber.
A co-production with the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation, the Det Kongelige Teater, Kopenhagen and the San Francisco Opera
Project Partner: Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe Sachsen, Ostsächsische Sparkasse Dresden, Sparkassen-Versicherung Sachsen, LBBW
When putting together each new season, one of the Semperoper’s main aims is to cultivate the musical traditions of its eastern neighbours. And so Bedřich Smetana’s »The Bartered Bride« was followed by Antonín Dvořák’s lyrical fairytale »Rusalka«, directed by the internationally acclaimed director Christof Loy, noted for his psychologically acute interpretations. This was his debut at the Semperoper, as it was for the young conductor Joana Mallwitz, who here collaborated for the first time with the Staatskapelle on an opera production. A scintillating Olesya Golovneva in the title role was joined by Pavel Černoch as the Prince, Elena Guseva as the Foreign Princess, Christa Mayer as the witch Ježibaba and Alexandros Stavrakakis as a memorable Water Goblin. This co-production with the Teatro Real Madrid, the Teatro Comunale Bologna, the Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, was another clear demonstration of the Semperoper’s wide international network.
Composed in 1930, the brilliant early work »Die Nase« by the 22-year-old Dmitri Shostakovich is today considered one of the key works of music theatre from the 20th century. Peter Konwitschny’s staging is only the second production at the Semperoper after Joachim Herz’s version from 1986 – and joined the impressive list of other modern classics performed at the Semperoper under the auspices of Peter Theiler such as »Moses und Aron« by Arnold Schoenberg or »Le Grand Macabre« by György Ligeti. This striking production will be remembered, among other things, for the clarity of the stage design by Helmut Brade, which makes full use of modern theatre technology, as well as a staging that illuminates the contemporary relevance of Shostakovich’s social analysis. Audiences were particularly thrilled by the excellent musical interpretation of the Staatskapelle – an ensemble dedicated to cultivating the memory of Shostakovich and his music – under Petr Popelka, as well as the impassioned portrayal and vocal interpretation of Kovalev by Bo Skovhus.
Eugène Ionesco’s play »La Cantatrice chauve/ The Bald Soprano« from 1950 is generally regarded as launching the Theatre of the Absurd. It was the basis for Luciano Chailly’s 1986 chamber opera of the same name, which received its German premiere in our Semper Zwei venue. Barbora Horáková Joly’s production highlighted the work’s tremendous energy while underlining the absurdity that we still find in our modern world; above all, the audience discovered that music theatre can be highly entertaining and profound, disturbing and exhilarating, even in its contemporary form. And, of course, the piece was a perfect choice to expand our series of modern opera performances of the last few years, which have so thrillingly confirmed the diversity and liveliness of today’s musical theatre.
Sadly, the production of the »Blues Brothers« had to be postponed several times due to the pandemic. But the show was more than worth the wait! This Dresden version by Manfred Weiß (director) and Natalie Holtom (co-director and choreographer) together with the band »Die Gebrüder Blues« under the direction of Max Renne and with a winning cast headed by Bosse Vogt as Jake and Christian Venzke as Elwood, proved to be a thrilling experience. Audiences were ecstatic – in particular when a Trabi drove through the back wall of the stage! Together with his costume and stage designers, Okarina Peter and Timo Dentler, respectively, Manfred Weiß, moved the story to East Germany, thereby allowing him to pay homage to the GDR’s lively blues scene.
Since its opening, the programme of our Semper Zwei venue has spotlighted the musical as a serious and hugely diverse art form full of surprises. A true masterpiece of the genre is »Into the Woods« by Stephen Sondheim, a composer whose work was never previously performed at Dresden’s opera house. Manfred Weiß (stage director) and Max Renne (conductor) created a hugely entertaining fairytale world for themselves and the numerous fans of the (perhaps greatest) Broadway composer, filled to the bitter end with wit, quick costume changes, boundless energy and clever lyrics. The audience was veritably enchanted by the Witch played by Sarah Maria Sun as well as the motley assortment of fairytale figures performed by ensemble members, guests and members of the Junges Ensemble.
One of Semper Zwei’s aims is to present musical theatre for children of all ages. The Dresden premiere of Zad Moultaka’s musical for kids aged six and up, based on the book of the same name by Paul Maar, was brought to the stage with wit and imagination by the up-and-coming young team of Ilya Ram (music director), Annika Nitsch (stage director) and Linda Siegismund (scenery and costumes). The end result not only delighted the audience but also the author, whose admiration of the successful production led him to grant the Semperoper permission to set another of his children’s books ...
Since its premiere in 1986, Udo Zimmermann’s chamber opera »Weiße Rose« has been one of the most frequently performed contemporary works of the genre. This was the second production in Dresden (the first back in 1987), here staged by Swiss director Stefan Grögler and sensitively conducted by Johannes Wulff-Woesten. In a claustrophobic setting, this is the powerful story – told in flashback and with dreamlike imagery – of the final hours of siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, who as members of the eponymous »White Rose« resistance movement were executed by the Nazis in 1943, ostensibly for treason. There were a number of reasons why Peter Theiler wanted to give audiences another opportunity to hear this important work: on the one hand, the opera serves to promote a culture of remembrance while also offering a timeless message; on the other hand, the performance honoured the memory of Udo Zimmermann (1943–2021), one of Dresden’s great composers, whose operas »Levins Mühle« and »Der Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin« were both premiered by Dresden State Opera.