Semperoper history

The history of the Semper Opera begins in 1834

The first royal Court Theatre (1841 – 1869) was destroyed by fire on 21 September 1869. The second royal Court Theatre, later the State Opera (1878 – 1945), was destroyed during bombing during World War II on 13 Fbruary 1945. The re-built opera building was opened on 13 February 1985 with a performance of the ‘Freischütz‘ (‘The Marksman‘) and the ‘Rosenkavalier‘ (‘The Knight of the Rose‘). The floods in August 2002 forced the ‘third‘ Semper Opera to close its doors for four months.

The first royal Court Theatre

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How inspired must Gottfried Semper have been by music to create such a masterpiece like the Semper Opera in only four years? In 1838 King Friedrich August II asked Gottfried Semper (1803 – 1879) to build a new royal court theatre in order to spread Saxony‘s reputation as a state of culture even further. 

The king himself wanted to finance the building. However, when he requested the costs to be transferred to local parliament, a consitutional crisis was brought on.

The opening was celebrated on 13 April 1841 with Carl Maria von Weber’s ‘Jubelouvertüre‘ (‘Jubilee Overture‘) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s ‘Torquato Tasso‘. It was here that Richard Wagner’s path to worldwide fame started.

The building was completely destroyed by fire on 21 September 1869.

The second royal Court Theatre

Reconstruction of the Court Theatre started only two years after the fire in 1871. However, Gottfried Semper was not allowed to be involved as he had participated in the May Uprisings. After a petition by the people of Dresden on his behalf he was at least allowed to hand in a plan for the new building, which was implemented under the supervision of his son Manfred.

This led to the second solemn opening in one century in the Residence City of Dresden. Until 1895 the second royal Court Theatre, one of the most modern and pompous theatres in the world, housed both an opera and a drama ensemble.

Under general music director Ernst von Schuch, from 1882 also manager of the Court Opera, the worldwide recognized cultivation of the work of one time Dresden inhabitant Richard Strauss commenced with the world premieres of some of his operas, e.g. ‘Feuersnot‘ (‘In Need of Fire‘, 1901), ‘Salome‘ (1905), ‘Elektra‘ (1909) and ‘Der Rosenkavalier‘ (‘The Knight of the Rose‘, 1911). After the First World War the court theatres were turned into Saxon State Theatres and housed a lot of world premieres due to the efforts of Fritz Busch, the opera and general music director, until he was driven away by the Nazis in 1933. In 1934 Karl Böhm took over the ensembles until the Semper Opera was closed on 31 August 1944 due to the circumstances of the ‘Total War‘. During the air-raids on Dresden the Semper Opera was nearly completely destroyed in the night of 13 February 1945. 

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Operas with a background

“A visit to the opera is like a time journey through realities and souls. Only the audience know what you can sense when situations or world perspectives are played. Some staged worlds vanish when confronted with reality – but do they lose their actuality? “ (Semper Opera Dresden, Ilsedore Reinsberg) The performances ‘Penthesilea‘ and ‘Cadillac‘ stand for a piece of opera history in the 20th century , that were first performed at the ‘second‘ Semper Opera between the World Wars. The economic boom, relative domestic and international peace, a new concept of individuality and the lively entertainment business – the so-called Golden Twenties – marked the life of the population and also influenced theatre production.

The ‘third‘ Semper Opera

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The resurrection of the Semper Opera was prepared through first stabilizing work between 1946 and 1955. The laying of the foundation stone for the reconstruction under the leadership of Wolfgang Hänsch based on Gottfried Semper’s plans took place on 24 June 1977. In 1984 the building was handed over to the State Opera for technical testing and rehearsals. On 13 February 1985, exactly 40 years after the destruction during the air-raids, the Semper Opera was re-opened with the ‘Freischütz‘ by Carl Maria von Weber, which was also the last performance before the closing on 31 August 1944.

In 1991 the State Opera Dresden officially became the Saxon State Opera Dresden. Due to the damage by the floods the house had to be closed from August to November 2002. The Saxon State Opera received great and unparalleled help and experienced international solidarity from volunteers, tourists and generous donors.

Since the re-opening of the Semper Opera the repertory of German and Italian opera is continually developed under varying directorship, also including some further European operas. A lot of national and international guests – directors and in the fields of choreography, stage set and costumes - have left their stamp on the positive image of Dresden’s opera regarding its international musical theatre work and ballet. Besides world-famous directors, it is especially the ballet group and Dresden‘s singers who enrich the opera of the Saxon capital. The orchestra, the Dresdner Staatskapelle, is one of the top ten orchestras in the world and also plays its considerable part.

Establishing the Foundation for the Promotion of the Semper Opera in 1992 has made the creation of commissioned work, special productions and international casting on certain dates possible.

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