The Semper Opera House, Dresden

Guided tours are always high on our agenda wherever we go. There is so much to appreciate about a given area that you don’t get by simply walking around. We
inquired at the Dresden opera house in June about the possibility of such a visit and were told to come back at three o’clock that day. We were unprepared, however, for the number and different nationalities of people wanting the English tour: not just British, Australians, and Americans, but a wide variety of non-German speakers from French and Japanese to Eastern Europeans.

The Semperoper is an opera house, a theater for plays and ballets, and a concert hall; its history, like that of many other city monuments, has seen its share of misfortune. The original structure, designed by architect and professor Gottfried Semper, was built between 1838 and 1841. Then referred to as the Hofoper [or the Royal Opera House], the building was the sight of many premieres, including Wagner’s opera Rienzi in 1842. The first tragedy to strike the edifice was a devastating fire in 1869. Semper, although exiled because of his part in a democratic uprising, was again asked to be in charge of the rebuilding; his son Manfred oversaw the on-site reconstruction which was completed in 1878. During that period, the exterior was changed to the neo-Renaissance style, while the interior reflected the popular art nouveau.

Subsequent to the bombing of their city in the winter of 1945, the people of Dresden decided to rebuild the exterior of the opera house as it was before the war and to recreate the interior as Semper had originally designed it. One of the biggest
hurdles facing the rebuilders was the absence of both architectural plans of the exterior and photos of the interior as it was in 1841. What did remain were hundreds of letters from Semper to his son concerning the reconstruction after the fire. It took over thirty years to begin and eight years to rebuild, but the Semperoper regained its former glory in 1985.

Our guide Susanne pointed out that the interior of Semperoper gets more elegant as you climb to higher floors. The lower foyer sustained fire damage in the bombing, but wasn’t as severely affected as other areas. Its stucco walls are made to look like wood; an Italian marble quarry was reactivated in 1977 in order to complete the reconstruction of the opera house. The upper foyer, called the “bel étage” is quite splendid with its trompe-l’œil ceiling depicting the life of Dionysis, the
god of wine and theater. On the third floor one finds the vestibule, a festive room whose stucco columns look like marble. Susanne explained the painstaking work of
putting plaster over brick to create each column—over three hundred hours for each one. The chandeliers throughout the building had been melted down for scrap metal during the post-war period. As was the case for the doors of the Frauenkirche, a call went out for photos of the lights which once hung on the three floors.

Finally, our group went into the auditorium which, except for certain modern modifications, has been meticulously restored. A plan was found in the Semper archives in Zurich in order to recreate the 1300-piece great chandelier. The opera house now employs over 800 people, including 150 musicians and 100 singers.

It is a testament to the German people that they even conceived of rebuilding Dresden. The city gives evidence to both the artistry of humankind and the horrors of war.

posted under |


Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home



Recent Comments