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Travel journal - Semperoper in Dresden

Tuesday, 6 November 2012 , ora 10.04
Semperoper, one of the most beautiful opera houses of the world is located in the German city called Dresden. Although it has been marked by dramatic moments in the past, Semperoper has stood the test of time, it always managed to reborn from ashes and it has firmly won its status of modern and ambitious lyrical European theatre.

Pages of history

The building situated on the river Elbe was designed by Gottfried Semper, its construction started in 1838 and lasted until 1841. In 1869 a fire practically destroyed this architectural masterpiece. The reconstructed building was also designed by Semper - as were other wonderful buildings such as Burgtheater, Kunsthistorisches Museum and Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna - who was this time helped by his son Manfred Semper. Semperoper was once again destroyed, this time in the night of the bombardment of February 13th 1945. It was only on June 24th 1977 that the third reconstruction of what we call today the unique Semperoper of Dresden could begin.

With the exception of the auditorium, which was slightly modified by the architect Wolfgang Hänsch in order to accommodate 1300 seats, the new construction followed the old designs. Another stage for rehearsals and a spacious building for offices were added to the original scheme. The reopening of the theatre took place on February 13th 1985 with the Der Freischütz opera by Carl Maria von Weber.


The interior of the building is sumptuous, all the foyers, the ceilings and the stairs are richly ornamented with paintings and golden sculptures. The acoustics is perfect regardless of the place where you are seated.

Nowadays the Semper building in Dresden can be admired in all its grandeur. On the façade there are 6 sculptures: Goethe and Schiller at the entrance, Shakespeare and Sophocles on the left side and Moliere and Euripides on the right side. Up on the roof, above the main portal, there is an impressive bronze sculpture representing Dionysus and Arianna in a chariot drawn by four nervous panthers (Johannes Schilling).

The moment he walks inside, the guest is strongly impressed by the immense and richly painted curtain: up and down garlands of fruits and flowers; the portraits of six poets - Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, Lessing, Schiller, Goethe (up) and seven composers - Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Meyerbeer, Wagner, Rossini (down).

The reputation of the Opera House in Dresden was build through time. There were impressive premiers taking place on this scene: Rienzi (1842), The Flying Dutchman (1843) and Tannhäuser (1845) by Richard Wagner and most of Richard Strauss's works (among which Arabella in 1933 with Viorica Ursuleac in the title role).

2012 - 2013 season at Semperoper in Dresden

Semperoper has always been one of the music-lovers' favourite destination. Its vast repertoire is conceived to satisfy all tastes. In the 2012 - 2013 season we will be able to listen and see Alcina, The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin, The Knight of Rose, Don Carlo, La Traviata, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, Fidelio, Die Fledermaus(The Bat), La Bohème, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, The Elixir of Love... but also a rich repertoire of classical and contemporary ballet.

Bayadèreby Ludwig Minkus at Semperoper

This autumn I was invited to two spectacles at the Semperoper in Dresden. La Bayadère, with Ludwig Minkus's music, is a part of the standard classical repertoire, its presence on the posters of a musical theatre is almost obligatory. All the interpreters - soloists and corps de ballet - are given the opportunity to prove their qualities and the audience are delighted with the overflowing opulence of the ornaments and of the costumes - the story takes place in India. Aaron S. Watkin's choreography found a source of inspiration in Marius Petipa's model. In the title role, Elena Vostrotina and Dmitry Semionov (first soloist at the Berlin Staatsballett) succeed in beautifully combining the teachings of the ballet school in St. Petersburg with the experience of a prolonged collaboration. Under the experimented baton of the conductor David Coleman - who has been the musical director of the Rudolf Nureyev Company for many years, with which he has created the most important premiers at the Nureyev festival in London and he has recorded the music for several movies dedicated to the great choreographer - the instrumentalists of the State Chapel in Dresden have added colour and emotion to the musical sheet so as to carefully and efficiently support the ballerinas.

The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti at Semperoper

The second show that I watched at the Semperoper in Dresden was The Elixir of Love by Donizetti.

Michael Schulz has initially started his artistic carrier by studying theatre directing. But in the meantime, his collaborations with the lyrical theatre have become tight and diverse, from the director to the stage manager. In compliance with fashion and with the patterns offered by the majority of the lyrical scenes of the word, Semperoper reinterprets, reintegrates, modernizes/ updates the classical musical scores. This is also the case of the last premiere of the last season, The Elixir of Love by Donizetti.

Convinced that music survives under any circumstances, the directors, among which Michael Schulz, considered that their primary responsibility lies in creating a background that is as surprising as possible and in setting the action in a context that the contemporary audience can easily get familiarized with. The stage, mounted for all three acts of the opera, reproduces a dreary room, with big windows covered with boards, with a walled entrance and a ceiling that is about to fall. This is where, in dimness, the pairs are standing in weary positions at the tables or are shaking dangerously on the rhythm of a dance that can hardly be recognized because of the fumes of alcohol.

There is only one ray of light falling over a few piled mattresses and over Adina, who is reading. Nemorino is a strange, completely bewildering apparition, he is a young man dressed in a washed-out trench and he is continually and uselessly rolling a supermarket bag in his hands, inside of which there are a couple of pieces of chocolate, symbolizing the condensed sweetness that is supposed to alleviate depression.

Belcore is a comical apparition bolded by the director's idea of multiplying him… by eight. Behind the singer, there are eight mimes that are continually and precisely repeating his every move - starting with the discrete raising of an eyebrow and ending in the hectic bluster of the one who is wearing a uniform and a rank. Dulcamara's entrance has immediately brought to my mind the caricaturized apparition of the Flying Dutchman - an imposing ship enters the stage and from inside of it appears… Dulcamara. The humour that is sought after and which most often lacks subtlety can sometimes make you smile - when all the eight Belcore, followed by the real Belcore and by Gianetta or Adina (the process is reversible) disappear inside a tiny military tent, or when, at Adina's wedding, Nemorino shows up dressed in a grotesquely coloured dress.

The fact that some of the instrumentalists of the orchestra, mostly woodwinds, were brought on stage, on the upper floors, to interpret the musical scores 'at sight', was interesting. The piano was also placed 'at sight', on the left side of the stage, for an old decrepit rehearsal pianist and his young disciple to take turns in playing it. The old man is even given a role, throughout the spectacle he is trying to make phone calls from an obsolete pay phone and, once in a while, he moves to the centre of the stage, carrying a white balloon inflated with gas and tied with a string. He lets it go, then turns around, making insecure movements, goes back to his place in the audience's laughter that is targeting the remainders of the balloon falling ostentatiously to the ground, proving the pointlessness of the gesture. Then Nemorino and Adela acknowledge and share their love for each other, and the balloon, this time red, flies to the skies without leaving anything behind. At the same time all the boards fall from the windows, the wall in front of the door disappears, and the staggering pairs show beautiful demonstrations of virtuosity in standard dances.

We shan't forget the movements of the choir (conductor Pablo Assante, Christoph Bauer) who, dressed in colourful costumes in a puzzle of styles, fill up the stage, bustling in an ostentatious desire to participate in the action.

A spectacle - with pros and cons

I can't say that I liked the version of Donizetti's opera presented at Dresden. But I also can't say that I absolutely disliked it. It was an interesting version of musical theatre that can be intensely commented, which is an ideal situation!

In that which regards the musical part, although the spectacle began timidly, soon the interpreters warmed up and offered us a beautiful demonstration of bel canto. The conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi has occupied the function of oboist in the orchestra of the Milanese Opera House La Scala for 10 years and, after having studied with Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa, he has become a sought-after and unanimously appreciated conductor of Italian repertoire. Under his baton, the State Chapel of Dresden sounded impeccable.

Carolina Ullrich (Adina) comes from Chile, she sang in her native country at first, then in Europe and in the United States of America, she received numerous international awards that confirm the beauty of her voice, its technical agility but, most of all (in my opinion) the emotional-expressive charge with which she gives life to the characters.

The Italian tenor Giorgio Berrugi also debuted as a clarinettist in a symphonic orchestra in Rome. He only began singing in 2007 and has made his debut directly with Rodolfo from La Boema by Puccini. He rapidly enriched his repertoire and soon became famous and appreciated. Starting with the 2010 - 2011 season he has become a member of the Semper Oper ensemble, interpreting characters such as Don José, Rodolfo, Mario Cavaradossi, Don Ottavio and Nemorino. Even if he had some difficulties interpreting the famous aria 'Una furtiva lagrima', overall, Giorgio Berrugi interpreted beautifully a musical score that is quite generous for a tenor.

In Belcore, the German baritone Christoph Pohl plays and sings a part that is strongly marked by the caricature outline that both the composer and the director invested the character with. The most congenial character remains Dulcamara, the role with which Marco Vinco made his debut in April 2012 on the Dresden scene and in which he remains pleasant, elegant, convincing and swaggering. The cast of the spectacle is completed with Emily Duncan- Brown, playing Gianetta, who has a beautiful voice, but who slightly exaggerated in the acting performance.

Cristina Sârbu
Translated by Oana Puiu
MTTLC, Bucharest University