The paved square was originally located on the edge of the city, which was centered around the Altmarkt, a historic square just southeast of the Theaterplatz.
The most prominent building at the mostly pedestrianized square is the Semper Opera House, originally known as the Hoftheater, hence the name of the square. A first version of the opera house was built in the 17th century, but was replaced by a new, grander structure between 1838 and 1841.
On the west side, the square is bordered by a large wing of the Zwinger Palace. The wing houses two museums, the Gemälderie Alte Meister - an art gallery - and the Rüstkammer, an armory. Flowerbeds and two 19th century fountains grace the area in front of the Zwinger.
Opposite the palace, along the Elbe River, is the Italian Dörfchen. The low baroque structure was built in 1912 by Erlwein. It is named after the Italian stonemasons who lived here when they were working at the nearby Hofkirche, which borders Theaterplatz on the south-east side.
The famed Saxon State Opera Dresden known as the Semper Opera House is a post war reconstruction of the building planned by famed architect Gottfried Semper between 1871-8 replacing his earlier work destroyed by fire. This boat shaped Renaissance style building is an outgrowth of Semper's great love of classical and Italian architecture and is considered one of the world's most famous both for its beauty and its acoustics. Performances cost in excess of $100 US and are sold out way in advance. Tours are only in German - join the long line at the right side of the building for the tours beginning at 2:30 PM. An English summary is available free of charge but the interior is so stunning that you may have little time to read it. Most of the tour guides, with the help of the rest of the tour group, will do their best to translate the essentials ( more or less ).
The building dominates the Theaterplatz - at the entrance look up to see the chariot drawn by four panthers with Dionysius, the Greek god of art, and Ariadne, in some myths his wife or lover (image 4). The main statues on either side are von Goethe and Schiller, the famous writers. The periphery of the roof and the niches contains statues (image 5) of other famed art legends including Moliere, Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Euripides ( but not Eumenides ) as well as ancient Greek and Roman heroes and gods. Some of these statues are pre-WWII originals saved after the bombing which destroyed the building. The cupola over the central entrance, ( image 3 ), features The Three Graces - daughters of Zeus representing joy, charm, and beauty - with Apollo, the son of Zeus and god of poetry and music, and Marsyas, a flute-playing satyr.
The glory to Dresden as a city of music was brought by its drama and opera theatres. The most beautiful and perfect of them is located on the Theatrical square and was erected by architect Gottfrid Semper in the second half of XIXth century.
The Semperoper surpassed even Milan La Skala on acoustics.
The Theatre became the sample for construction of many opera theatres of the world.
The night before I visited Dresden I had been at the Deutch Oper in Berlin. The opera we saw was Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber and not one person in the group had heard of either previously. I really enjoyed the performance though and to my delight discovered that Carl Maria von Weber composed the opera while living in Dresden and that Der Freischutz was the last opera performed in the Opera House before its destruction and the first to be performed when it re-opened. Von Weber died in London in 1826 but in 1844 Richard Wagner arranged for his remains to be interred in Dresden. There are many reminders of him throughout Dresden, most notably the Carl Maria von Weber Museum and his burial place at the Inner Catholic Cemetery.
The Semper Oper has been described as the most beautiful Opera House in the world but I have to say that I would not agree with this description. From the outside I didn't particularly like the shape or style of the building and until I get to attend a performance there the interior will remain an unknown quantity.
What one has to admire however is the amazing history of Dresden's Staat Oper.
1841 : completed and named after its architect, Gottfried Semper
1869: destroyed by fire
1871-'78: rebuilt by Semper and his son Manfred
1945: destroyed in the bombing of Dresden
2002: severely damaged by floods
So even if you have absolutely no interest in opera or music and if you are not very impressed by the exterior, do stand in awe at the spirit of survival which this building represents.
A major part of the guided tour is through the staircases and hallways of the opera house. The ceiling and wall paintings feature mythologic scenes in bright eye-catching color set against a luxurious gold and white decor. Large Corinthian-style marble colums line the walls and staircases. Lighting is by both ornate chandeliers and wall-mounted fixtures. Further splashes of color are from velvet-like cloth in a rich red color on benches and scattered on the walls as well.
High above the stage and just below the ceiling is a long mural stretching the entire width of the stage and featuring the most famous and charismatic operatic personalities devised by the minds of composers and authors. Each is dressed in the clothing of their time and represents a high point of operatic achievement. Even I, with little knowledge of opera, could identify Falstaff, Iphigenia, and of course Othello. Included are images of the entire painting divided into four sections - if you opera experts can identify any of the others, please let me know. I loved this painting - my lack of knowledge should not preclude you from checking it out.
The centerpiece of the Semper Opera is the magnificent theater. The regal stage is surrounded by extensive orchestra seating and three balconies with royal boxes. During our visit, the famed curtain was covered, but the massive ornate chandelier backed by extensive ceiling paintings and the ornate decor for the balconies and walls were a highlight of the tour. Camera images cannot do this room justice.
The aura of the auditorium is enhanced by a knowledge of the great composers and their works which have been performed here. Numerous operas by Wagner and Strauss received their debuts in this room and the list of composers and singers who have been featured. The Saxon State Opera Orchestra and Chorus are currently housed here and are world-famous.
The Semper Opera House is named after Gottfried Semper (1803-1879), the architect who designed it once and built it twice.
His original opera house was completed in 1841. The composer Richard Wagner was musical director, and three of his operas had their world premieres here.
In 1869 the building was destroyed by fire, and Semper was asked to come back and rebuild it. The only problem was that he was living in exile, having been condemned by a Dresden court for his part in organizing the short-lived revolution of 1848. But he was pardoned so he could return and rebuild the opera house from 1871 to 1878, which he did, though in fact he delegated most of the day-by-day supervision to his son Manfred Semper this time around.
Like everything else in Dresden, the opera house was destroyed by bombs in the night of February 13, 1945. From 1977 to 1985 it was again rebuilt in a form very much like the original.
In the summer of 2002 the Elbe River overflowed its banks and flooded most of the city of Dresden, including the stage and technical sections of the opera house, so that again a huge rebuilding effort was necessary. Fortunately the flood waters stopped just centimeters short of the front end of the opera house, so the elaborate interior decoration (which is mostly made of plaster) was not seriously damaged.
The architect Gottfried Semper (1803-1879) believed in using local materials and craftsmen whenever possible. So what looks like marble in the Semper Opera usually isn't. It's plaster, carefully molded, painted and polished by skilled craftsmen who passed their professional secrets down from father to son, or took the secrets with them to their graves.
Some of them mixed honey with the final layer of plaster to give it a particular mute shimmer, and then painted and polished it carefully.
Even a lot of the apparent wood paneling isn't made of wood at all, but is plaster carefully painted to look like wood.
The tour guides are usually people who were directly involved in rebuilding the Semper Opera from 1977 to 1985, so they can explain all this in great detail.
For more tours of German opera houses, see the travelogues on my Leipzig, Karlsruhe and Frankfurt am Main pages.
The Semperoper is one of the most famous opera house in Germany and in the world. It was first built in 1841, by architect Gottfried Semper, in the Early Renaissance style. It had to be rebuilt after a fire destroyed it in 1869. The citizenry demanded that Gottfried Semper do the reconstruction, even though he was in exile at the time because of his activities in the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849.
The building is considered to be a prime example of "Dresden-Baroque" architecture. It is situated on the Theater Square in central Dresden on the bank of the Elbe River. On top of the portal there is a Pantherquadriga with a statue of Dionysos. The interior was created by such famous architects of the time as Johannes Schilling. Monuments on the portal depict famous artists such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, William Shakespeare, Sophocles, Molière and Euripides. The building also features work by Ernst Rietschel and Ernst Julius Hähnel.
Opera Semper es una de las operas mas famosas de Alemania y del mundo entero. Fue primeramente construida en 1841 por el arquitecto Gottfried Semper en estilo renacentista. Fue reconstruido en 1869 después de que fuese pasto de un incendio, la población exigió que fuese Semper quien reconstruyera el teatro, sin embargo el estaba exiliado debido al levantamiento de Mayo en 1849. El edificio es un claro ejemplo de estilo barroco.
1. Paintings on the ceilings
2. Looking up from the ground floor
Not only the walls, also the ceilings in the Semper Opera foyers are elaborately decorated with designs and paintings.
Since these were painted directly onto the final smooth coat of plaster, the artists had to spend days, weeks, months or probably years lying on their backs on scaffolding to paint all these pictures.
In some places in the Semper Opera House there are square gaps in the floor and ceiling so you can look up from the ground floor, as in the second photo, and see the painting on the ceiling of the next higher floor (one flight up).
OK, I had already seen this production of Verdi's Don Carlo at the Semper Opera four years earlier, but the special thing this time (2008) was that I was able to attend with two VirtualTourist members, Kathrin_E (Kathrin), who was in Dresden to attend a week-long conference, and german_eagle (Ingo), who lives in Dresden and was kind enough to organize the tickets.
Ingo has posted an album with a nice photo of the three of us in the lobby of the Semper Opera.
Over the years Verdi wrote seven different versions of this powerful opera, some in French and some in Italian. I have seen the five-act French version in Strasbourg and a five-act Italian version in Wiesbaden and Frankfurt am Main, also a four-act Italian version in Braunschweig, Dresden and Geneva, as well as a German translation in Dessau.
Verdi's opera Don Carlo is based on a classic German play by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Don Carlo is a Spanish prince who falls in love with a French princess, but for reasons of state she is forced to marry someone else -- Don Carlo's own father, the king of Spain!
Second photo: Balconies at the Semper Opera house.
Third photo: Applause after Verdi's Don Carlo.
On the walls in all the various foyers of the Semper Opera there are elaborate decorations and paintings in honor of composers, dramatists and librettists who were well known at the time.
Some of them are still well known today, but most have been forgotten.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan, for instance, was a London playwright and politician who lived from 1751 to 1816. He rates a mention in gold letters on a wall of the Semper Opera (enlarge the photo to see his name) because one of his plays, The Duenna, was made into an opera which was very popular in its day, composed by his father-in-law Thomas Finley.
Tours of the opera house are offered whenever there is no performance or rehearsal in progress or in preparation on the main stage. The exact dates and times are listed on the opera's website, but on the German language side only.
When I was there recently they offered tours every half hour from 9.00 to 11.30 in the morning, but none after that because they were getting ready for a performance at 16.00 in the afternoon. Some days it's the other way around, or all day or not at all, depending on the schedule. But when they do run tours they are very flexible about it, and will start a new tour every five or ten minutes if enough people are waiting outside.
Tickets cost EUR 5.00 (or EUR 3.00 reduced, or EUR 10 for a family) and are sold at the door only, the door being on the side of the building off to the right.
The tours are in German, but they will be glad to lend you a text in English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, Russian, Italian or Polish so you can follow what is being said.
Unlike most opera tours in Germany, the tour of the Semper Opera does not take you backstage, simply because there is so much to see in the front end of the house.
Before the performance you might get to see this famous stage curtain, which was designed in 1875 by a man named Ferdinand Keller from Darmstadt.
The picture in the middle is by a painter named Franz Tippel. It is called Phantasie mit der Fackel der Begeisterung, which means "Fantasy with the Torch of Enthusiasm."