Twice so far I have been lucky enough to be in Leipzig on one of those Saturday afternoons when they offer a tour of the opera house. These tours are listed on their website, but you have to phone up to reserve a place. The cost is EUR 5.00.
Unlike the tour of the Semper Opera in Dresden, the Leipzig tour concentrates on the backstage and below-stage areas of the opera house, starting with their small but unique lighting museum in the basement.
See my travelogue "Behind the scenes in Leipzig" for more photos and details of this tour.
Although I like the Leipzig Opera House and always feel right at home there when I attend an opera, I can't help regretting that they didn't build it they way it was sketched by the architect Hans Scharoun (1893-1972) in his proposal for the first architectural competition in 1950. To get some idea of what his building might have been like, take a tour of the magnificent Philharmonie concert hall that he built a decade later in Berlin.
Scharoun's proposal for the Leipzig Opera house was unfortunately way ahead of its time in 1950. Stalin, who hated modern art and architecture, was still alive and ruling with an iron hand. Nobody in Eastern Europe would have dared to risk Stalin's wrath by building a light, airy, modern opera house, certainly not the East German leader at the time, Walter Ulbricht.
A quarter of a century later both Stalin and Ulbricht were dead, so the city of Leipzig was able to get away with building a beautiful modern concert hall (see next tip) on the same square facing the opera house.
Leipzig has a rich musical tradition dating back to Johannes Sebastian Bach; Leipzig had an opera since 1693. The new Leipzig Opera House at the Augustusplatz, opposite the "Gewandhaus" concert hall, dates back to 1956 - 1960 when it was built in a semi-classical style in the then German democratic Republic. Yet another option to attend a classical music concert during your stay.
I come from a country that tends to have pretty minimal choice for seeing opera - 4 to 10 performances per opera, 3 to 4 operas per season, spread over a few months, generally only in a handful of large cities. So we were suprised and delighted that on one weekend in December, we could choose from three operas playing concurrently at the same opera house: Carmen, The Magic Flute, and Aida. Price was around 30 euros (less than half the price of a similar seat in Vancouver). Students could get standby tickets for around 5 euros. The place was packed on the Sunday afternoon we attended Aida. Stage design and costumes were very basic. Overhead translation was (of course) in German.
1. In the Leipzig Opera House
2. Lobby of the Leipzig Opera House
The current Leipzig Opera House was built during the 1950s after several architectural competitions and considerable uncertainty about what an opera house should look like in the new Socialist State of the Workers and Farmers.
It came out looking quite Spartan and egalitarian, but the acoustics are good and you can see perfectly well from every seat in the house. It was the only completely new opera house built in the German Democratic Republic during the nearly forty-one years of its existence.
This building replaced the former "New Theater", which was built here from 1864 to 1868, and was destroyed by bombing in the night of December 3-4, 1943.
The opera house in Augustusplatz, built in 1960, was the first new theatre building which was done in the DDR. Structure and architecture are traditional but rather plain. The one performance I saw there some years ago was quite good (a Mozart opera, I don’t remember which one). Recently Leipzig’s opera house has made the headlines not only because of the quality of its performances but because of lengthy and serious quarrels among management and ensemble, though.
See the Opera House in the centre. We saw a great performance of the Marriage of Figaro by Mozart there. Tickets were not difficult to get.