Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Semper Opera Ball

Germany's most prestigious ball is the Semper Opera Ball in Dresden, held on January 26, 2018. The 2,500-guest event brings together celebrities and members of high-society, and is even broadcast live to thousands of spectators outside the opera house. One highlight is the opening choreographed performance by 100 debutantes.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

A turbulent history

Today, the Semperoper is one of the dazzling attractions in Dresden's historic old town center. But few realize this is the third version of the iconic opera house to occupy this spot. The original from 1840 burnt down in 1869, and the second was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. It's mainly thanks to pressure from Dresden residents themselves that the building was restored.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Rebuilding from afar

Before it burned down, the first Semperoper built by Gottfried Semper looked something like this. Semper was seen as the only architect right for the rebuilding job, but at the time he was in exile in Vienna. Along with Richard Wagner, he had participated in the Dresden uprising of 1849. Semper designed the new building in exile, while his son Manfried carried out the instructions on-site.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Reduced to rubble

The second Semperoper didn't last either. The stage and auditorium were obliterated in the bombing of Dresden in February 1945, and the firestorm that followed destroyed the rest of the building. The facade was reconstructed in the post-war years, and the rebuilding of the interior got underway in 1977. The opera house was finally re-opened in February 1985 - 40 years after it was destroyed.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Striking facade

Many of the building's original details were reconstructed, thanks to Semper's surviving sketches. Restorers also discovered some original frescoes during work on the opera house ceiling. The wall panelling, made to look like oak, is actually painted plaster - the idea was to reduce the risk of the building catching fire.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Staircase fir for a king

The marble columns in the grand staircase vestibule leading to the performance hall are an opera house highlight. No costs were spared with these extravagant replicas, made to conform to the Semper style of the Italian Renaissance. Plasterers invested 300 to 500 hours just to make each column look like marble.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

A sight to behold

The reconstruction provided a good opportunity to make improvements to the concert hall. The parquet and seating terraces were re-built with a slight incline to allow for a better view. The outer wall was also pushed back a few meters to create more space, which meant most of the viewing boxes had to go. Only one still exists today, reserved for high-ranking guests of the Saxon State Government.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Sought-after seats

Concerts, operas and ballet performances on this stage are often sold out. With its 1,300 seats, the Semperoper is the most profitable opera house in Germany. The concert hall is known for its excellent acoustics, making it possible for actors and singers to perform without a microphone. The Semperoper is also the home to the Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the oldest orchestras in the world.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Shimmering heavyweight

The chandelier hanging from the ornate hall ceiling weighs an impressive 1.9 tons and is secured with numerous ropes. It miraculously survived bombing in the Second World War, but didn’t make it through the GDR in one piece. The original frame was melted down during the collection of non-ferrous metal in East Germany's early years. Today’s chandelier is a replica.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Room with a view

During performance intervals, concert-goers are free to wander like royals through the arched corridors and castle-like gallery of the main foyer. The stucco ceiling, which was completely destroyed, was restored using Semper’s original drawings. The large windows invite visitors to gaze over Theaterplatz - a square that has come to occupy an important place in Dresden’s architectural history.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Historical Theaterplatz

From here, to the left, lies the late Baroque Dresden Cathedral. To the right, the recently restored Renaissance-style Dresden Castle stands next to the classical Shinkelwache. Out of sight, but still in the immediate vicinity, the Baroque Zwinger houses the Old Masters Portrait Gallery and other important exhibitions. In Summer, open air concerts take place in the court area.

Semperoper: the jewel of Dresden

Florence on the Elbe

The Semperoper, on the far right, is one of the many sights in the old town that had to be rebuilt. For many Dresden locals, it’s more than just a re-opened opera house. Following years of faithful reconstruction, the Semperoper has not only - once again - become an important part of the city’s skyline. It's also a key symbol of Dresden's cultural identity, past and present.

Join DW on a tour through Dresden's Semperoper, one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe. Excellent acoustics and an ornate interior fit for royals, have made its architect, Gottfried Semper, world-famous.