Behind the scenes in Leipzig

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, where you can also book tickets. The cost as of 2018 is € 10.00. The tour begins here at the stage entrance on Goethestraße (first photo). This is on the west or “city side” of the opera house, so called to distinguish it from the “post office side” which is on the east.

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.

Lighting museum in the basement

Under the German Democratic Republic (GDR) the Leipzig Opera trained apprentices for various technical occupations. As part of their training, the apprentices were put to work repairing various old lighting systems from earlier decades, and the result is a unique lighting museum in the lowest of several basement levels of the opera house.

The actual lights in these old systems were run by electricity, but they were regulated by mechanical systems reminiscent of old-fashioned railroad switches, using large levers attached to cables that led all across the top of the stage to wherever the lamps were. Some of these systems required considerable muscle power to operate, for instance when several dimmers were hooked together and all were regulated by turning one large metal wheel.

Lighting booth

The current lighting system is computerized and is run from this glassed-in control booth behind the last row of seats on the ground floor. My photo shows how it looked in 2005, but I believe there have been some changes since then.

Setting up the stage (seen from front and back)

On the tour we were able to watch the stage hands set up part of the scenery for that evening’s performance of the opera La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini, which takes place in a village in the Swiss Alps.

Costumes

All the costumes for the current opera productions are kept here on the two top floors of the opera house, carefully sorted and labeled by production and role.

Coaching room

This is one of the coaching rooms, where individual singers practice their roles with the help of a rehearsal pianist, who in German is called a Repetitor or Solorepetitor or Korrepetitor.

Ballet practice room

Upstairs there is also a special practice room for the ballet dancers, complete with a long mirror and wooden bar along one side.

Rehearsal stage

Here is where the stage director works out the staging of a new production with the singers, to piano accompaniment. The room is big enough for them to be able to move around exactly as they will later do on the real stage. This is the last stop of the opera house tour.

My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on backstage tours of European opera houses.

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