Contrasting opera houses in Dresden and Leipzig

Dresden and Leipzig, the two largest cities in the German state of Saxony (Sachsen), have very different-looking opera houses.

The Semper Opera in Dresden (on the left) has three U-shaped balconies and is highly ornate on the inside, with endless paintings and decorations. It looks as though it was built in the 1840s — which in fact it was, though it has been destroyed and rebuilt twice since then.

Stage curtains in Dresden and Leipzig

The Leipzig Opera House was designed and built in the 1950s, and is a faithful reflection of the tastes and priorities of that era. It has only one straight balcony, so you have a full view of the stage from (almost) any seat in the house (all but twelve, to be exact). There is lots of wood paneling, but very little ornamentation. The elegant but unspectacular design elements on the walls and ceiling were created mainly for their acoustic properties.

The opera house in Leipzig is not a huge tourist attraction like the one in Dresden, but it’s quite attractive in its own way, and I always enjoy going there. It’s a Listed Building now, so when they do renovation work on it they are careful to preserve the original 1950s ambience of the building.

Foyers in Dresden and Leipzig

Both opera houses offer guided tours, but these are also quite different.

Unlike most opera tours in Germany, the tour of the Semper Opera in Dresden does not take you backstage, presumably because there is so much in the way of brilliant artwork and decoration to be seen in the front end of the house. The architect Gottfried Semper believed in using local materials and artisans 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.

The Leipzig opera house tour, on the other hand, concentrates on the backstage and below-stage areas of the opera house, starting with their small but unique lighting museum in the basement and going on to the costume department, the coaching rooms, the ballet practice room and the rehearsal stages.

The Dresden and Leipzig opera houses at night

My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2005. I revised the text in 2020.

See my separate posts on the Dresden and Leipzig opera houses.
See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.

14 thoughts on “Contrasting opera houses in Dresden and Leipzig”

  1. Nice post, Don. A decade ago Dresden’s Semper Opera House would have been the most appealing to me of the two opera houses to me. However, now I’ve finally begun to appreciate architecture from my own era, the mid-20th century. I’m sure I would enjoy a tour of each of these opera houses.

    1. Hi Sylvia, thanks for your visit and comment. I like both of these opera houses, and enjoyed both tours — actually all three because I took the Leipzig tour twice in different years.

  2. The acoustics are the most important if you are going to the opera and the view from your seat also. So I think I’d like to go to the opera in Leipzig and tour the opera house in Dresden. Or maybe tour both.

    Note – we had a wonderful new auditorium built on my college campus – architecturally stunning. But they forgot to include the orchestra pit. So while everyone in the auditorium can hear a pin drop on stage, the orchestra – sitting in the afterthought pit they dug out under the stage can’t hear anything.

    1. I forgot to mention that the acoustics in Dresden are also excellent. The singers love it because they can sing at 3/4 volume and still be heard everywhere. But Dresden, like most older opera houses, does have some seats with only a partial view of the stage.

  3. I prefer the Dresden on looks although I like the outside of the Leipzig better. The first time we went to the Met in NYC, we got seats behind a post with zero view of the stage. A kindly usher moved us to better seats and we were so young and naive that we didn’t know to give him a tip. We will never forget him though. It was a less-than-sterling performance of Wozzeck but exciting because it was my first time at the Met.

    1. I’ve only been to the Met once — but it was the old Met on 39th Street. Saw Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. I was a sophomore at Columbia at the time, and went to the Met on invitation of my grandmother’s cousin Edna. Afterwards I wrote her a nice thank-you letter and didn’t hear from her until 2 1/2 years later, when she wrote: I hear from your grandmother that you want to study in Europe but don’t have the money — can I help?

      1. We were at the old one too. I’ve never even seen Lincoln Center. Too far away and I really don’t like New York. Too big, too busy, too noisy, too dirty, but perhaps it’s changed. I haven’t been there in nearly 40 years.

  4. I do love the interior of operas! The ones in Dresden and Leipzig look very elegant, and they give me a reason to venture to the east side of Germany some day!

  5. Great post, thanks a million for reposting. The Semper Oper really is stunning and Oper Leipzig often doesn’t get a mention as a result!

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