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