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.

Seating in the Leipzig Opera House

It came out looking quite Spartan and egalitarian, but the acoustics are good and you can see perfectly well from almost every seat in the house. It was the only completely new opera house built in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) during the nearly forty-one years of that country’s 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 State Council Box (Staatsratloge)

The only seats that do not have a view of the full stage are the ones in the two Logen (boxes) hanging from the sides of the hall. One of these was intended for the director of the opera and the other was for members the State Council, who during GDR times were invariably the leaders of the Communist Party, officially known as the Socialist Unity Party (SED). These two boxes have their own separate entrances and reception rooms.

Today the twelve seats in the two ‘boxes’ can theoretically be booked by anybody, but I have never seen anyone actually sitting there.

Poster announcing Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz

In Leipzig I have so far seen seven performances of six different operas. These were:

Seating in the balcony of the Leipzig Opera House

Although I like the Leipzig Opera House and always feel right at home there when I attend a performance, I can’t help regretting that they didn’t build it the 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, have a look at the 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 sycophantic 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, the Gewandhaus, on the same square facing the opera house.

Leipzig Opera from above

This is my 800th blog post here on operasandcycling.com.

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

See more posts on Leipzig, Germany.
See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.

8 thoughts on “The Leipzig Opera House”

  1. Not being an opera fan (nor a cyclist – it’s amazing that you and I are such good friends 😆 :lol:) I didn’t go inside the opera house, so it’s interesting to get a glimpse of what it looks like. It reminds me a little of the Royal Festival Hall here in London – I think it’s the wood that looks similar perhaps? It may be functional but I rather like it as all that wood makes it look warm.

    1. Yes, the wood paneling does give it a warm feeling. I’ve never been inside the Royal Festival Hall, actually, so I can’t compare.
      Thanks for your visit and comment.

  2. The Leipzig Opera House looks like a blend of almost-classical and modern, I suppose due to its history in the early 20th century. Would be cool to check out its interior and see how it compares to the “traditional” opera houses in other parts of Germany (and Europe)!

  3. Didn’t get to the opera when we were in Leipzig (1997) but did go to a concert in the Gewandhaus – lovely concert hall. Opera’s back on stage in Perth this week – Cosi Fan Tutte. A lovely bit of fluff for these downbeat times.

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