Performances at the Semper Opera House in Dresden are often sold out weeks or months in advance. When this happens you will notice because they remove the ticket icon from that performance on their website. Don’t give up too quickly though, because a night at the opera in Dresden is a great experience. The interior decoration of the opera house is beautiful, the acoustics are outstanding, the orchestra is good and with any luck you will also get to see and hear some fine singers.
My first trip to Dresden was only for one day (to do a presentation) in January 1998. The performance of Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte was sold out, but I phoned the hotel I was booked into and asked if they couldn’t get tickets for me anyway. They said they would see what they could do, and sure enough, they had two tickets for me (at face value, with no markup) when I arrived.
Unfortunately my colleague from the publishing house got sick that afternoon and couldn’t come to the opera. So I took her ticket along and sold it a few minutes before show time to a Korean student who was waiting outside the opera house for someone like me to come along.
My second visit was again only for one day, in September 2004. Verdi’s opera Don Carlo (the four-act Italian version) was sold out, so I called the opera house at 03 51 / 4 91 17 05 and after the usual waiting in the loop was connected to a nice lady who asked me how many tickets I needed. I said just one, and she said in that case yes. One ticket had just been returned (this can happen when a subscriber swaps dates, as I sometimes have to do in Frankfurt), so I took it and paid by credit card.
Thus, I got to see two operas in Dresden after all, which I was really happy about, and they were fine except that the staging seemed a bit pale compared to what I am used to at other German opera houses. But to be fair I should explain that both Così fan tutte and Don Carlo are operas I dearly love and have often seen in elsewhere. And at opera houses with a large percentage of tourists in the audience, like the Semper Opera in Dresden (or the State Opera in Vienna, for instance) you can’t really expect too much in the way of innovative staging, because that isn’t what their audience wants.
In 2008 I went back to Dresden and saw the same production of Verdi’s Don Carlo again, but the special thing this time was that I was able to attend with two other members of the now-defunct website VirtualTourist: Kathrin_E (Kathrin), who was in Dresden to attend a week-long conference, and german_eagle (Ingo), who lived in Dresden and was kind enough to organize the tickets. We all knew each other quite well from the website, but I believe this was the first time we met in person.
Over the years Verdi wrote seven different versions of Don Carlo, some in French and some in Italian. I have seen the five-act French version in Strasbourg and a five-act Italian version in Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, also a four-act Italian version in Braunschweig and Geneva, as well as a German translation in Dessau.
Verdi’s opera Don Carlo is based on a classic German play by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Don Carlo is a Spanish prince who falls in love with a French princess, but for reasons of state she is forced to marry someone else — Don Carlo’s own father, the king of Spain!
Before the performance you might get to see this famous stage curtain, which was designed by a man named Ferdinand Keller in 1875. The picture in the middle is by a painter named Franz Tippel. It is called Phantasie mit der Fackel der Begeisterung, which means “Fantasy with the Torch of Enthusiasm.”
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2008. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Sixty-three opera houses in Germany.