150th anniversary of Richard Strauss
The Semperoper will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss in 2014. photo: Christoph Münch
150th anniversary quest: Richard Strauss in Dresden
In the year of Richard Strauss’s 150th anniversary, Dresden is an appropriate place to embark on a search for his roots. Even though the Munich-born composer (1864–1949) never took up permanent residence in the capital of Saxony, his name is still closely associated with Dresden. No fewer than nine of his operas were premiered at the Semperoper – which will therefore be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth in commensurate style. The Strauss cycle planned for the 2013/14 season includes Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) on 3rd and 4th April, Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra) on 8th and 24th May, and Don Quixote on 5th, 6th and 11th June.
What brought Strauss to Dresden?
The link between Dresden and Strauss is in no small measure due to a decision made by the artistic director at the Lindenoper in Berlin. In 1901, Richard Strauss wished to see his opera Feuersnot receive its first performance in the national capital. However, the Prussian censors and the director refused to stage this controversial work. Dresden took a different view: the conductor of the Semperoper, Ernst Edler von Schuch, invited Strauss to the city and premiered the opera in Dresden. A special exhibition in the Dresden City Museum (9th May to 28th September 2014) is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Schuch’s death and the important role he played as Dresden Hofkapellmeister. It features various fascinating items donated by the Schuch estate.
Nine world premieres in Dresden
The premiere of Strauss’s Salome in Dresden in 1905 heralded the arrival of 20th‑century musical
theatre. This modern opera was received with great enthusiasm. Four years later in 1909, the first
performance of Elektra was also cheered to the rafters by the discerning audience at the Semperoper.
The reception was surpassed only by Der Rosenkavalier which premiered two years later.
A special train was even laid on to bring in Strauss’s ‘fan club’ from Berlin. Unlike many famous
composers in history, Richard Strauss was acclaimed and revered during his lifetime. Dresden
hosted the first ever Strauss Week in 1915, and more were to follow. In 1924, the conductor Fritz
Busch resumed the tradition of premiering Strauss’s operas with a performance of Intermezzo.
This was followed two years later by Die Ägyptische Helena (The Egyptian Helen). In 1933, Fritz
Busch was expelled from the Semperoper by the Nazis, but the world premiere of Strauss’s
went ahead as planned that year. The premiere of the opera Die schweigsame Frau
(The Silent Woman) conducted by Karl Böhm also took place under the baleful watch of the Third
Reich. Although Strauss managed to have the name of Jewish librettist Stefan Zweig included
in the programme, the work was dropped from the repertoire after only four performances. The ninth and last opera to be premiered in Dresden was Daphne in 1938, which Strauss dedicated
to the conductor Karl Böhm.
Strauss made his own debut as a conductor in 1888 at the Gewerbehaus in Ostra Allee; the programme included Opus Vier and Wagner’s first and only Symphony in C major. In 1934, he was made an honorary citizen of Dresden at a ceremony in the Semperoper. Ten years later in 1944, Strauss paid his last visit to the city.
Mementos of Strauss
Visitors and residents of Dresden can experience Strauss through more than just his music. He is immortalised as a bronze bust in the Semperoper, namely in the foyer facing the Zwinger opposite the doors to the dress circle. One of the batons which Richard Strauss conducted with is kept in the music room at the Kempinski Hotel Taschenbergpalais. Situated on the right bank of the Elbe, the Hotel Bellevue where the composer stayed whenever he was in Dresden re- opened in 1985 as The Westin Bellevue. A Richard Strauss bust in the foyer by the entrance to the gourmet Canaletto Restaurant is a permanent reminder that the great man was a frequent guest at the hotel. This four-star establishment with its fantastic view across the Elbe to the Old Town of Dresden delights guests from Germany and further afield.
- The Staatskapelle Dresden has long been regarded as the Strauss orchestra par excellence. On 11th June 2014, the Staatskapelle under the baton of Christian Thielemann will be celebrating the birthday of the composer with a special concert at the Semperoper. In his inaugural concert as principal conductor with the Staatskapelle, Thielemann enchanted the audience with a performance of Der Rosenkavalier – just over a century after its premiere in Dresden. www.staatskapelle-dresden.de
- Richard Strauss’s Feuersnot is to be staged by the Dresden Music Festival as a co‑production with the Semperoper. For the first time ever, the impressive Great Courtyard of the Dresden Royal Palace (Residenzschloss) will be used as an open-air theatre venue. Performances will be held on 7th , 9th and 10th June. The performance on 7th June will be preceded by a workshop concert on period instruments given by the Dresden Festival Orchestra. On 23rd May, the Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim will play Strauss’s tone poem Ein Heldenleben. On 29th May, the Rosenkavalier Suite will be performed by the Vienna ensemble The Philharmonics. The symphonic poems Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks and Death and Transfiguration are the focus of the concert to be given by the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly on 9th June in the Semperoper. www.musikfestspiele.com
- The gourmet Carrousel Restaurant in the Hotel Bülow Palais has put together a “Straussian” menu. Themed as ‘Wholesome and Resonant’, the Bülow Palais has put together a package for the period 30th January to 2nd February 2014 of three nights’ accommodation, tickets for a performance of Elektra at the Semperoper and, of course, the Strauss Menu. www.buelow-hotels.de