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Semperoper bids farewell to artistic director: divided response

View into the empty hall of the Dresden Semperoper. (Shot with a fisheye lens). / Photo: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa/Archivbild
View into the empty hall of the Dresden Semperoper. (Shot with a fisheye lens). / Photo: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa/Archivbild

The Semperoper Dresden has met with a mixed response from the audience with its last premiere of the season. On Saturday, Hector Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" received much applause for the State Opera Chorus, the Staatskapelle Dresden conducted by Giampaolo Bisanti and the ensemble of singers. Director Barbora Horáková, on the other hand, was greeted with many boos on stage afterwards - with occasional approval. She had set the opera about the Renaissance artist Cellini in the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and wanted to explore, among other things, the question of what qualities an artist of tomorrow must have. No expense was spared with the set design by Aída Leonor Guardia and the costumes by Eva Butzkies.

In the program booklet for the performance, Horáková also addressed the question of which contemporary artist has the stature of Cellini, who became famous above all for his bronze sculpture "Perseus with the Medusa". The director sees tech billionaire Elon Musk as a Cellini of today. The works of art that Cellini created were something greater than the lives of people at the time. "And the goals that Musk is pursuing have this ambition: to create a larger-than-life plane that will certainly change us." In the play, she wants to show that AI can and perhaps must be used. At the same time, however, it is about ironizing a little, because AI cannot replace humans. The audience experienced a veritable flood of images, to which videos and technical effects also contributed.

Before the premiere, the Swiss Peter Theiler was bid farewell as Artistic Director of the Saxon State Opera. Musicians from the Staatskapelle played the overture to Rossini's "William Tell" in the foyer of the opera house, the only work from Theiler's six-year tenure in Dresden that could not be performed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In her acceptance speech, Saxony's Minister of Culture Barbara Klepsch (CDU) picked up on a quote from "William Tell": "Too tightly stretched, the bow bursts". With his "Swiss sensitivity", Theiler has never overstretched the bow in managing this house, but has always set it correctly. "You have continued to cultivate tradition, but at the same time you have always kindled the fire of the new, of the experimental."

Theiler thanked all the divisions and trades of the Saxon State Opera. It was a great honor to lead this house, he said and wished his successor and compatriot Nora Schmid all the best for the office. Theiler's record includes more than 1500 performances, including 44 operas and nine new ballet productions. Three operas were commissioned by the Semperoper in Dresden, as well as five ballets.

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