The Leipzig Opera (Oper Leipzig) is a German secret too well-kept, not unlike a number of Saxon (and Thuringian) wines. One rightly thinks of the Gewandhaus and St Thomas’s Church when considering the city’s musical life, but just as important is the opera, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra playing for all three venues, a true municipal orchestra, itself descended from the Leipzig town pipers. Opera in Leipzig may be dated back to 1692, when Elector John George III granted a Dresden man, Nicolaus Adam Strungk, the privilege to open a public opera house, to present performances during the city’s fabled trade fairs. The first performances, of Strungk’s own Alceste, took place during the Easter Fair of 1693. (Telemann would be Strungk’s immediate successor.) In somewhat more recent years, I have enjoyed a number of excellent performances at the house where the late, much lamented, Joachim Herz once served as director of opera, including a magnificent triple bill of Schoenberg’s one-act operas and Peter Konwitschny’s unforgettable productions of Lohengrin and Nono’s Al gran sole carico d’amore. (Konwitschny now serves as director of productions.)
One Richard Wagner remains, of course, the city’s greatest son, though walking around Leipzig, one is more readily aware of Bach and indeed Mendelssohn, neither of whom was born there. Wagner indeed was born but a stone’s throw from the Comödienhaus, by then the home for opera in the city. Oper Leipzig will begin to stage the Ring in 2013, the bicentenary of the composer’s birth; in the meantime, it is presenting the dramas, under the baton of Intendant Ulf Schirmer, one by one in concert performance. This season marks the turn of Siegfried. Stefan Vinke, whom I have often had cause to admire for his Heldentenor roles, not least in the aforementioned Lohengrin, assumes the title role. There are seven premieres in all, the others being Tosca, The Cunning Little Vixen, Macbeth, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Iphigenie in Tauris (Gluck’s German version), and a Kellertheater staging of Bach’s Ich hätte viel Bekümmernis along with Rainer Bredemeyer’s Keine Bad Kleinen Kantate. Konwitschny directs the Bach project, Macbeth, and the latest instalment in the house’s Gluck-Konwitschny ‘Ring’, which will be joined this season by revivals of Alceste and Iphigénie en Aulide. (Where else will you see three Gluck operas in a season?) Tobias Kratzer and Schirmer work together on the Brecht-Weill ‘opera’. Other revivals are: Juan Crisostómo de Arriaga’s fairy-tale opera, The Arabian Princess (now where else have you seen that?), The Barber of Seville, La Bohème, Così fan tutte (Konwitschny), The Love for Three Oranges, a staging of the Brecht-Paul Dessau Deutsche Miserere, Eugene Onegin (Konwitschny), Hänsel und Gretel, Die Meistersinger, Parsifal (review here), Der Rosenkavalier, La traviata, Il turco in Italia, and Die Zauberflöte. Ballet, including Prokofiev’s Cinderella, and a strong tradition of operetta (Lehár, Lortzing, Johann Strauss, et al.) also feature.