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Interview with Christian Thielemann

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Interview with Christian Thielemann

Date: November 13, 2014
Location: Semperoper, Dresden
Interview with Christian Thielemann

© Matthias Creutziger

The year 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss (1864-1949). In mid-November I traveled to the “Strauss city” Dresden to immerse myself in the fabled Semperoper’s presentations of some of the German composer’s most celebrated operas.

The Semperoper serves the dual function of being the opera house of the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (Saxon State Opera) and the concert hall of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden (Saxon State Orchestra). The latter is, of course, the pit orchestra of the former.

I spoke to Christian Thielemann, director of both companies, after a rehearsal of Capriccio.

My publisher and I would like to thank Matthias Claudi and Juliane Stansch at the Semperoper for arranging the following interview.


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Your orchestra tours quite often. How do you cope with unfamiliar acoustics?

An experienced orchestra should immediately know what to do. You only need half an hour to go through some passages. That is a daily routine when we’re on tour.


How do you characterize the sound of the Staatskapelle Dresden?

It has a very cultivated, round sound, which is never hard. It’s a very blended, smooth sound. This is an experienced orchestra in opera, just like the Vienna Philharmonic. You have to be with the tempi and dynamics, and need to be very careful with the latter especially.

An operatic orchestra needs to be able to adjust readily: if the singer gives more or less, then it has to adjust accordingly. The musicians themselves must listen. Our orchestra has maintained this tradition since 1548. There is a certain spirit which you don’t find in other places. I would say a very similar spirit is from Vienna (Philharmonic).

© Matthias Creutziger

But in Vienna, when the Vienna State Opera orchestra gives an orchestral concert, they (now in the Vienna Philharmonic guise) do so in a different hall, the Musikverein. Here in Dresden, operas and concerts are held under the same roof.

Yes. This is a tradition in this house since the theatre was built.

We have a special “concert room” on stage for orchestral concerts. But now we’ll have a new one modeled after an old project designed by Gottfried Semper for the first theatre on this site, which burned down in the 1860’s. And we’re very happy that we found the money to build it.

It’s going to be a beautiful “concert room” which we can make bigger or smaller. The shape will be rectangular to the spec of the theatre for good sound. If it’s widened a little too much (for a certain musical work), it will give a megaphone effect. If it’s too narrow, then the sound will be too clumsy.

© Matthias Creutziger

Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, which you conduct now in Bayreuth, is very densely scored. How do you adjust to the confines of the Festspielhaus’ unique multi-level pit?

Craftsmanship. That’s all. Here you have to be the Kapellmeister, which is a word I like much more than Maestro. It’s a simple and yet complicated task. It has a big simplicity: you just have to ACCOMMODATE.

It’s the same here. It’s the same everywhere because no two opera houses sound exactly the same.


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