Dresden defines itself as a city of culture and art, rich in tradition. The city does this self-confidently and with success. The buzzword of culture as a “soft location factor” does not apply here. For the state capital, culture has always been the medium from which the appeal for and the reputation of the region have developed. Concrete and sustainable connections and relations between culture and city infrastructure, societal life and the attractiveness of a new transformed attitude towards life have developed into a “strong factor”, which in this region views culture not only as an adornment, beautification or decoration of the otherwise drab monotony of everyday life, but rather as something substantial, which gladly defines itself as a specific Dresden sense of well-being.
This distinct foothold of culture in the tradition of Dresden has strongly influenced its development for approximately 20 years. An unexpected boom-like economic upswing came about in travel and tourism after 1990. However, also in the effort to create high-quality industrial structures through the settlement of large and distinguished enterprises, the availability of a dense web of lively culture is a significant factor. Organizations such as VW (Transparent Factory Dresden) or the international chip producer AMD, have made their location choice especially also due to the lively art and culture scene in Dresden. The Dresden University of Technology with more than 35,000 students, the Max Planck Institute as well as the Fraunhofer Institute support this fact and round off the picture.
In comparison to its population figure, Dresden in fact offers an extreme abundance of theatres, museums and a branched concert business, which in its diversity is almost not to be overseen. With a concert organization down to the smallest detail, continuing from historic music up to festivals of experimental contemporary music. Two distinguished, internationally active and renowned symphony orchestras and the world-famous Kreuzchor (Choir of the Church of the Holy Cross) place focal points in concert life. In addition, there are numerous smaller ensembles performing at a high level of artistic quality. The Dresden State Art Collections with the Green Vault in the Dresden Castle and the Old Masters Picture Gallery in the Zwinger Palace together with the Semper Opera House form the central interest of all art-loving guests and the people of Dresden themselves.
The Saxon State Opera Dresden counts among the most well-known opera houses in the world. Annually more than 440,000 visitors come to the opera and ballet performances as well as to concerts in the Semper Opera House, which houses an audience of 1,250. A further 315,000 visitors are lead through the history of the opera house by expert guided tours and admire its exquisite interior design, which was reconstructed according to the original blueprints of Gottfried Semper.
The orchestra of the Saxon State Opera is the internationally famous Saxon State Orchestra, Dresden, which also performs its about 60 annual symphony concerts at the Semper Opera House as well as additionally dealing with the ongoing opera business. It is one of the oldest orchestras in the world: Since its foundation by Heinrich Schütz in the 16th century, it has existed and given concerts without respite until today.
The Dresden opera establishment historically dates back to the 17th century. The Dresden Opera House has written opera and music history. Famous composers worked here and gave important impetus to the respective stylistic eras: Johann Adolf Hasse, the baroque opera; Carl Maria von Weber, the German romanticism; Richard Wagner, who originated from Dresden in Saxony and affected the history of opera in the 19th century like no other; and Richard Strauss with his revolutionary debut performance of “Salome” and “Elektra” in the 20th century.
Today the Saxon State Opera has an extremely lively and dense production programme: 45 operas and more than ten ballet performances are on the repertoire, over 400 performances are visited annually in Dresden at a total capacity of approximately 96 per cent. In the offered range, the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss play a prominent role. However, the greatest Italian operas are also represented by numerous performances.
Dresden has also always been a place of artistic innovation – so also in the field of opera. What we today view as the familiar and trusted “classical” opera repertoire, was indisputably modern it its day. This is true as much for the compositions of Carl Maria von Weber as also for the works of Richard Wagner and naturally also those of Richard Strauss. Debut performances at that time, precisely in the era of the legendary conductor Fritz Busch, were seen as a characteristic of the Semper Opera House. Also today, the opera house attempts to continue this tradition incessantly. Herewith the Semper Opera House remains a location of lively debate with contemporary opera, music and aesthetics.
The artistic institutions of Dresden not only stand as representation of a high quality standard – they have fortunately also become a significant economic factor. That is predominantly true with tourism, which constitutes an important earning sector for the city. Many visitors come to the city primarily due to the cultural offering in this city: They book city tours, cultural and artistic trips, visit the cultural sights and the highlights of Dresden – and that includes a visit to the Semper Opera House. Cheap tourism of the early nineties has passed – a clear trend these days is towards individual travel and group tours that are demanding as regards content, which is also reflected in the offers of the Dresden upper-class hotels.
In 2007, the Semper Opera House had a survey conducted which investigated the commercial relevance of the opera house. In conclusion, it became visible that at that time about 60 per cent of the Semper Opera House visitors came from outside the region (at an average journey of 340 kilometres) and about 40 per cent from within the region. A profitability factor of 3.9 is reflected in this configuration, which represents the so-called indirect profitability of the opera house. In other words: For every euro the state supporting organization invests in the Saxon State Opera in Dresden, it “profits” commercially at factor 3.9 as regards a monetary backflow. Also as regards the economic efficiency, the Semper Opera House is within the front ranks of the German opera houses: The revenue-to-cost ratio, that is the figure that shows the percentage of total expenditure earned by the opera house itself, currently lies at more than 38 per cent. This is an absolute peak value in view of the national average which lies clearly below 20 per cent.
Dresden and its rich culture are more than a slogan: It is an attitude towards life that liberally combines a past that is rich in tradition with a lively future outlook – “Dresden is special”.
The author was born in 1946 and studied piano, musical pedagogics and conducting at the Munich University of Music. After stints in Cologne and Passau, he switched to the Munich State Opera in 1979 where his last position was as opera director. He has been the general manager of the Semper Opera House in Dresden since 2003. In 2005, he became the chairman of German Opera Conference.