Backstage Photos from the Leipzig Opera
The current opera building is the third home for the Leipzig Opera. The first was built in 1693, to host musical comedies, the third musical theatre built in Europe.
When the Opera outgrew the theatre, they moved to their current location on Augustus Square (Augustusplatz), in 1868. Unfortunately, this opera building was destroyed in the war, only the bust of Wagner that stood in the entry foyer survived.
In 1960, in the same location, a new opera house was designed by Nierade Kunz and Kurt Hemmerling, and built to meet high acoustic and artistic standards. It contains a large stage and a wide variety of rehearsal and performance rooms for the opera, various choirs, ballet and musical comedy group.
Remnants of the carved outer stonework from the previous building, can be found to one side of the new Opera House, and Wagner's bust is restored inside the new foyer.
Leipzig opera house backstage tours are run regularly. They are lost cost, popular with school groups and families, and can be booked out before a performance.
But for those who aren't able to visit the opera in person, here is a virtual tour around the Leipzig Opera.
Foyer and audience seating
The lower foyer offers a cool haven on a hot day. The handmade porcelain tiles from Meissen are difficult and expensive to replace, therefore fixtures must be installed without damaging them.
The upper foyer houses a cafe and a number of galleries to provide refreshments during performance breaks.
The Leipzig Opera currently seats 1267 people, in two levels, with two rarely used 'royal' boxes.
The choice of fabrics and the angled walls in the seating area as well as the angled roof sections are designed to reflect sound evenly across the seating area and prevent any echoes or distortion.
It can be difficult to update old buildings that are culturally important - all modification and renovations must stay within regulations stipulating that modifications must use materials and designs from the building's original period (1960s).
The seating and foyer areas were renovated in 2007, to meet new fire and safety regulations, and to improve seating comfort.
A 180 tonne iron curtain, can separate the audience seating area from the stage, in case of fire.
I was on a tour when smoke filled the backstage area, the two halves of the iron curtain banged together as the building was evacuated.
Luckily, the source of the smoke was discovered quickly, and nothing was damaged.
Dandelion lighting design
The lighting theme throughout the opera house was inspired by children playing with dandelions.
From the ground level towards the roof, the lighting in the foyer and audience seating area mimics the life cycle of the dandelion:
- buds in the lower foyer
- just starting to bloom on the lower staircases
- dandelions in bloom in the second level foyer and audience seating area
- seeds flying away at the top of the staircases
- seed pods on the staircase railings, falling towards the ground
Practice makes perfect
There are numerous practice rooms and performance halls in the Leipzig Opera.
Many practice rooms are equipped with full height mirrors for ballet rehearsals, as well as upright or grand pianos (or both).
There are dedicated ballet rehearsal rooms and a ballet studio, as well as a choir rehearsal hall.
A basement theater with 99 seats is used by the children's choir, musical-dance theater and children's theater performances.
The two rehearsal stages are used extensively for auditions and initial rehearsals.
It is also used to test the staging before moving to the main stage - discovering which stage layout works the best, and to test sets, costumes and props and scene changes.
This is one of the most important parts ensuring smooth stage management during a production.
A versatile stage
The stage is 25m wide and 22m deep, with the audience seeing 12m above the stage. The orchestra pit at the front, seats about 100 musicians, and can be raised to the level of the stage for additional room, or dropped when the orchestra is needed.
A large circular platform, just behind the orchestra pit, can be rotated and provides access from below use four separate elevators (traps). These are used to move sets and actors on and off the stage.
The side stages and the backstage house sets and backdrops for the current productions and those in rehearsal, although additional set walls are stored below the stage or in the huge elevator, which seems to be at least 3 stories high!
Several productions are in rehearsal at once, which means the backstage crew are always busy, changing sets quickly for the next rehearsal or performance. This is when the sound and lighting technicians add and refine their elements to the stage.
Because the stage is used for both ballet and other dance productions, it must be cleaned thoroughly whenever a set is knocked down, to make sure the dancers don't injure their feet on any stray nails!
Stage build - Das Rheingold (2013)
Above the stage - the rigging
A maze of cables drop down from the roof level of the opera, many stories above the stage.
Many multi-strand metal cables are fixed to bars which raise and lower sets, curtains or point-hoists, for people. Some are capable of holding a maximum weight of 500kg.
Safety is the most important when rigging sets or harnesses for stage actors, sets that are raised with people on them must be able to hold over 12 times their combined weight - a large margin for error or failure.
Even in winter, the temperature in the fly loft is tropical - I would hate to be up there during a midsummer performance!
The technical stage - light, sound, riggingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sound and lighting controls
In tiny box-like rooms, at the back of the audience seating, are the sound and lighting control rooms.
Like many other theaters and opera houses, a Yamaha sound deck is the main control (PM1D), surrounded by various PCs for editing and mixing, effect machines, and receivers for wireless microphones.
The older varieties of visual and sound equipment are still connected and occasionally used:
- and even a cassette player
The sound room controls both the audio, and any projected visual set elements, which now mostly uses digital projectors, and the over-titles when needed.
The lighting room controls just under 600 lights including spots, floods, overhead lights, using a Phoenix ADB desk.
What would you do?
If you could work in the theater, what job would you love to do?
In the labyrinth of passages underneath the stage, is a fascinating collection of antique stage lighting equipment, also used to train stage and lighting technicians.
Installed here is an operational electro-mechanical signal box and sample stage lighting - the last of its kind in the world.
The room also features an array of props, stage makeup products, set models and sketches from various past opera, theater and ballet productions.
It's a favorite spot for children, where they can see makeup and props up close.
A costumer's paradise
Over 40,000 hand-made costumes are stored in the Leipzig Opera. One floor is dedicated to ballet costumes and one to opera and stage productions.
Current costumes and props are labelled, to make sure they are worn and used by the correct actors or dancers.
I am fascinated by costumes, and love making them, so I could lost myself for months in this room!
Test your opera knowledge
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The Leipzig Opera stands on one side of Augustusplatz, opposite the Gewandhaus Concert Hall.
It is a short walk from the main station, the central city shopping area and many other attractions.
It is featured as one of the stops along the Notenspur historical music walking trail around central Leipzig.
Other Leipzig sights
Don't miss the Leipzig Zoo - a fantastic one or two day trip for adults and children, and a world leader in protecting and breeding endangered species.
Packed with exotic and endangered animals in wide (and often shared) enclosures, glass and open-air viewing areas let you get up close and personal with the animals.
What would you want to see?
If you were able to get a backstage tour to any stage in the world, which stage would you love to see?
What aspect of the stage interests you the most?
Let us know in the comments below!