Leipzig: City of Optimism

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Saxon city of Leipzig attracts plenty of labels: welcoming, beautiful, compact, atmospheric, heroic, inexpensive and these days even cool. But more than anything, over its 1000-year history Leipzig has proved itself a city of experimentation, optimism and renewal.

Leipzig Opera House (photo: Kirsten Nijhof)
Leipzig Opera House (photo: Kirsten Nijhof)

Leipzig has always been a place where new ideas are born. This is the place where Luther, Goethe and Nietzsche had thoughts that would change the world. The idealist heroes of the peaceful revolution of 1989 took to Leipzig’s streets to kick-start the process of Germany’s reunification. Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Mahler imagined new directions for music in the city. The most talked-about musician who ever lived, Richard Wagner, was born here.

One Leipzig musician who doesn’t always get the credit he deserves is Gustav Brecher. As General Music Director of the City of Leipzig and director of its Opera for a decade from 1923, Brecher made the town a centre for world-class opera performance. He expanded the opera company’s repertoire with avant-garde works, and significantly improved standards. Just as Otto Klemperer would at the Kroll Opera in Berlin, Brecher turned the Leipzig Opera into a world-beating company.

Siegfried at Leipzig Opera (photo: Tom Schulze)


It was Brecher’s dream to better understand Wagner’s music by performing all the composer’s music dramas in chronological order. He picked the right city in which to do it, but the wrong time. In one of the many injustices that characterized the era, Brecher, a Jew who supported blacklisted composers, was dismissed from his post and driven to suicide. His dream of presenting Wagner’s operas in order was seized upon by the Nazis, who passed it off as their own.

The rest is history. But after all the destruction of the twentieth-century, Leipzig’s spirit of innovation characterized by Brecher, Bach and others surged once more. Economic development powered the city towards the millennium, with a new Porsche plant opening in 2000 and a population explosion following. In the 2010s, Leipzig became not just a great place to live, but a great place to visit.

Der fliegende Holländer at Leipzig Opera (photo: Tom Schulze)


In 2009, Ulf Schirmer took up his post as General Music Director of the rebranded Opera Leipzig, following in Brecher’s footsteps. When he stands down in 2022 following thirteen transformative years at the company’s helm, Schirmer will do so with the ultimate tribute to his forbear: a complete cycle of Wagner’s individual operas in chronological order followed by a full Ring Cycle. Rarely-heard early works Die Feen, Das Liebersverbot and Rienzi will be included.

In the Summer of 2022, Leipzig will upstage even Bayreuth as the Wagner capital of the world – its opera company the only organization of its kind to have Wagner’s entire published operatic output in its repertory. The Wagner festival will open with a brand-new production of the composer’s first mature opera, Der fliegende Holländer and will culminate the first new Ring cycle seen in the city for over 40 years. The festival will also include a major academic symposium hosted by the University of Leipzig’s Institute for Musicology and a series of performances presented on the Augustusplatz, made possible with the generous support of the festival sponsor Porsche.

Götterdämmerung Leipzig Opera (photo: Tom Schulze)


Some of the great Wagner singers of the day will join the ensemble of Opera Leipzig and the world-famous Gewandhausorchester, among them Evelyn Herlitzius, Jennifer Holloway, Lise Lindstrom, Manuela Uhl, Markus Eiche, René Pape, Iain Paterson, Andreas Schager, Stefan Vinke, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Michael Volle.

But one artist will take pride of place. Leipzig’s WAGNER 22 festival will be dedicated to the man who had the idea in the first place: Gustav Brecher. At a special ceremony during the course of the festivities, Opera Leipzig will rename one of its auditoria after its former leader – a small gesture of thanks.

Wagner 2022 takes place in June and July 2022; visit oper-leipzig.de for more details and booking procedures

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