The Dresden opera house, the Semperoper, has had a chequered history. It was built by the German architect Gottfried Semper in 1841, but destroyed by fire in 1869. After much local discussion it was rebuilt in 1878, this time under the direction of Semper's son Manfred, using his father's design (Gottfried Semper himself was in exile at the time following his part in the May 1849 uprising). It suffered badly again in WWII, eventually reopening in February 1985 – 40 years to the day since its destruction – with a performance of Weber's Der Freischütz, the last opera to be performed in 1945. Then, in 2002, it was badly damaged yet again when the nearby river Elbe flooded.

On the way back from dinner to my apartment, not far from the Semperoper, I noticed someone in front of it with camera and tripod, which prompted me to go and fetch the Nikon D300 and my own much-travelled tripod. I then spent 45 minutes messing about with multiple exposures: bracketing "-3" [3 shots, 1 stop apart] and 3 stops overexposed seemed to be about right (the first image above is a composite from a bracketed set). Like all the photos on this site, the exposure details will pop up if you hover your cursor over the image. There was a hint of rain in the air, so a fair amount of flair from the lights. I ended up cold.

Next day I walked back to the Semperoper in time for the 14:00 English tour: €7 plus €2 for a photopass. I was surpried and pleased to find that I could use the camera. The opera house is very busy with the tour groups, but they're handled very well. Information about the availability of tours is shown about two months ahead on the website – they're not possible of course if rehearsals are planned. Our guide gave an excellent account of the history of the earlier houses (including the explosion when someone left the gas on), with much detail about the rebuilding of the current house after the war.

Old skills were rediscovered: such as creating the marble-looking pillars in the upstairs foyer, each of which took six weeks to polish; and the 'wood panelling' downstairs, which was actually painted by an 80-year-old craftsman over a period of three (was it?) years. The balustrades upstairs are in Serpentine stone, locally sourced, which looks like black marble but is relatively soft and can be turned. The patterns for the ceiling decoration were discovered during the restoration work, almost by accident, by the granddaughter of their original designer, in the attic of his house which she then occupied.

While our tour party was admiring the auditorium the stage fire curtain was raised – unusually – as preparations were made for an orchestral concert that evening. Above the proscenium arch is a very early digital clock, which increments every five minutes and uses roman numerals for the hour display. It was installed by a 19th Century ruler to discourage his courtiers from noisily asking the time when they woke up after nodding off during the performance. No tickets were available for the concerts on either of the two nights I was in Dresden, although a German man told me he'd obtained late tickets for the opera the previous night by turning up just before 7:00. Outside, I found a statue of Carl Maria von Weber hidden away at the edge of the Zwinger, to the left of the Semperoper.

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