Director Andreas Dresen also relies on swarm intelligence as an opera maker. “I like working in an ensemble and working with other people,” said the 59-year-old on the sidelines of a new production at the Semperoper in Dresden – his version of Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades” premiered there on July 1.

Dresen said a group’s imagination is much larger than that of a single person. That’s why he likes to take on ideas from others. “Theatre is something alive, the performers must be able to find their own space and position.”

Respect for the performance of the musicians

Especially in the opera he sees himself as a learner, stressed the director, who has received numerous awards. “Otherwise, opera is not my biotope. I know my way around film better. That’s why the work is very exciting for me. I keep encountering new questions here that I didn’t know before. That’s a self-confidence that I expose myself to and that I enjoy too.” He has an incredible respect for the discipline and physical performance of musicians and opera singers.

In “Pique Dame” he is particularly interested in the main character Hermann – a man who is torn between his love for a woman and a manic gambling addiction. “The relationship between the individual and society is the central theme in this opera.” Hermann is an outsider and wants to belong to a world where people lead better lives. “There’s something very present about it for me. You want to be recognized when you’re being excluded.”

The director sits between all chairs

Dresen sees only a few overlaps between directing film and opera. “It’s like another profession that only requires the same tools at a few points.” For example, when it comes to leading large groups of people and working with them psychologically in such a way that a good and therefore productive atmosphere is created. You need a mood where “everyone feels like doing something together”. Unlike in film, however, there is little room for improvisation in opera. However, both arts have the tight schedule in common.

By his own account, Dresen intervenes rather cautiously in an opera. “I make changes, but not as far as the narrative structure of the whole is concerned. I see where things can be streamlined dramaturgically, where accents can be set.” As an opera director you find yourself in a dilemma anyway. “If you do it too conventionally, then nothing comes to mind. And the public hates you for modernization. You just sit between all chairs.”

Producing an opera is not a request concert

“It’s important to me to tell the story in a way that people can understand,” said Dresen. It’s about developing your own perspective and not seeing the opera as something in a museum. “I try to build a bridge to the present through the interpretation, the stage design, through narrative focal points.” That’s why it would never have occurred to him to recreate a historic St. Petersburg for the “Pique Dame”. Dresen directed an opera for the first time in Basel in 2006 – Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. Later, among other things, “Arabella” by Richard Strauss in Munich followed. “There are a few plays I’d like to do that nobody has offered me yet,” said the director, citing Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” by name. He once shot a three-minute film for a Parisian “Lulu” performance and spent a lot of time with Alban Berg. “That’s really great music. I would be tempted anyway to go into the 20th century with the opera, i.e. more in the direction of the present. Unfortunately, as a director you can’t choose, it’s not a request concert.”