Claus Helmut Drese

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Claus Helmut Drese (25 December 1922, in Aachen – 10 February 2011,[1][2] in Horgen, Switzerland) was a German opera and theatre administrator, and author.

Early career[edit]

Drese led the theatre in Heidelberg from 1959 to 1962. From 1962 to 1968 he was director of the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden and gained prominence by inviting several theatre companies from Eastern Europe to the Internationale Maifestspiele Wiesbaden. In 1968 he began his work in Cologne where he first collaborated with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. Then he was called to lead the Zurich opera house and gained world wide fame with a cycle of Monteverdi's operas conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and staged by Ponnelle.

Vienna State Opera[edit]

In 1984 Austrian culture minister Helmut Zilk designated Drese as director of the Vienna State Opera in Vienna. Drese began his tenure in 1986 and chose Claudio Abbado as the State Opera's music director. In the following five years the State Opera experienced a very fruitful period. Abbado conducted both new productions and revivals, among them Un ballo in maschera (staged by Gianfranco de Bosio, designed by Emmanuele Luzzati), L'Italiana in Algeri (staged and designed by Ponnelle), Carmen (revival of the 1978 Franco Zeffirelli-production), Pelléas et Mélisande (staged by Antoine Vitez and designed by Yannis Kokkos), Il viaggio a Reims (staged by Luca Ronconi and designed by Gae Aulenti), Don Carlo (staged and designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi), Don Giovanni (staged by Luc Bondy, with Ruggero Raimondi as the Don), Le nozze di Figaro (staged by Jonathan Miller). Drese initiated cycle of all major Mozart-operas.

Crucial was Drese's engagement of important conductors who had never held the baton at the State Opera before, such as Harnoncourt (Idomeneo in 1987 was regarded as a sensation, followed by Die Zauberflöte staged by Otto Schenk in 1988, Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Così fan tutte in 1989), Colin Davis (Werther staged by Pierluigi Samaritani), Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Seiji Ozawa (Eugene Onegin in 1988; a critically acclaimed production with Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov).

Criticism, dismissal and aftermath[edit]

Though Drese's term was internationally acknowledged as a very successful one, he was heavily criticized for his politics by parts of the Viennese press, especially by Wilhelm Sinkovicz of Die Presse. They accused him of focusing on star-studded performances and neglecting the repertory. In June 1988, just days after the heavily acclaimed first night of Pellèas et Mélisande, then social-democratic culture minister Hilde Hawlicek met with Drese. She told him that his contract was not to be prolonged after 1991 and presented him his successors, Eberhard Wächter and Ioan Holender. Drese contemplated about resigning immediately but finally chose to fulfill his contract. He continued his way of managing the State Opera.

His final premiere in June 1991 was Der ferne Klang by Franz Schreker, conducted by Gerd Albrecht and staged by Jürgen Flimm. Though a triumphant and acclaimed staging, Der ferne Klang was among the many new productions of the Drese era that were chucked out by his successors (such as Pelléas et Mélisande, Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, La clemenza di Tito, Khovanchina, Iphigénie en Aulide, Il viaggio a Reims, Werther). Drese's ideas to secure the State Opera's independence from the other state theatres were realized years later by his successor Holender. Also Drese's decision to establish longer running series of performances, earlier disputed by his successors, was ultimately adopted by Holender.


  • Drese, Claus Helmut (1984). Theater, Theater... Vorträge, Aufsätze, Kommentare eines Intendanten. Zürich: Atlantis-Musikbuch. ISBN 3-254-00109-5. 
  • Drese, Claus Helmut (1993). Im Palast der Gefühle: Erfahrungen und Enthüllungen eines Wiener Operndirektors. München: Piper. ISBN 3-492-03695-3. 
  • Drese, Claus Helmut (1999). aus Vorsatz und durch Zufall: Theater- und Operngeschichte(n) aus 50 Jahren. Köln: Dittrich. ISBN 3-920862-24-4. 
  • Drese, Claus Helmut (2002). Nachklänge: fünf Künstlerschicksale; Erzählungen. Köln: Dittrich. ISBN 3-920862-44-9. 


  1. ^ Claus Helmut Drese gestorben, vom 17. Februar 2011
  2. ^