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Born in Schwarzenberg, began his musical studies at Carl Maria von Weber music school in Dresden where he concentrated on violin pedagogy and singing. Upon graduating he was engaged as bariton in Halle. Two years later, following the advice of Marianne Fischer-Kupfer in Berlin and Jessica Cash in London, he switched to altus.

Axel Köhler made his professional debut as an altus as Eustatio in Handel's „Rinaldo” at the Handel Festival in Halle. In the time since, he has become known internationally as a Handel specialist, appearing in the titel roles of Sosarme, Giulio Cesare, Orlando, Tamerlano, Tolomeo. He made his American debut as Tamerlano in 1990 at the Kennedy Centre in Washington and his Carnegie Hall debut in Handel's Messiah. Other projects included Orpheo by Telemann in Innsbruck and at the Berlin State Opera conducted by René Jacobs, the title role of „Giustino” and „Tamerlano” in Berlin. The 1998-2000 seasons also included guestings as Daniel in „Belsazar” at Dresden Semper Opera, David in „Saul” in Karlsruhe and Berlin and a tour to Japan with Ottone in „Poppea”.

He sang his recital „Falsetto grazioso” in Berlin, Halle, Essen, Duisburg. In 1999 he was appointed Kammersänger and received the renowned Critics' Award of Berliner Zeitung.

In 2003 he performed the part of Türkenbab in a production of „Rake's Progress” in Halle. Since 2005 he has been singing Poro in „Cleofide” in Dresden. In 2006 at Bavarian State Opera Axel Köhler again sang all the parts he had been engaged for since 1997: Ottone in „Poppea”, Eustazio in „Rinaldo” and Nirenus in „Giulio Cesare”. During his career several composers have written parts for the voice of Axel Köhler: 1995 the part of Bacco in „Arianna” by Alexander Göhr (Royal Oper House London); 1998 the titel role of „Farinelli” by Siegfried Matthus; 2001 the devil in „Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung” by Detlef Glanert; 2003 the part of Adschib in „L'upupa” by Hans Werner Henze at Salzburger Festspiele and Teatro Real de Madrid; and 2006 the titel role in „Cantor” by Ingomar Grünauer, which gave him the opportunity not only to sing as a countertenor but also a baritone and to play the violine. Since 2007 he sings the part of Artemis in „Phaedra” by Hans Werner Henze – in Berlin, Brüssel, Wien, Frankfurt, Köln and London.
    In 2000 Axel Köhler presented his first production as a director: „L 'incoronazione di Poppea” in Halle got enthusiastic acclaim both by critics and audience. He was asked to direct „Rodrigo” at 50th Handel Music Festival in Halle. As a result, he was invited to direct the production with students of Bavarian Theatre Academy at Prinzregententheater in Munich. In 2003 he directed „Teseo”. A production so successful that it was shown afterwards in 27 performances in Germany, Switzerland and England and is also abvailable on DVD. An open-air production, „Spettacolo barocco”, a world of baroque phantasy and music, was put on stage in Halle in summer of 2003. In 2004 he directed Britten's „A Midsummernight's Dream”, again with students in Munich and then, in 2005, with the ensemble in Halle, himself also as Oberon.

In 2006 he directed „Amadigi” with students in Dresden. At Handel Music Festival of 2006 he produced „Admeto”, a DVD is available, too. Axel Köhler's productions in 2007 included Johnson's „Riemann Opera” in Leipzig and „Don Giovanni” in Schwerin. His works in 2008 were Mozart‘s „Die Zauberflöte” at Staatsoperette Dresden, „Die weiße Dame”, a opéra comique by François Adrien Boieldieu, at International Festival of Young Singers in Rheinsberg, and Monteverdi‘s „L ‚incoronazione di Poppea” as a coproduction of Music College and Theatre in Dresden. 2009 started with „Argenore” at Markgräfliches Opernhaus Bayreuth, a colourful piece of baroque music put on stage in a „nearly ideal balance between historically precise baroque style and gentle irony“ (FAZ). The followed productions were also very successful: „Land des Lächelns” in Augsburg and „Die Zauberflöte“ in Innsbruck, „Gräfin Mariza” at Staatsoperette Dresden and „Die Blume von Hawaii” at Oper Halle in 2010, and Kalman‘s „Gräfin Mariza” in Halle and Telemann‘s „Der geduldige Socrates” in Munich in 2011. At the Semper Opera in Dresden in 2012 Axel Köhler directed the opera „Schwanda Dudak“ by Jaromir Weinberger, and 2014 in Palermo. At Semperoper Dresden he produced in „Carmen” by Georges Bizet and „Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber, honored with the Bachtrack Opera Award 2015.

From 2009 till 2016 Axel Köhler was Artistic Manager of Oper Halle.