With the coming of the New Year, I decided to get serious about the
going to operas part of my opera project. I arrived at this
conclusion after careful deliberation and scientific analysis. In
other words, I realized
Oh, no! I've only got six months left!
I began with what I called
three Toscas in four
days—seeing three productions of the same opera in three
different cities within a four-day span. The idea was to compare
various approaches to the same work. Or maybe it was to practice my
sleeping-on-trains skills. I no longer remember which.
Experienced travelers have a special technical term
that they use to describe people who try to visit three cities in four
days. They call them
idiots. That didn't bother me, since I've
never managed to rise to that IQ level.
So on Thursday, Pat, Xandie, and I started it off together by seeing a local Karlsruhe production. Karlsruhe has an excellent opera company for the size of the town, and the production was very enjoyable, with generally good singing. The minimalist sets nicely supported the story. The director took a few liberties, but didn't do any damage. The best part was that Xandie stayed awake through nearly all of it.
Bright and early on Friday morning, I hopped a train to Vienna, and only nine hours later I was wandering the streets, trying desperately to find the theater before the show started. It turned out to be hidden behind the rather large gentleman from whom I asked directions. Fortunately, he was very tolerant of my bad German, although he did suggest that in the future I should pretend to only speak Swahili.
Vienna has one of the most famous opera houses in the world, which is reflected in their prices. They charge an arm and a leg to sit in the top balcony; the main floor will cost you your head as well. Since I don't keep anything useful in my head, I sat on the floor.
As one might expect in what may be the most tradition-bound city in the world, the Vienna auditorium is a classic example of 19th-century opulence. It is entertaining to imagine what it was like in the days of the emperors. The vision is marred only by the hordes of tourists who gawk and snap hundreds of photos before the performance starts. It's the only opera house I've ever been in where the one-timers outnumber the regulars. At least, I assume that most of the Japanese I heard wasn't being spoken by Viennese natives...
The show itself was as traditional as the city. Vienna's idea of a
brand-new opera production is
any set that's been repainted
in the last 100 years. That means no Wunderkind deciding
to reinterpret Tosca as a space alien, but also no variety. I guess
the Viennese like it that way. But what they lack in innovation they
make up in excess. The first-act church looks like a real cathedral;
the last-act rooftop scene appeared to have been transported bodily
from Rome. The singers were superb. Of course, at those prices they
had better be!
After the show, I dashed to the train station and climbed on sleeper to go home. Vienna is a pretty lively place, but I didn't stay long enough to really see anything. But the train was very nice, thanks.
After a day with the family and a night in my own bed, I headed back to the train station to travel to Aachen for my final Tosca.
Aachen? you ask,
Where the heck is Aachen?
You've got me. I've been there and I'm still not quite sure
where it is. It's somewhere near Holland and Belgium, I think. Or
maybe it's in Turkey. In any case, it's a heck of a nice town when
you finally get there. (Getting there turned out to be a disaster;
don't believe those myths about the German trains always running on
on time means
missing every connection and
having to sneak into your seat when the first act is almost over.)
The opera itself was, um, goofy. As I've said, the Karlsruhe production was pretty straightforward and Vienna was extremely traditional. Aachen broke every rule in the book. I know that operas don't always make sense, but c'mon. People walking on piles of three-ring binders? Bald Italians in thick glasses and Buddhist robes? Well, I got my variety, that's for sure. And the singing was remarkably good.
In Vienna I had missed the chance to see the city. This time I demonstrated that even an idiot (that's a technical term; see above)) can learn from experience. There wasn't a reasonable way to get back that night, so I stayed in a hotel. The next day I visited the town a bit before heading home.
Perhaps you've heard of a guy called Charlemagne? It turns out that
Aachen was his headquarters. He was crowned there, built a big
cathedral, and turned it into the center of Europe. So they have
lots of museum pieces, including (for the ghouls among us)
Charlemagne's arm bone in a golden case that's shaped like—an
arm. (It's a
reliquary, which is a big deal in some parts of
the Catholic church.)
OK, I admit I was a bit weirded out by the bone display. But all the
gold stuff was sure pretty. The cathedral itself is beautiful, fully
befitting one of the greatest rulers of all time. The residents have
a sense of humor, too; the
Puppenbrunnen fountain (yes, I know
that's redundant redundant) is a delight. The area around the
cathedral and city hall is magical, with many golden carvings on the
walls of the buildings. I especially liked the, um, well-equipped
I had a great time in Aachen, and I think I'd like to go back to see more of it.
...if I can ever find it again.