albadger: (Default)
Two days since I posted, which means I've seen two shows -- Tristan und Isolde in a "normal" modernist production, and with the BEST Tristan I am ever likely to experience in my freakin' life. Score! And then on Tuesday, back to the Ring, but not quite yet, says my fragile insides, and I was feeling too ill and unsettled to make it to act 1 of Siegfried. Fortunately, the hour-long intermissions meant I had two hours to recover and get to Act 2. And, hoo goddie!
Set of "Siegfried" from Bayreuth 2016
Set of "Siegfried" from Bayreuth 2016
This is the set for Siegfried -- it opens on the Commie Mount Rushmore (I still think that Lenin looks more like Samuel L Jackson), and then rotates to reveal the Alexanderplatz plaza in Berlin, complete with working Atomic Clock (which I had just seen last April!). I'd seen pix of this but watching it in action took my breath away. Far and away my favorite thing here so far.

In terms of music, it was as with the other pieces, superb, and the direction, as with the other Ring operas, seemed half-baked and juvenile... but I didn't care this time, I loved it, especially at the end, when Alexanderplatz became infested with crocodiles, and Brunhilde fed a beach umbrella to one of them. The "forest bird" who leads Siegfried to Brunhilde is usually just an off-stage voice, but here she was a Vegas showgirl, and nearly got eaten by a croc! Siegfried saved her at the last minute. I'm told that when this premiered in 2014, he didn't. I'm having fun imagining the director FUMING at his artistic vision being tampered with.

ALSO took great delight in the loud booing! There was some at the end of Rheingold but not like this, angry and sustained -- though the crowd switched to cheers when the singers came out for their bows, and then back to loud booing. I was in heaven!

Only opera thing left on my Bucket List -- go to La Scala and have the crowd jeer the tenor. With my luck the tenor will be great that night and nobody will throw anything. Not even a cabbage.
albadger: (Baby Hitler)
Two days since I posted, which means I've seen two shows. AGAIN. Since the tummy upset that made me miss Act 1 of Siegfried I have been very cautious, not really doing any other touristy things, just hanging about the hotel albeit giving the maids time to do the room (I don't make much of a mess. Not like I'm at home or something!). So I was able to attend all of Wednesday's Parsifal and Thursday's Götterdämmerung without any hitches, and even mail off a number of post cards (if you get one, you know, and if you don't, why? Message me).

Parsifal is the year's new production, and part of the reason for visible police presence, since there's clearly the worry that this staging will tick off some fanatic or other... since it's quite openly set in 2016, in northern Iraq, and has pretty accurate representations of the area's Christian, Jewish and Moslem communities. Um, "accurate" isn't right. The "flower maidens" of Act 2 are Moslem girls in enveloping black coverings, who gleefully strip down to belly-dancer attire at the sight of a handsome blonde Marine. That's less realism than 1930's music hall... and the "Christian" grail ceremony of Act 1 has Amfortas stripped to a loincloth and cut by a monk, who then gathers the dripping blood in a cup and shares it with the community. If somebody's going to attack this, makes more sense if it's somebody Orthodox instead of Sunni.

Still, the telling didn't get in the way (as the Ring stagings have), and the performance was transcendent; not my favorite Wagner but this hearing upped my opinion of the piece.

Götterdämmerung, on the other hand, continued the combination of gigantic delightful sets with graffiti-tagger direction as in the previous Ring entries, but was neither as annoying as Rheingold or as fun as Siegfried, mostly because this last entry is so plot-driven, there's little room for nonsense. Mind you, I won't forget the image of Brünnhilde shaking cans of gasoline over everything, including herself, and the slutty Rheinmaidens helpfully offering her their cigarette lighters. No real flames, alas. One thing I noticed was the real chemistry between Brünnhilde and Hagen. A shame they couldn't have gotten together, he's way better a match for her than Siegfried or Gunther.

Today, the opera is the Flying Dutchman, and doesn't start until 6pm, so I have a few extra hours, and I rode the bus up to Wahnfried, which had been Wagner's home here. Mostly reconstructed, since WW2 pretty much demolished the original, but still cool, with a museum on the side filled with set miniatures and full-size costumes from previous productions. I'm still sorry I missed the Lohengrin where all the people are lab rats!
albadger: (Viking and Satyr)
This is it -- this is why I'm doing this trip! And, yes, I'm good. It's worth it.

Bayreuth is a charming smallish town, good bus system but no trolley or subway, so mid-size for this area. My hotel is a ways from the Theater, but right next to the cobblestone pedestrian-only streets that make the downtown shopping area, and I've got a bus pass now, so I'm getting the feel.

But it's the Wagner Festival that got me here, and I've now seen 2 of the 7 shows I have tickets for, and I'm kinda in heaven. I think this isn't that different from what roller coaster aficionados feel. Or heroin addicts. Just guessing of course.

For the Ring, I got the cheapest seat I could, and it's not even a seat, really, just a bench tucked into a little cubbyhole on the balcony, but it's got a fine view of the stage, and so steeply raked that heads in front of me aren't a problem. Also, my right shoulder is against the wall of the cubbyhole, so that makes my reptilian hindbrain happy.

Musical considerations first, and this is glorious. The orchestra pit is REALLY a pit, with barely a slit for the sound to come out of, which tips the scales to the stage, and lets the singers ring out beautifully (also gives the orchestra an interesting shimmer). Even the weakest of the singers is a joy to hear.

Visually, more of a mixed bag. I love the sets so far -- both are giant 3-story structures on turntables, amazing engineering feats. Das Rheingold is in a sleazy motel/gas-station apparently near Amarillo, Texas; die Walkuere on a massive oil-extraction structure apparently in Azerbaijan. The theme appears to be Greed is Bad. I like a wacky Ring but I'd like wackiness with a more complex intention. This just seems cluttered, especially in Rheingold, when nearly the entire cast of 20 (14 singing roles, 5 homeless drug addicts in swimwear, and the gas-station attendant played by a young David Cross) is jammed into the tiny upstairs motel room; I was hoping the girl with the hat would show up and ask "Is my Aunt Minnie in there?" (That's a reference to "a Night at the Opera," which if you haven't seen, do). Also off-putting was the constant and usually pointless use of video projected on large screens.

All the "magic" moments have been effectively botched (Alberich turning into things with the Tarnhelm, the Magic Fire, etc.), but I'm thinking this is intentional. The text in the program (7 Euro) talks a lot about irony; this is less irony than adolescent mockery, like when I was 19 and a friend and I re-imagined the Ring in pedestrian terms; instead of a sword in a tree, a switchblade in a Formica breakfast table, that sort of shit. Fortunately, nobody gave us a pile of money and a famous theater to wank around in.

Still, I feel kind of small complaining about how poor the visual production is when the audio is so fine. After Walkuere, the conductor got the biggest ovation of all, and it went on for 10 minutes. And such a fast reading! On the stairs out, a little French gentleman engaged me in conversation, and compared the conductor to Usain Bolt. "Un heure cinq minutes! Olympic sprinter!" he said. "Ja, mach schnell!" I replied, completely oblivious to any language issue.

Here's some good reviews from Parterre Box:

http://parterre.com/2013/08/23/first-impressions/

http://parterre.com/2013/08/24/flame-off/
albadger: (Lisa and Bart Screaming)
Now I'm in Germany, which usually has such high standards... take for exmaple the train ride here. First half was the Copenhagen-Hamburg train that goes on a ferryboat, which I did last February and is great fun, but I was in the "quiet zone" of 1st class, and instead of quiet, we got a constant BEEP... BEEP... BEEP... that would stop for a few minutes, then start again. I asked the ticket agent what it was; she listened intently for a few beeps, then with a big smile said, "that's a cell phone!" Really. Where is this cell phone, and more importantly, when somebody on a train asks you the ticket agent what a horrible annoying noise is, it really means HOW THE #@#$%@#$%!!! DO WE STOP IT." I was able to move to the "Noisy" section to get some quiet, but that filled up a few stops before Hamburg, and I had to return to my torture. At least by then I wasn't alone.

Best part of the day was getting a knockwurst at the Hamburg train station from a hot bearded knockwurst vendor who was totally into me, I swear, no way he flirts with all the customers like that.

The Hamburg-Nuremberg train didn't have an irritating beep, but it did have a tantrummy toddler with amazing lungs and enviable stamina. His long-suffering mother got off the train at Hannover, and, more importantly, took him. After which, another child was ushered in with her grandmother, and proceeded to... No, surprise! She was an absolute angel, and quite the My Little Pony aficionado

Now I'm in Nuremberg; after checking in and showering, I went down to the street to get some food; nearly did Burger King, but I remembered that I had standards, and had a Subway sandwich because I remembered what my standards are. Gosh, there are a hell of a lot of prostitutes in Nuremberg. Some of them are very pretty!

Tomorrow, Bayreuth, and the Walk Up the Hill. Das Rheingold to begin with. You can't bring cushions in this year, so it's good to get my butt broken in on one of the short ones.
albadger: (Oh Cat Don't fly away again)
Nothing like being in a comfortable train car, nodding off in your comfortable seat, and then you notice that all the other passengers are getting off. ALL of them. Time to actually pay attention to the announcements!

There was some kind of technical problem with the rear cars of the train (which of course I was in), so we all had to get out & walk up the platform to the front of the train, and it's the LONGEST train that legal in Germany (I like to think they run double-length trains in the middle of the night just for kicks). Bonus of the new seating -- in the very front car, and I can see the "windshield" or whatever trains have instead of windshields. And this is beautiful country, rolling down from Cologne and Frankfurt to Munich -- one of the most densely populated places in the world but it looks like forests and pastures and cows from the train, quite lovely. Remind me to move to Germany when Miramax greenlights my screenplay.

One downside of on-train WiFi is that connectivity is spotty -- every time we enter a tunnel, the world goes away -- and there are LOTS of tunnels. Like that last one. 2 minutes, I timed it! And we're going 249 km/h, so that means...
albadger: (Hufflepuff)
And the OTHER reason I have not posted daily on this tour -- tools! I have a newish laptop, a Toshiba something-or-other, and I love it, except for the touchpad software, which never worked right and now doesn't work at ALL -- I am using a little bluetooth mouse instead. And then, on this trip, the WiFi started cracking up big time. The machine had always had a tendancy to knock me off the connection, but that was easily remedied by disconnecting and reconnecting... but starting in Northern Ireland, I'd get connected in a "LIMITED" way, which meant no connection at all, and there was no way to progress past that. If you selected the "CAN I HELP YOU WITH YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION PROBLEM?" thing, it would say "SORRY YOU ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET AND I CANNOT HELP YOU." Gotta love Windows 8.

Finally my withered brain kicks in -- get on the net with the PHONE, and ask -- sure enough "TOSHIBA LAPTOP WIFI CONNECTION PROBLEM" gets lots of Google hits, including a simple two-part suggestion that I follow. Change one setting, run one netsh command, reboot & hurrah! We're up and running reliably for the first time in a week.

Great week, too.  A weekend of hanging with Steve & Steve in Ravenstone, England included a trip to Leicester Cathedral to see the tomb of Richard III, England's most unfairly maligned king. Not the most maligned but with the others it's pretty fair. Very handsome, and the museum was cool too. Also Steve (the one who drives a Kia Soul) made what was easily the best meal of my trip, chicken stuffed with sausage and wrapped in bacon, then drenched in a rhubarb sauce with mixed vegetables.  "'Twere nothing, just something I whipped up," he says, but he beats the fancy restaurants and the castle banquets and the awful pizza I had in Amsterdam.

Pizza being the ONLY bad thing I had in Amsterdam, which is an amazing, wonderful, dazzling city, and it smells of pot. REALLY. Of course, I was primed to love it, coming in after a 4-hour layover in Brussels, where every Brussellian I dealt with seemed to despair of the future of the human species, and responded with poor customer service. Like a city run by US Air. Stick to Amsterdam.

Right now I'm in Cologne, another fine city, dominated by the magnificent cathedral on the Rhine -- here to meet & have dinner with a young friend. I've known her since she was four years old, and here she is getting her masters degree! I don't feel aged at all, no.

Tomorrow, off to Munich, to see THAT PICTURE.  If I succeed in my quest, I will definitely post an image here. I'm no good at photos, but I'll make myself good just for this one thing, dammit!
albadger: (Krazy Kat)

Okay, we're winding down, less than 24 hours before I get on a plane and endure the 11-hour ride home, and, honestly, I was itching to go. I'd padded the tail end of the trip with an extra day, originally because I wanted to go back to the Munich Stadtmuseum and get a photo of the painting of the naked gnomes examining a human foot... not really practical, so I went to Cologne instead; but Munich or Cologne, my body and brain could feel the stretch, and were impatient to be home. For all the things I love about Germany, my inner grump would pop up with three reasons to love California. Even while I toured the Cologne cathedral (recommended) and the Roman/German Museum (even more recommended), the nagging inside kept getting louder... home, home, it repeated. I was starting to lose it a bit, frankly. And then a miracle happened.

My train back to Frankfurt was late. Oh, this wasn't anything special; over the course of the trip, the trains have seemed to get later and later -- on time on Wednesday, 8 minutes late on Thursday, 30 minutes late on Monday. But today, it was 80 minutes late -- for a 65-minute trip. And there's nothing that could make an Amtrak customer feel more at home than a train delayed by longer than the trip takes.

Odd how simple things can make one happy. I was happy as I ate a combo-preis meal of Schnitzel, Kartoffelsalat and soda of my choice, calm as the Regional train 7 lumbered slowly through the 'burbs (the stop right before mine? Zeppelinheim!), and whistling happily as I walked down Farmstrasse to the Albatros Hotel.

Which had overbooked & didn't have a room for me.

Oh, they found me a room & drove me 5km to a tiny place in nearby Mörfelden, and promised to pick me up tomorrow morning (hope so!). Apparently the Albatros got caught up in the same huge wave of financiers descending upon Frankfurt that had already booked every single downtown bed and was now engulfing the suburbs & displacing the less than aggressive and the not-well-connected. And you know what? I'm cool with that. But I probably wouldn't have been if the train hadn't been late. So that's kind of a miracle! Now I'm going to get a frankfurter from that dodgy stand down the street.


Oh, yeah, the title of the article. This place has 3 billion TV channels! Most of them are home shopping. Including Channel 178, it seems.

albadger: (Vitruvian Badger)

Tonight, I Lombardi, the last of the 3 early Verdis being presented by Hamburg Opera. I think I get the overarching theme of the productions now; this is supposed to be in the ruins of a bombed-out La Scala in Milan, our plucky performers playing not characters in an opera but 1940s performers playing characters in an opera being put on in defiance of all odds etc. etc. etc. Thus the choirloft/elevator thingy, the front of which is styled to look like the La Scala boxes, and random ruins scattered about in front of the back wall. That you have the added advantage of cutting down on prep time for the chorus, in works that will NOT join the standard rotation, a mere coincidency bonus.

Actually, this production was far and away the best of the three, largely because (after the first few scenes) the choristers escaped from their elevated jail and made their way to the main stage, which is good since the chorus is a huge part of the piece, mostly as bloodthirsty crusaders. Plus we had some real color to break up the gray, with red and blue in the costumes and a big white sand dune for the second half.

But most of all we had Elza Van den Heever in the female lead, who completely dominated the show. Didn't hurt that she's about 2 feet taller than any of the men in the cast.


And I did get to the waterfront today, as advised, to find it completely socked in, so foggy a boat ride would be pointless. Instead I went to a great show at the Bucierus Kunst Forum, which I'd apparently walked right in front of yesterday without noticing -- a show about Dionysus, lots of great ancient & modern paintings & artifacts. The ticket girl loved my passport photo.

Last night in Hamburg -- off to Cologne tomorrow. I will probably tour the Dom there (their huge church) but mostly rest & work on memorizing the damn lines for the damn play I damn well agreed to do. Wish me luck on that.

albadger: (Leprechaun Merle)

Friday night, during the dingy gray production of la Battaglia di Legnano, I found myself thinking, why didn't they use THIS production for tomorrow night's opera, i Due Foscari, which is ITSELF dingy and sad? So you can imagine how unsurprised I was to see Saturday night's curtain go up on more or less the same dingy, sad gray set, complete with chorus elevator. Actually it was even dingier -- in addition to the bleak concrete, we got mildewed, peeling green wallpaper. Thugs slithered through the shadows. Women were mysteriously abducted and just as mysteriously stumbled out of wardrobes later in the evening. Darkness reigned.

Which, for i Due Foscari, is just about right. It's based on a thingy by Lord Byron, and it has effectively no action aside from the destruction of the title father/son duo. If Battaglia fails because it can't keep its ducks in a row, Foscari fails -- for most people -- because it only has one duck.

Me? I like it, especially the husband-wife prison duet in Act II that had me crying last night, and the big climaxes of the crowd scenes are quite moving, even when the crowd is being dangled 20 feet in the air. The final scene of the Doge's disgrace and death is a gift to a singing actor, so it's no surprise Placido Domingo staged this for himself in Los Angeles last year.

Well done all round tonight. And, tomorrow night for i Lombardi, I fully expect to see the same dingy gray and green walls, and the same hydraulic choir loft, used to represent a medieval Italian castle, a sultanate's harem, and a hermit's cave.


Oh, also, I actually went out during the day! I took the U-1 to the Hopbahnhof Sud station and then the U-3 to the Rathaus. That's one hell of a big Rathaus!

albadger: (Krusty's Terrified Audience)

Back from la Battaglia di Legnano at the Hamburg Opera. Mission Accomplished! Goal Met!

That said, I don't really like la Battaglia di Legnano all that much.

Oh, it's okay, and it has its delights; the overture is a pip, and there's a little tune for the baritone that I often find myself humming & wondering where it's from. But this (the very last product of Verdi's "galley years") was a piece d'occasion and it shows. The scenes are either a cookie-cutter domestic triangle, or rousing agit-prop -- the two sides don't seem to work together at all. Not helping were directoral choices, such as setting the whole thing in what was either a dingy hospital, a dingy church or a dingy bus terminal. Gray overwhelmed, even the elevatored balcony that bounced up & down 20 feet over the singers' heads; the male chorus sang from there (with books, like a church choir!) in the first half, but it got put to better use at the end, when it became the tenor's apartment from which, driven mad by patriotism, he jumps into a moat. You can look it up if you care further.

But, with all that, I now have seen it performed, and I'm down to only one of Verdi's 26 original operas (that's il Corsaro, which nobody likes either, and I have a ticket to see it next March in Washington DC). Singers & orchestra acquitted themselves well, my new seat location (row 18 seat 1) only blocked half the supertitles, and the poor lady sitting to my right had no excuse or opportunity to move to another seat at the interval. Place was sold out! Probably a lot of people marking it off their to-do lists.

Tomorrow I promise to get out & see some of this great sprawling city outside the short walk to the U-Bahn station & the short walk from the Opera U-Bahn to the opera house. I swear. Maybe... maybe... I'll go see Rocky: das Musical. It has a matinee!

albadger: (Hank with Welcome Basket)

Last night was the first show at Hamburg Opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, brilliant on every level -- all soloists perfect, orchestra amazing, set & concept engaging, funny and profound. And I got a special bonus! My set was on the Parkett level (in America the Orchestra), Row 22, seat 1 -- aisle seat, not too close, not too far back, but far back enough that being on the aisle didn't set me too far out to the side. Special bonus came from the opera house's design; it's a modern house, so instead of horseshoes for the balconies (what they call "Rang"), there are blocky cantilevered concrete protrusions. Probably good sightlines for them, but I don't care about that, what I care about is that a balcony section completely blocked the supertitles! Stage was completely clear, so it was best of both worlds (since my German is piss-poor & getting poorer, the text would only distract). The elderly German gentleman to my right was mightily irritated, and at intermission recamped to an empty seat he had spotted in the middle. My paradise was thus complete for the second half.

I seem to have an issue with great opera (and some other art) not unakin to Stendhal Syndrome. When the work reaches an apotheosis (or whatever you'd call it), I can completely zone out -- eyes may be open or shut but I can't move or speak, even thought I'm completely conscious of the sounds. This happened to me last night during Zerbinetta's big solo. I'm pretty sure I was drooling a little. So I'm doubly happy that the seat to my right was empty. I hope this doesn't reduce the chance of any of you attending the opera with me someday.

Today I took it easy, just hanging around in my room, going to the lobby to let the maid get her work done, buying a take-out pizza from the shop next door (this will serve as lunch, dinner & late snack). Nothing's going to interfere with la Battaglia di Legnano, one of only 2 original Verdi operas I haven't seen performed yet. Ground Zero for this trip, you might say! Wish me luck! Also, wish luck to the person in the seat on my right.

albadger: (Bear and Trainer)

This is technically only Day 2 of this Germany trip, which I find hard to believe, as I've already fit a lifetime in. A mayfly's lifetime, perhaps, but a busy one. Originally I was going to stay in Frankfurt one night to recover from the plane trip, but my friend pointed out that you can get a tie-in train ticket from Lufthansa, only 49 Euros to go anywhere in Germany after your flight... and leaving from the Airport train station, so you don't even need to go downtown! Then I find out that the city of Bielefeld is doing my bestest favoritest early-Verdi, Giovanna d'Arco, that very night, so I consider going there... until I read about the BIEFELD CONSPIRACY, and, well, that settled that. i'm goin' ta Bielefeld.

Biefeld does exist, unless I've been compromised & am now part of the conspiracy. Its old downtown, what was inside the medieval walls, has been converted to a maze of pedestrian shopping streets -- it's actually quite charming. And the show was great -- orchestra and chorus scrappy, but all three leads in amazing shape. This time, instead of a teenage virgin who saves France in drag and is then burned alive, Joan is a human rights campaigner who finds herself turned into a celebrity by the hungry media, and worries that she is letting her love of fame distract her from the well-being of the people of Bosnia. Or something. Who cares, with those tunes. I blissed out and hope I wasn't too annoying for the hausfrauen surrounding me in Rinks 8.

This morning, the impossible happened and my brain exploded: a German train was late. Fortunately, my connecting train was also slightly late, so I got to Hamburg in time, where I walked about 2 miles trying to figure out the .5-mile distance from the train station to the A&O hostel/hotel where I'm staying (Biefeld has no A&O so I had to make do with a fancy-pants Mercure hotel with actual tubs in the bathrooms). Tonight's the first opera here, Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos I've been told the Hamburg Opera house is a sight in itself, so I'm looking forward to it. More later!

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