Monday, October 31, 2011

A night at the opera

Until Friday I had, in my otherwise not entirely culturally-arid life, been only twice to the opera. I saw Carmina Burana as a teenager at the Royal Albert Hall, and Cosi Fan Tutte in my twenties at Glyndebourne. And last week, now in my thirties, I was treated to Tosca at the Wiesbaden Opera House. So you could say, though I've now only been to the opera three times in my life, I've at least done it regularly, and in the poshest way possible. From the first two performances I learned that I find a trip to the opera hugely enjoyable, but also that I wouldn't want to do it every day. It's therefore a treat I savour. I also discovered that you don't need to know what everyone's singing about to have a jolly good evening out.

What I learned from seeing Tosca at the Wiesbaden Opera House last Friday night was that it's actually best not to know what they're singing about at all. To set the scene: my father-in-law, in celebration of his eldest daughter's birthday, had very generously invited us all to an evening out at the Wiesbaden Opera House (also known as the Hessisches Staatstheater, or Hessen State Theatre), which was built at the end of the 19th century and is inside, quite simply, exquisite. It may in fact be the most beautiful theatre I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. I took the liberty of taking a few snaps of the bar...
See what I mean? The setting was positively luxurious. The company, of course, was fabulous, though sadly lacking a mini-Dietz, who was arriving as another birthday treat the following morning. And the performance? Well. I have to say that although the whole experience was an enormous treat and the atmosphere, music and the Sekt at half time were all second to none, all in all, this version of Tosca didn't exactly blow me away. Since I wasn't familiar with the story, it was initially rather exciting to discover, upon the curtain rising and the first note being belted out by a small man limping bleeding across the stage, that there were to be subtitles accompanying the performance. Subtitles. At the opera. Who knew?! Following a short investigation, it turns out that it's the norm here, and they were very neatly projected above the stage, line for line, white on black, so that we had some sort of an idea of what was going on. Except I'm not sure they really helped. All that happened was that all those rich and round-vowelled, passionately-projected lines of Italian that I imagined to be deeply poetic and chest-tremblingly moving turned out to be "Do you have a spare key?" "Yes it's on the sideboard" "I painted this lady whilst she wasn't looking" etc. It's also quite exhausting trying to watch what was going on on the stage, read the subtitles 20 metres above it, make mental notes to ask the meaning of words I was unfamiliar with (my German torture vocab isn't up to much, apparently) and then try to combine on-stage action with above-stage subtitle in order to work out what on earth was going on.

And so about half an hour in I gave up trying. Because in my opinion, aside from the fact that my whirring cognitive processes somewhat detracted from an otherwise very comfortable experience, opera shouldn't be enjoyed line for line, it should be enjoyed for its grandiose aurals, extravagant visuals, and the whole over-the-top, escapist, dramatic shebang. The story of Tosca is a fierce one of love, passion, jealousy and death that is hugely dramatic, and if you follow the words too closely (and they've been translated into a less romantic-sounding language, perhaps), somehow when you get to the end of the tale and everyone's either shot in the head and sprawled dramatically stage right or is being kicked somewhat feebly to death stage left, you sort of wonder what the point of it all was. Because in this particular instance, sadly, it wasn't really in the performance itself.
To prove my point: the second half of the performance was extraordinarily brief and its end, when it came, was so profoundly limp and anti-climactic that despite the fact that the curtain was drawing across the two lead characters as they lay dead on the floor and everyone else in the audience had started clapping, we still weren't entirely convinced it was over.

Anyhow, just to make sure we're all on clear on this: I may be being a bit rude about it, but I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it. I adored Puccini's score - the orchestra was excellent - and the heaving bosom of Tosca herself was mesmerising. Her solo bit at the end of the first half was also hugely impressive. And of course it was an honour to just be there, all glammed up and seated amongst Wiesbaden's finest (sort of) in such a beautifully ornate auditorium. But still, my favourite moment came at the end of the show after the first curtain call, when heavy red velvet cut off extensive cast from half-filled auditorium, and the audience leaped to their feet and started hurrying towards the doors: when the curtain came back up in expectation of a second round of enthusiastic applause, the poor cast were confronted with several rows of empty seats and a herd of people running for the exits. Admittedly painful to watch (we were still seated and applauding; one or two audience members embarrassedly pretended they were giving a standing ovation), but it rather appealed to my sense of humour.
Tosca done and dusted, we collected our coats from the exquisite cloakroom and wandered happily over to the adjacent Wiesbaden Kurhaus, where we were treated further to a dinner at Käfer's. Well I say we wandered over, but in my staggeringly high heels, to which I am entirely unused, my gait was more that of a lame giraffe ("Do you like my outfit tonight?" I asked my husband; "Well," he said, "I think you look sexier when you can walk"). I'm going to post a proper review of Käfer's another time but shall leave you with a picture of the Kurhaus entrance hall, through which you reach the restaurant; my melt-in-the-mouth glazed calve's cheeks with roasted autumn vegetables and its heavenly accompanying pea and potato mash. I tell you what: after washing all down that with a Riesling or two, I was rather in need of subtitles myself.


cliff1976 said...

"Well," he said, "I think you look sexier when you can walk"

Amen, Herr Dietz!

Looks like a very posh setting. Glad you enjoyed. I'd like to do a night out like that some time.

Andrew said...

Very cool building. Operas seem to thrive in that style building and would lose something of the effect in a more modern building. Much as you notice that they lose something with titles. But that seems quite German somehow, to want to exactly what is said. Genau!

Oddly, the only time I can remember being to the Opera was years ago as a high schooler traveling with my German class to Köln. I think we went to the Bonn Opera house, but it has been a long time. It was Carmen and it took us until the second act to notice the titles. More I do not remember.

German Gems said...

Perhaps you and shoegirl need to go shoe shopping!

otomcio said...

Looks great, sounds great.

Definitely going to take the Mrs there.

High-heels are madness. Don't do it!

Frau Dietz said...

@Cliff: hahaha I think Herr Dietz speaks for many! And this is why I never wear them... but you know, sometimes duty calls ;) Posh night out highly recommended.

@Andrew: That's very funny it took you till the second half to notice the titles - they were pretty much the first thing I noticed! Maybe they've been working on subtitle visibility since you were in high school ;)

@German Gems: Hahaha - Shoegirl needs NO encouragement!!!

@Otomcio: You're absolutely right, I don't know what I was thinking. And yes you should definitely take Mrs Otomcio there, it is just stunning - you'd both love it.

fiona said...

Wow, what settings! I have never been to the opera, but it's one of those things that I have always wanted to do, and has surfaced higher in my consciousness since the move to Berlin.

I'm not sure about having subtitles, the concentration required must be tiring (or would be for me); I'd need to have a little button on my seat to switch those into English.

very envious though, looks like a fantastic night out and as always your food photos are making me hungry.

minidietz said...


The Expat Wife said...

wow that really is amazing, what a stunning building

Morgenmuffel said...

Wow the decoration is stunning, think I'd be distracted by that let alone subtitles. Been meaning to make a date with the Opera House in Stuttgart, totes jealous :)

Frau Dietz said...

@Fiona: You should definitely go - and get some tights with knee patches on for the occasion. And that is a BRILLIANT idea with the button on the seat thing. I could use one of those in everyday life.

@minidietz: awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww ;)

@the expat wife: You said it! :)

@Morgenmuffel: I kept looking around during the performance... luckily I couldn't see into the orchestra pit or I'd have just spent the whole evening staring in there!

Jen said...

My first opera was Tosca, only I saw it in Budapest last year at the very posh Hungarian State Opera House. The subtitles were in Hungarian, of course, which was probably best. And the performance had such an obviously profound influence on me that I can't even REMEMBER what the "plot" was or who Tosca even was. LOL. But, like you, I much enjoyed the setting of an opera house. ;-)

ianandebe said...

Wow. That is an absolute stunner! I had no idea little ole Wiesbaden had such an impressive Opera House. We recently went to Budapest & stood in wonder at their opera house, but Wiesbaden might have to hold a place on the "to Visit" list.

Frau Dietz said...

@Jen: I bet the opera in Budapest was quite something too. I'll schedule that in for my 40s.

@ianandebe: You certainly should put it on the list, and let me know when you're coming! :)

BavarianSojourn said...

That is what you call an opera house! It's beautiful! Your dinner also looked pretty damn good! Emma :)

Frau Dietz said...

Argh, Emma, thank you for reminding me I said I'd blog about it! *adds to enormous list of things not yet blogged about*