Sunday, June 14, 2015

Operas: Fidelio and Zauberflöte

 On Tuesday, Rob and I saw Beethoven's Fidelio at the Staatsoper. I was excited to see this one because, though I've toured the building, the only thing I've seen performed here was an atonal opera about a Czech giant, which was a litany of the abuses he suffered. It was truly painful to watch and listen to.
I read up on Fidelio that morning (which I need to do every time. I don't know why I haven't), and it was super helpful to have the synopsis in mind and all the characters straight before I went. This was Beethoven's only opera, and I learned that it premiered here in Vienna a month after Napoleon took over the city in November of 1805. The house was only about half full and it was a failure.
Beethoven tinkered with the overture and his librettists (3 of them) worked on the words, and it was shown again in 1806, 1807, and finally in 1814. It finally had some success with a great singer in the title role. Before his death, Beethoven told his biographer and friend of Fidelio: "Of all my children, this is the one that cost me the worst birth-pang and brought me the most sorrow; and for that reason it is the one most dear to me."
 Rob and I during the pause. Yeah, it's upside down.
Among the things Beethoven worked and reworked was the overture. There are four versions extant. The one that finally worked was the shortest, lightest one, called "the Fidelio Overture". But the other earlier ones are referred to as Leonore 1, 2, and 3. They are supposed to be masterful, but some critics claim that he works the musical motifs out so well that he doesn't leave much for the opera to do (I think having singers would be enough, but what do I know?). Our performance had the Fidelo overture at the beginning, and then the orchestra played the Leonore 3 in between scenes during Act II. My reading called that a traditional but "inartistic" choice. Rob and I thought it was great for two reasons: 1. it gives everyone on stage a chance for 13 minutes to change costumes and scenery, run to the bathroom, or get an eis; 2. our orchestra was the Vienna Philharmonic down in the pit, and they were just the people to play this piece. Rob claims they blew the roof off the place.
I feel for poor Beethoven. I can just see him scratching his bewigged head, not understanding why this wasn't a smash hit. It has hidden identites and intrigue. There are soldiers and prisoners aplenty. It is full of Grand Ideals in both the music and the libretto. But he overestimates the audience. There aren't any tittering ladies' maids. There are no female chorus members until the last scene. Not enough skirt chasing duets. And in our performance, both the costuming and scenery were pretty drab.
And yet this opera really has potential. It is unabashedly a girl power story. This Spanish guy, Florestan, is imprisoned, and his wife, Leonore, goes looking for him. She can't find him anywhere, but suspects that he might be in this prison in Sevilla. She dresses up like a man, calls herself Fidelio, and ingratiates herself with the jailer. She saves her husband singlehandedly and causes both prison reform and the downfall of her husband's enemy. She's kind of the bomb. The libretto was pretty radically feminist, which I assume (given how traditional the production was) is original.
When I compare that to the Magic Flute we just saw at the Volksoper, I understand why Mozart was more of an opera buffa savant. He was tackling Grand Ideals and lots of Things In Initial Capitals. But he lightened up the music in other places. He stuck in Papageno and Papagena who are not just for contrasting with Tamino and Pamina, but they're also for comic and musical relief. There are chances for all kinds of singers to strut their stuff.
The libretto is problematic in a 21st century gendered lens, but it still says something when you have many women on the stage, as opposed to Fidelio, which has only two female parts.
I counted last night, and this is at least the fourth interpretation of the Magic Flute I've seen. I think it was the best. The staging and costuming were creative and believable (and I'm plenty picky about Zarastro). The queen of the night was excellent. Tamino was marvelous. Maddie was very taken with the three boys.
I thought, watching Will try to fold his knees up without enough room, that the kids would all want to leave at the intermission. Not one of them even brought it up. We've turned some kind of corner here. Joss sat down with Rob in front where he kept him entertained with translations, explanations, and a gummy bear after each song. I sent Will over to an aisle seat where he could stretch out, and that helped. I did buy two Almdudlers, which helped, because we were up in the highest gallery this time, and it was hot (note to self, that it is worth it having Rob get the tickets and be choosy). But everyone lasted through three hours of opera and dropped in to bed by 11:00pm.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Gänsehäufel swim day

We knew that Friday was going to be (yet another) scorcher. The weather has been really tough so far. So we planned a day out to an island in the middle of the Donau. We invited all the students and grabbed our towels and a picnic and headed east.
 My first stop was the wave pool. I love this place. You head way down to the deep end and just float around. It's all of my favorite things about the ocean and my favorite things about pools in one place.
 But everyone else was excited to get into the Donau, which, I concede is more unique to Vienna. Here Will makes a grand entrance.
 And here is nearly everyone in the group.
 Maddie and Will giving Joss the toss. He'd gotten his stitches out that morning--we don't waste any time babying that one. Good thing the kid can swim!
 Plenty of jumping off the pier and splashing around. The temperature in the water (in the river and all of the pools) was 77 degrees--delightfully cool when the air was in the nineties.

 It's such a novel thing to go to a pool now and have four kids who all swim! They went all over the island and only came back for food. (They should have come back for more sunscreen!)
 I love this pool too--it has a metal bottom to reflect the sun and help heat it up.
The best thing was that we felt cool all the way home. Until the sunburns kicked in on four of us, that is!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A Day in Salzburg

 As I said in the last post, we had to change our plans in Salzburg because Joss was supposed to stay off of his foot for a few days. We knew that walking around the city for the walking tour was out, so Will and I stayed home with him after breakfast. Will obligingly pushed him around the go cart track a few times before they tried out the legos and puzzles and games in the playroom in the basement.
 Once Rob got the wheelchair, we headed off to walk around Salzburg. This was the favorite baroque church from the walking tour. When refurbishing it, no one could believe it was originally all white, and so they baroqued it all up. Called the Kollegienkirche.
 This is the Salzburger Dom, or cathedral.
 This is one of the horsewashing stations. Apparently there are two, and I'd never found the right one. Up on top is a crafty little puzzle. It says "Prince Leopold Built Me", but it also says 1732 in roman numberals, which is the year it was built.
One of the things I learned this trip around is that Salzburg had a crafty way of using its water. They would pump it out and clean the streets every Thursday. (I'm really wishing they would do that here in Vienna--the rain just isn't cutting it.) Some people attribute this practice to the fact that Salzburg never had a huge outbreak of the plague. All of their neighboring cities have plague monuments, but they do not.
 We rolled around St. Peter's cemetery, which is the one from Sound of Music. Except that it's not, which I wouldn't know except that someone left a Rick Steves book here. Only Rick Steves would have a whole section devoted to debunking the Sound of Music. So the abbey and the cemetery were actually reproductions done on Hollywood lots. This helped out, because at the end when the Von Trapps are locked into the arched sections by the nuns and hiding behind headstones, it never made sense because you can't hide behind them. They're just walls. 
Ambulatory family members also went up into the catacombs and saw the little chapel here. I went and saw the graves of Mozart's sister and Haydn's brother, who are both buried here.
 This claims to be the oldest restaurant in Europe. Says 873 which sounds pretty old to me.
 We let Joss light a candle at yet another church. It was a rather Tiny Tim moment.
 The front door, which I loved.
 Then we took the elevator up to the modern art museum on the Monchsberg and saw this view. Pretty amazing on a hot hot day.
And we had the path over to the Festung almost all to ourselves.
 This was the crazy part where we all got cranky with Rob, and knew that he was all better.
 And this was where we sat in the shade and got cold drinks and used the free wi-fi and it was embarrassing how much happier we were after that!
 These guys did not want to head into the fortress museum, so we left them out here with their fizzy apple juices and Rob, Maddie and I went to check out the splendor. Rob did roll Joss down to the marionette museum to see that.
 But however you slice it, Joss got an eyeful of Salzburg, even off his feet.
 And his older brothers were great at pushing the wheelchair.
 Ah, the cannons. We have taken this picture several times since 2002. The children haven't tired of it yet.
 We did have to piggyback Joss down the stairs to get him to the top of the funicular, but we were all tuckered out by then.
And all squished in. Notice the chinese tourist's hat and how tall she is compared to this race of giants we're raising. No wonder we have to go shopping every two days here!

Getting Off On The Wrong Foot

When it was time to head out of Hallstatt, we called everyone back to the bus. Joss (and others) had their feet stuck in the water because it was a hot day and Hallstatt has a lake. He obediently climbed up and promptly sliced his foot on something. 
It was really deep. (That wet spot there was mostly blood.) Please do keep in mind that he and I and Maddie and Will were still freshly dropped off in Austria; still didn't really know which way was up. I just kind of stared. Then I held his sock wadded up to it and it bled all over the sock. I went through my first aid kit in my purse. Thankfully everyone else was much more capable. Our facilitator here kept Joss calm and distracted. Another student gave me several tissues to hold down on the wound which stopped the bleeding (and were far more sanitary than his sock). Our bus driver brought out his first aid kit which had fantastic elastic gauze. And Maddie saved the day with her first aid training. After I'd gotten it to stop bleeding, she chose the band-aid and used the gauze and watched him for shock and kept his foot elevated. We'd thought we would have to stop the whole bus at Bad Ischl while we took him to the hospital there, but he looked so good (and fell asleep) that we drove straight to Salzburg and got everyone checked into the hotel Turnerwirt.
 Here's another place that I love: the Hotel Turnerwirt. The first time we stayed here it was unremarkable except that they had a room with 5 beds. Second time here we discovered the go carts and rabbits in the backyard. And the laundromat. This time around we found the Kinderspielraum (kids' playroom) in the basement. Such a party, with its Xbox and disco ball and bins of My Little Pony playthings. Also, legos.
 So once everyone had their hotel rooms, Rob decided that we wouldn't be able to carry Joss up and down 4 flights of stairs. We switched down to the handicapped rooms which had a nice easy shower to stick him in, and air conditioning. Yes! You read that right! I found a thermostat and fiddled with it, and the look of surprise and confusion on Rob's face when he walked into an icebox of a room was priceless!
Rob took Joss to the hospital via taxi, and I took the students off to the restaurant where we had reservations. The students were great, our server was great, I tipped too much, and then I let Maddie and Sebi stick around. I was too tired and I headed back to the hotel on the bus.
It was only once I got there that I realized I'd left an 11-year-old with a 16-year-old in all of Salzburg with only two transportation cards and 10 euros; only the barest of directions. But the students were all there and one of them had served 6 months of his mission in Salzburg. They had a good time. I jumped off the bus just as Rob and Joss were pulling up in a taxi. Joss got 3-4 stitches and was in good spirits. The hospital was very impressed with Maddie's bandaging job. I tell you, having a lifeguard for a child has got benefits.
 Next morning, Rob, Sebi and Maddie went off on the walking tour of Salzburg while Will and Joss tried out the Kinderspielraum. At noon, I took the two boys back into town and we ate at the same restaurant: Sternbrau, which is also a joy. They're huge, unflappable, have good food, and they just re-did their bathrooms and their Kinderspielraum, which we also put to good use while we figured out what to do.
 Rob took up the challenge as only he can. He found an available wheelchair from the Merciful Brothers of Salzburg (and I'm not even kidding). We stuck Joss in it (who didn't mind being pushed around one little bit) and we went all. over. town.
 It would have been enough for most of us (even the reasonable among us) to have a nice time walking the flatlands of Salzburg. There are many flatlands, and they're full of beautiful squares, darling lanes, grand fountains, and wonderful history. But Rob wanted to conquer Salzburg with a wheelchair. So we took the elevator to the Modern Art Museum (a mere 4.40 for the whole family, instead of 11/person for the funicular) and we walked from the Mönchsberg over to the Hohensalzburg fortress. Most of it was a beautiful tree-lined walk above town and the tourists. It got plenty whiny there at the end. There was a stretch which was too steep for a wheelchair and we all thought Rob had gone 'round the bend (really, I think it may mean that Rob is fully recovered; he is his old self). But then we arrived at the courtyard with free wi-fi and cold drinks and we all made a remarkable turnaround.
Here Rob and Will take the wheelchair down to the funicular on our way home. These two took it back to the Barmherzige Brüder and brought back pizza to the hotel. At 9:00pm. Phew! What a day! The kids ate pizza and watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in German in their air conditioned room.
And I am happy to report that Joss's stitches came out a week later and his foot is healing up nicely.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Salt World Tour

 Once the Corpus Christi procession and boat ride was over, we had an hour to eat lunch, and then we rode up this funicular to Salzwelten (our hosts are also masters of logistics and scheduling).
 We got suited up in the reinforced pantsuits and met our guide. She went through the rules, and chose Rob to be the "last man", which meant that he was hanging back and letting anyone out who couldn't handle the tour. That would be me. I'd never gone before because we've always had somebody too young to go. So this time I tried it, but I got claustrophobic while reading _The Silver Chair_ from the Narnia series. I made it a ways in by not looking ahead, but then I realized I just wasn't going to be able to do it. So I turned tail and ran back out.
 Everyone else had a great time. Including this chap.
 He had a wonderful time on the slide.
 In fact, they all did.
 This was only Sebi's second time on the tour.
Even Will, who has had his own concerns about claustrophobia thought this was a walk in the park compared to his slithering through a crevasse in the West Desert.

 They talked about the mining traditions in Hallstatt. They saw a wooden staircase that is about 2500 years old.
 I learned that St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners. She converted to Catholicism when she was 26 and her father locked her in a tower, where she lived for 3 years. Somehow she arranged for her baptism while she was in the tower, and when her father found out, he chopped off her head with his own hands. He was promptly struck by lightning.
This is why the miner's outfit has 29 buttons on the jacket and the top three are always kept open, to remember the 3 years she was shut up in the tower.
 After the tour, they all jumped on this little train and headed out of the mine. THIS is the part that would have had me frothing at the mouth. It gets very close in there.
Thankfully, I was outside enjoying this view.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Hallstatt: Corpus Christi

Our hosts in Vienna are the best. They have never given us a dud recommendation. From performances to swimming pools to restaurants to family vacations, they have always sent us off in the right direction. This year, they sent us to Hallstatt (where we've been 2-3 times before) to see the procession for Corpus Christi. I should have done some preparation, but you can find out about it here:
First thing we heard were these guys, setting off guns beginning at 6:00am. Every 15 minutes.
 We made our way across town (early, like good kids from Grandview would for stake conference) to the Catholic church, and were greeted by villagers in their traditional costumes. The formal ones that we'd never seen before. I know now that these hats are called Goldhauben. 
There were lots of people in their traditional dirndls and lederhosen too. We learned that the traditional colors for this Salzkammergut area are pink, purple, and green.
And I need to confirm this, but one of the students told me that the Goldhauben caps are passed down from woman to woman when she is married. And allegedly that she has to give it back if she gets divorced. It looks to me like they're an order or sorority or society of Goldhauben women.
The Archbishop of Salzburg came down to officiate at the high mass, and we were grateful to get seats, because it was standing room only. I liked the little bits that Rob translated for me: that the archbishop has considered the change in greeting from traditional "Grüss Gott" to the more modern "Hallo"; he likes to pretend that the kids are saying "hallelujah" to each other. And he blessed those who doubt, recognizing that it is an important thing, and prayed that they might someday like Thomas, the great doubter, be able to feel the marks in the hands and side and say, with him, "My Lord, My God." 
Then we rushed down to the pier where Gretl had gotten us reservations on the brand new Hallstatt boat. We hopped on board and pushed out a ways so that we could see the Archbishop lead the Corpus Christi procession.
In other places, the procession is done on land, carrying the Blessed Sacrament over fields and meadows lined by cut trees, but here, because of lack of space, the procession has been done out on the lake for about 400 years.
Instead, all of the boats are decorated with beech branches, and everyone out on the water follows the archbishop's boat around as he takes the Blessed Sacrament out over the water. In many places the volunteer firemen dress up and participate. Here, it was the firemen's association boat which pushed a large raft carrying the village band.
The boat in back with the arch (and what looks like a holy outhouse) is the Archbishop's boat. The little one in front is called a Fuhr, and they are the local boat, designed to carry heavy loads in shallow water.


[click to enlarge] And this gives you more of an idea of the whole scene. It was yet another sublimely picturesque event at Hallstatt. So mark your calendars for the Thursday after Trinity Sunday and make it a point to come!