Monday, May 27, 2013

Füssen Small Delights!

Tucked at the end of Bavaria's Romantic Road and the regional railway, Füssen is a small town of 14,000-odd inhabitants.  I would dare say given the number of tour buses and cars I saw on its main streets that during the height of the tourist season that jumps to over 20,000.  The main attractions is, of course, its closeness to those monuments to the morbidity of the those fun loving Wittelsbachs: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau

As fascinating as those two castles may be - in their own creepy way - Füssen is not without its own quiet charms.  Aside from a really first class hotel - Hotel Sonne - and some excellent restaurants - Galleria Michelangelo, yes we went for Italian after all that schnitzel and spargal - and I swear the last Woolworth's in existence, it also has a charming fountain dedicated to one of its native sons.

Caspar Tieffenbrucker was a member of a celebrated family of lute and violin makers who learned his craft in Füssen.  He emigrated to Lyon and the design of the modern violin is thought to be his.  In his Brief History of the Lute David Van Edwards remarks that in this portrait commissioned in 1562 Tieffenbrucker is surrounded by his instruments but significantly holds not a woodworking tool but a pair of calipers.  Is he implying that geometry was the most important aspect of his craft?
Caspar Tieffenbrucker (Gasparo Duiffopruggar) (b. 1514  Füssen - d. 1570 Lyon) was one of a family of famous lute and violin makers during a period when Füssen was considered the cradle of commercial lute-making in Europe.  The first Lute and Violin Makers Guild was founded there in 1562 and at one point 20 master craftsmen were working in their shops in the small town on the River Lech. Under these masters apprentices learned their craft and moved on to other centres exporting the knowledge and techniques of their Füssen masters.

German sculptor Joseph MIchael Neustifer created this tribute fountain to Caspar Tieffenbrucker in 1990. 
Largely dormant in the 19th-20th centuries lute and violin making had seen a Renaissance in Füssen in the
1980s. The fountain stands in front of Brotmarket 6 - the workshop of violin maker Achim Hofer.
But why Füssen?  A former Roman outpost, in the 1500s it boasted a population of only 2000.  True it was the site of a major Benedictine Monastery and a palace of the Prince Archbishop of Ausburg but little else.  Its secret lay in the available supply of raw material for building instruments and in its strategic position on the transportation network of the time.

Obviously modelled on the engraving by Pierre Woeiriot, Tieffenbrucer stands proudly in a square of his birthplace displaying a product of workmanship and a vital tool  of his trade.

The mountain forests of the North Tyrol and the Ammer Mountains were ready sources of the spruce, maple and yew trees that the masters turned into lutes and violins as beautiful to look at as they were to hear.  Situated on the Via Claudia, a former Roman road, Füssen was on a route, that until the 1950s, was the major connection between Augsburg and Venice.  Though shallow the River Lech is navigable by raft and joins the Danube providing a trading route to Vienna and Budapest.  By road or water merchants had easy - for the time - access to rich markets to the south-west and the north-east.

I'm not really sure what the story these three bas-reliefs are telling but I'm guessing it may be
of Tieffenbrucker's journey from his birthplace to far-way Lyon.  Or perhaps just the emigration
of craftsman from their small community on the River Lech to the wider world. 
 But lutes and violins were not the only things exported from those masters' workshops.  The history of Füssen's lute- and violin-making is also the history of labour migration. Hundreds of Füssen's lute- and violin-makers emigrated and set up workshops at princely courts and in the great European cultural metropolises:  craftsmen from the small town were to be found in Prague, Vienna, Lyons and Northern Italian towns.  The Füssen tradition spread and influenced the making of string instruments throughout Europe.  In the Imperial City of Vienna violin-making was almost a monopoly held by craftsmen from Füssen.

I'm not sure why this small brass money purse is sitting on the edge of the fountain or what
its significance is to the story of Tieffenbrucker or the lute makers of Füssen.  Any guesses?
The art of instrument making fell dormant in Füssen during the 19th and early 20th  however a small Renaissance took place in the 1980s.  There are now two violin-making workshops and a maker of guitars and mandolins producing high-quality instruments that are export internationally.  And Caspar stands proudly in front of one of the shops recalling the glory of the past and perhaps a bit of smug satisfaction in seeing his methods being followed 500 years on.

27 May - 1840:  Niccolò Paganini, Italian violinist and composer dies.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Salzburger Zeitung 2013 - Fourth Edition

Dateline:  May 26, 2013:

Allium ursinum (wild garlic) gets its Latin name due to the
fondness brown bears have for the bulbs of this spring green.
Its also a great favourite of wild boars.
One of the joys of being back in Europe - hmmm where do I start the list - is the food.   As I mentioned a few days ago it was spargal season in Germany and Austria but Spring is also the time of year for Wild Garlic or Bear's Garlic.  Many cafes and restaurants featured this woodland green on their spring menus in salads, dumplings, presto  and soups.   After my first taste at the hotel in Munich I tucked into variations of   the soup on three more occasions during this trip.  I would have loved to try the dumplings but I went off my gluten-free diet once or twice during the trip and paid the price.

There are as many variations of the soup recipe out there as there are cookbooks and blog writers and  most of them use a potato and stock base.  I'd like to try this in the next few days particularly as the weather is still on the chilly - if not downright cold - and a vibrant green bowl of fragrant soup is always good on days like this.  We do have a close relative of this flavourful plant here in Canada - the Allium tricoccum - which can be found in some markets this time of year.  There has been some controversy over its sale here in Ottawa as it is considered an endangered plant in Québec and poachers have been caught in the Gatineau Park.

Sunday May 19: FrühlingsOPFER
Grosses Festspielhaus: 1500

A design by Nicolas Roerich for the 1913
premiere of Le Sacre de Printemps.
As well as a time for new growth Spring has also been the time for sacrifice in many cultures and lands – the gods or more often simply the earth demanding an offering and in return giving a good harvest. It is a ritual almost as ancient as the human race.

 In 1913 Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky scandalized Paris with their Le sacre de printemps. The legends around what occurred at the Théatre des Champs-Èlysées on May 29 are many and as with all legends have been embroidered over time. Certainly there was a riot with much of the displeasure directed at Nijinsky, who had upset the dance aficionados a few weeks before with his ballet Jeux. But Stravinsky came in for his fair share of brickbats and boos – the orchestra had almost refused to play the score and probably what was heard that first evening had a roughness to it that has long since lost its edge as orchestras learned different techniques since that first performance.

Nijinsky's choreography – much of it apparently influenced by Dalcroze Eurhythmics  – has been long lost. Never repeated after its initial 10 performances (6 in Paris and 4 in London) and certainly never notated the only existing records are photographs, written descriptions and the memories of Marie Rambert who had assisted Nijinsky and danced in those first performances.  Given its unknown state I thought it was odd that the Mariinsky announced that the production (scenes above and below) they were bringing to Salzburg would give us the original decor, costumes and choreography! Certainly the colourful costumes and sets were based on the original designs by Nicolas Roerich, a well-regarded painter and an authority on Russian tribal dress.  But how close Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer's “reconstruction” comes to what that audience saw 100 years ago is questionable. Yes many of the poses match the still photographs taken at the time but as Laurent remarked a great deal of what passed for “choreography” seemed to be running around in circles. This is not to say that there were not moments of beauty though they tended to be more tableaux than movement.  Strangely the sacrificial dance of the Chosen One had minimal impact - I recall the first time I saw a version of Sacre with the Royal Ballet, Monica Mason imparted an almost fanatical hypnotic fatalism to this dance to the death.  Here Daria Pavlenko's collapse came out of nowhere and frankly had very little effect.

What made it more than just an interesting exercise in historical speculation was the playing of the Mariinksy Orchestra under Valery Gergiev. As I said for us Sacre will never have the raw savageness that so offended those earlier audiences but Gergiev brought an edge to it that caught much of the primitiveness at its core. If only the choreography and dancing had matched that high standard it would have been a remarkable dance event rather than just a curiosity.

Unfortunately that was to also be the case with the remaining two works: L'Oiseau de feu and Les Noces.  It was almost as if the Mariinksy had decided that since they were sending us Gergiev and the orchestra that a second string troupe of dancers would be acceptable.  Pavlenko was the only company Principal in the group with the rest of the casts being drawn from the Second Soloist and Corphyée ranks.

Prince Ivan (Alexander Romanchikov who danced the first performance) captures
the Firebird (Alexandra Josiefidi) in Michel Fokine's 1910 fairy tale ballet.
Visually L'Oiseau was colourful – again based on original designs from 1910 however with the curtain lowered for the transformation scene – but the dancing left much to be desired. Alexandra Josiefidi's Firebird lacked both grace and, well, fire. She remained essential earthbound at her entry and remained so for the rest of the ballet. Ivan Sitnikov's Prince lacked any sense of nobility – he was far better cast as the bridegroom in Les Noces.  And again there seemed to be much running around in circles from the corps during the scene with Kaschtschej and his hoards of demons.

Natalia Gontcharova's designs for
the friends of the Bridegroom.
Of the three I would have to say that Les Noces was the most successful and most interesting.  Though the programme listed the choreography as Bronislava Nijinka's original it is actually a version staged in 1981 by her daughter Irina for the Oakland Ballet.  The Mariinksy dancers were taught it by Oakland ballet master Howard Sayette  and it was introduced into their repertoire in  2003.  Thus we had Nijinka's dances twice removed and there has been some heated discussion in the ballet world as to how closely it followed her original concepts.  I have only vague recollections of a production at the Opéra in Paris back in the late 1980s so can't speak with any authority on the authenticity of the Kirov version.  There is also some debate about the Kirov dancers being able to assimilate a style of dancing that is foreign to their classical training. 

The ballet (scenes above and below) is a reenactment of a Russian village wedding - not a riotous celebration but a rigid social act performed for the good of family and community - the sacrifice of the bride if you will.   Stravinsky took folkloric wedding texts compiled in the 19th century by Pyotr Kireyevsky and with only four pianos and a large percussion battery created a choral ballet filled with the character and rhythms of Russian folk music.  Nijinska matched it with austere movements and patterns which despite their impersonal coldness take on a sense of the profound and become emotionally moving as the ballet progresses.  Natalia Gontcharova's simple brown and white costumes and stark sets highlight the impersonality of the ritual being enacted and  focused attention on the movements and patterns.

Though the male corps lacked a degree of control and seemed almost uncomfortable with the choreography  the female corps (as one expects of the Mariinsky) wove the  rectangles and pyramids with ritualistic discipline.  Maria Shevyakova brought a poignancy to her portrayal of the Bride - the unwilling pawn in the eternal game.  And for all his lack of nobility as the Prince in L'Oiseau Sitnikov brought exactly that quality to his Bridegroom.

Lest I make it sound like less than an afternoon well spent it did have many positives: the chance to see three important 20th century dances pieces; the opportunity to see productions that visually were inspired by the revolutionary original designs; and the opportunity to hear three of the seminal pieces of 20th century music played by one of the world's top orchestras conducted by one of today's great conductors.  Conceptually and musically it was an exceptional afternoon - if only the dancing had been on the same level it would have been a great one.

26 May - 1938: Soprano Teresa Stratas is born in Toronto.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Salzburger Zeitung 2013 - Third Edition

Dateline:  May 23, 2013:

After the Schiff concert on Saturday we headed to the Cafe Bazar for lunch.  It was sunny, warm and a long weekend so of course the terrace was full - not a table to be had.  Fortunately the terrace of the  Cafe Sacher is right next door - but, no surprise, the same held true there.  As we stood, no doubt looking a touch forlorn if not underfed, an older gentleman waved at us and motioned to the two empty chairs at his table.  I had forgotten that it is not unusual to share tables in Cafes here with total strangers - invasion of personal space being a very North American concern.  So we gratefully joined the gentleman and his wife at a table that was perfect - one seat in the sun for me, the other in the shade for Laurent.

 - Picture of Cafe Sacher, Salzburg
This photo of Cafe Sacher is courtesy of TripAdvisor

We tucked into a pleasant lunch and soon found ourselves in conversation with Herr and Frau Schmid.  Both were born in small towns in the region, moved to Salzburg over 40 years ago and have travelled extensively throughout the world.  We chatted excitedly about the Norma, exchanged anecdotes about earlier Festivals and Herr Schmid shared one of those stories that proves the world is small and seems to get smaller every day.

When he was in his teens there were still American forces in the Salzburg area where he and his family lived.  His father was a pianist in a small dance band that played at their local gasthaus on weekends.  His uncle played, if I recall, the clarinet and Herr Schmid  would fill in on the accordion from time to time.  They kept up with all the latest hits from America and where popular with the service men.

Many years later while their son Benjamin was studying at the Curtis Institute Herr Schmid paid him a visit him in Philadelphia.  He had a suitcase that needed repaired and took it into a shop where - and given the ease with which we entered into conversation I can believe this - he soon got into a lively conversation with the shop owner.  The usual pleasantries were exchanged - where are you from etc.  When he heard the name of Herr Schmid's home town he looked surprised.  The owner had serviced near there in the early 1950s and had fond memories of Saturday night dances when he and his buddies were allowed out on leave passes.  He then pointed to a photo on the wall behind his counter - there was a young GI learning against a piano, cigarette suspended from his lips, Herr Schmid's father at the piano, his uncle standing clarinet in hand and seated between them a young man playing the accordion.  There in a shop 5000 miles from home he had found a memory of his youth.  The world is indeed small.

Sunday May 19:  Biblesches Opfer
Grosser Saal - Mozarteum: 1100

To the best of my knowledge none of Jommelli's
90-odd operas have ever graced the stage of the
Palais Garnier but his person is represented on
the facade. Perhaps it is meant to commemorate
the reforms he brought to opera of the period.
Though I had heard of Nicolò Jommelli he was largely a name from the music history books; during the mid-1700s he was a composer of great renown in Northern Italy, Rome and at the court in Stuttgart before returning to his native Napoli. During the Muti years at the Whitsun Festival the maestro had featured two of Jommelli's works: Demofoonte, one of his opera seria and La Betulia liberata, perhaps his best known oratorio. In both cases, after hearing the works, I questioned the need for revival. True the opera had several fascinating passages of accompanied recitative and a trio that with some originality morphed into a duet, however I admit to remembering almost nothing about the oratorio.

Looking back to the baroque roots of the Festival and, perhaps even to the Muti years, another Jommelli oratorio had been programmed for this year: Isacco figura di Redentore. The Old Testament story of Abraham and Issac is the first great sacrifice myth of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition and in this version by the great Pietro Metastasio is linked with the sacrifice of Christ in the purely Christian tradition. Each time I hear a work with a libretto by the prolific Italian I am struck by the beauty of his language and his sense of drama. In the style of the Greeks much of the action takes place off stage and then is narrated in language both vivid and poetic by the participants. The description of the death of Holoferness by Judith in Betulia liberata is truly one of the most horrifying descriptions of a murder written in any language. Strangely four years after the fact I still recall Alisa Kolosova in Mozart's setting of those words – but of the Jommelli from the same year I recall nothing.

On Saturday I was struck not by the arias – as fine as examples as they were of the AABAA format – but by the recitative including passages of accompanied recitative that built to dramatic climaxes. I grew up listening to opera when recitatives were delivered to the plucking of a harpsichord at a rattling pace – for god's sake let's get this over with – by singers who's command of the language was often just phonetic parroting.  Or often  those bothersome recitatives would be cut to the bare bones and the opera almost became nothing more than a live "greatest hits" compilation.   One of the joys of this past weekend was hearing, both in the Norma and the Isacco, recitatives being used  as they were intended – to drive the story along and give the works their dramatic form.

The Angel of the Lord (Nuria Rial) brings the Lord's message
of redemption through Abramo's willingness to sacrifice his son
At times Fasolis seemed to be singing along with the soloists.
Diego Fasolis and his ensemble did indeed bring a sense of drama to the events unfolding that made it more than pretty period music. Unfortunately the mood was frequently broken by the singers acknowledging the applause – particularly Franco Fagioli, a good counter tenor, who's stage mannerisms are excessive even for a HIP performer. Roberta Invernizzi has made a remarkable career as a singer of baroque music but her's has never been one of those cool, sexless period voices - her Sara was a woman of fire, passion and devotion. The accompanied recitative and aria that began the second part spoke of Sara's anguish, anger and deep love for her family and her God and Invernizzi  poured all of that into her performance. Bass Carlo Lepore was an effective Gamari, the faithful servant and Nuria Rial delivered the Angel's messages of horror and redemption with silvery purity – as with all the singers their use of the language was exceptional.

Roberta Invernizzi and Javier Camarena as
Abramo and his wife Sara ponder the wishes
of a God who has given them a son in their
old age only to demand he be sacrificed.
The young Mexican tenor Javier Camarena delivered an impassioned Abraham – confused by his God's unfeeling command, eventually bending to his will and finally rejoicing in his compassion. The final accompanied recitative and arrioso, where Metastasio links God's sacrifice of his son to the Abrahamic story, was delivered simply and with stunning clarity.

Of Fagioli I am of two minds: his countertenor is sweet, even and with only a slight break as he dips into the mezzo range but his stage manner is affected to the extreme. As with the other singers his Issaco was delivered with conviction and a sense of drama but I found myself closing my eyes so as not to be distracted by the contortions taking place on stage.

I Barocchisti are not one of those twee early music ensembles that play pretty music – they have real “fire in the belly”. And Fasolis is not a conductor to linger – he moved the piece along giving it both pace and grace. From my vantage point I was able to watch the work of the horn and trumpet players – I am always astounded by the sounds they are able to produce on valveless instruments. It also makes me wonder why French horn sections of many orchestras – particularly Italian ensembles – with their modern instruments seem to have so many problems.

Diego Fasolis, the soloists, I Barocchisti and Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera take their bows
at the end of Saturday morning's matinee of Jommelli's Isacco figura di Redentore.
I have now heard three of Jommelli's works – all three at Salzburg and all three in remarkable performances by remarkable performers. I do hope fans of early music fans will forgive me for misquoting Mr Bennet but:  thank you Signor Jommelli, you have contrived to delight me quite enough.

Sidebar:  We met Javier Camarena and his family at the hotel after the performance and congratulated him on his performance. We chatted briefly about this being his first “baroque” role and how coming from largely a bel canto repertoire he enjoyed the challenge and the importance of the recitatives. I was pleased to see that he will be returning next year on slightly more familiar ground as Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola.

All performance photographs are courtesy of the Salzburg Festival © Hans Jörg Michel

May 23 - 1829: Accordion patent granted to Cyrill Demian in Vienna.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Salzburger Zeitung - 2013 - Second Edition

Dateline:  May 20, 2013:

I first saw this skyline when I was 19 years old - in the intervening 47 years
this view has never ceased to give me a small thrill of satisfaction.

Well its been a busy few days since we arrived in Salzburg. Fortunately we arrived a day early and settled into our usual room at the Hotel Bristol - the Tuscany. There had been a few changes in decor but it was still the same comfortable room we had enjoyed on our previous stay.  And though there have been some changes at the Bristol there is much that is familiar: Herr Lackner is still the gracious host, Peter is still overseeing the restaurant and bar,  Florian is doing his usual wonderful job as concierge, the ladies in the breakfast room are welcoming and Gabor has our table in the corner of the Sketch Bar prepared and waiting after the performance.  I guess I'm just turning into an old fart who loves the comfortable and the familiar.

Our home away from home at the Hotel Bristol in Salzburg - the Tuscany.
And returning to the Bristol is like coming home.

It has also been good to see old friends like Dr. M. from Toronto at his usual table and people we recognize from other years and now exchange hellos with at the Mozarteum and Haus für Mozart.  And this year some new acquaintances have been made - the Schmids a wonderful couple from Salzburg who motioned us to join them on the terrace of the Cafe Sacher at lunchtime on a busy Whitsun Saturday.  Their son Benjamin Schmid is a well-known violinist and they regaled us with stories of their travels and his path to a career as a musician.  And just this evening we met a lovely couple from England who have suddenly discovered opera and are indulging their passion for travel and music in their leisure years.
Sidd and another distinguished guest of the Hotel Bristol.
The main topic of conversation amongst us has been the centre piece of this year's Festival _ Bellini's Norma with Cecilia Bartoli.  We were all in agreement - it was of a piece musically and dramatically and one of the most moving and riveting evenings spent at an opera in a long time.  It is an evening I am going to have to take my time and write about with some thought.

Saturday 18:  Musikalisches Opfer
Grosser Saal - Mozarteum: 1100

I've always loved the gold and white, slightly over-the-top Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum.
At times the seats may be a trifle uncomfortable and the room a bit overheated but the acoustics are remarkable. 

It is often possible to be in awe of the artistry and ability of both a composer and a performer but to find them emotional unmoving: I'm afraid that is how I feel about both Bach and András Schiff.  Bach is undoubtedly one of the greats of Western music and I would be a fool for thinking otherwise but as much as I can listen in admiration I find that I can't become involved with his works. I've tried – lord knows I've tried but it just doesn't happen – and emotional response to music can't be forced.

With Schiff I find much the same – he is one of the great pianists of our time and I would be a fool for thinking otherwise and on Saturday morning I sat in awe of what he accomplished in a programme of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. But I was left largely unmoved at the end of the programme. With the Festival theme of Sacrifice in mind he had chosen pieces in the Key of C minor.  According to the notes this is the key that has always been associated with lamantation - Johann Joachim Quantz, the flute teacher of Frederick the Great said that it is used for "the miserable affect".  Though he did admit that it could be used to  express "the affect of love, tenderness, flattery".  But also it could be used to express "an angry emotion, such as recklessness, rage and dispair".  Quite the choice there!

Another view of the beautiful Grosser Saal - one of my favourite concert venues.
So perhaps it is pushing the envelope a bit to maintain that Bach sacrificed to his art when he took it upon himself to meet Frederick the Great's challenge to create a six part improvisation on a theme the King had set out during Bach's visit to his court in 1747.   That theme from Musikalischen Opfer BWV1080 was to show up again at Monday morning's concert by the Mariinsky Orchestra in Sofia Gubaidulina's Offertorium.

Schiff's Bach was slow, reverential and frankly dull. A friend remarked in passing that listening to Schiff play Bach extended your life time by a third – I'm not sure how true that is but I certainly found the Ricercare a 6 more fascinating when Angela Hewitt played it a few months ago as part of her programme at the NAC.  With Schiff it had all the excitement of an exercise with Hewitt it had a sense of passion and commitment.

András Schiff accepts the applause of an appreciative audience at
sold out concert at this year's Whitsun Festival.

Schiff's Mozart is seen through his closeness to the Romantic rather than the Baroque and though again the artistry is impeccable only the Adagio of the Klaviersonate c-Moll KV 457 seemed to take wing.   Not so the Beethoveen Sonata op. 111. Here Schiff seemed to come into his own and the music had an emotional bite to it that made me aware that I was listening to a great pianist. There was real communication here and in the short Schumann piece he gave as an encore.  I only wish he had caught that fire a bit earlier.

Perhaps after the Italianate passion of the previous evening anything would seem a bit cool, perhaps even passionless but I had honestly hope for a bit more excitement from Schiff. What we got was an amazing display of artistry if not of heart.

22 May - 1813:  Richard Wagner is born in Leipzig. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, May 17, 2013

Salzburg Zeitung - 2013 - First Edition

The Salzburg Pfingstfestspeile has undergone quite a few changes since its first inception in 1973 as a celebration of the Baroque.  Initially it concentrated on orchestral works of the period with the odd excursion into the operatic or choral.  It was often regarded as the poor step-sister of the bigger (and better known and financed) Summer Festival until 2007 when Riccardo Muti took over as artistic director.

Under Muti the Festival, in theory, became a celebration of things Neapolitan, though even then the relationship between the stated mandate of the Festival and what was programmed was often tenuous at best.  There were several constants - the Festival began with an operatic rarity from the 17-18th century conducted by Muti and ended with a choral work - cantata, mass, oratorio - from the same period again with Muti at the podium.  His Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra were always in the pit and the singers were often younger singers making first appearances on the world stage.  The concerts scheduled between the two "main" works were varied in content but always high in quality.  However by year four I had found the programming had become a bit tired and there was the odd concert in 2010 that lacked real interest.  We skipped the last year (2011) of his directorship, though we did see the opera from that year's Festival - Mercadante's Il Due Figaro -  in a later performance at Ravenna.  

We also missed the first year (2012) of Cecilia Bartoli's directorship.  Her's was a controversial appointment - La Ceci has always had her detractors, but then what diva hasn't?  Rather than a predominately baroque theme last year she chose to build the programming around Cleopatra.  This allowed her to display both her interpretation of Handel's heroine in Guilio Cesare with an all star cast but also offer a varied programme of arias inspired by the historical siren.  For the remainder of the Festival she was able "to call in her markers" as an regular Festival goer remarked to me today and get some of the bigger names to present orchestral, vocal and choral programmes.  According to Festival publicity 2012 was a banner year for attendance and profits.

The programme for this year was announced - as it has traditionally been -  on the final day of last year's festival and we mulled over the idea of coming for 2013.  We mulled it over for two days then ordered our subscriptions with that air of optimism you always do when planning things a year ahead at my age.  

The theme for the 2013 Festival was announced as being one concerned with Opfer - a German word that can mean Sacrifice, Offering or Victim.  I must admit I was a bit leery as this was also the title of Bartoli's album that was being released shortly thereafter.  There had been rumours that the Decca machine was pretty much manipulating things at the Festival as a sort of classical product placement.  But a quick scan of the on-line brochure assured me that it was a varied and in many ways exciting series of performances.

So here's our line up for this weekend:

May 17:
LiebesOpfer (Love's Sacrifice):  
Bellini's Norma in a new critical edition by Maurizio Biondi and Riccardo Minasi based on an original manuscript - with Bartoli as a mezzo Norma and frankly lighter voices than we are use to in this great "romantic" work.  It should be an interesting break with tradition.

May 18:
MusikalischesOpfer (Musical Offerings) - András Schiff playing Bach, Mozart and Beethoven - piano pieces linked to Bach's Musical Offering BWV 1079.

May 19:
BiblischesOpfer (Bibical Scarifcie) - Jommelli's Isacco Figura del Redentore.  A bit of a return to the baroque origins of the Whistun Festival with a setting from 1742 of the story of Abraham and Issac.  

FrühlingsOpfer (Spring Victim) - Three ballets by Stravinsky:  Les Noces, Le Sacre de Printemps and The Firebird.
It's the 100th anniversary of the scandal that was Sacre and the Ballet of the Kirov says it will be reconstructing the original choreography that cause such a riot in the Paris of 1913.  I'm still trying to figure out how Firebird fits into the sacrifice theme but any opportunity to it and the Kirov... 

May 20: A day crowed with events.
PolitischesOpfer (Political Sacrifice)
Where the Mariinsky Orchestra is Valery Gergiev can not be far behind - or in front in this case.  A fascinating programme of two works that had political repercussions for their composers: Sofia Gubaidulina's Offertorium and Dmitri Schostakowitsch's Symphony #13 - Babi Jar.

ReligiösesOpfer (Religious Sacrifice)
The marvelous with Hagen Quartet plays Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross - with Alfred Brendel (!!!!) doing the meditative readings.  

VersöhnungsOpfer (Reconciliation Offering)
Brahm's Ein deutsches Requiem bears no resemblance to the traditional mass for the dead but speaks to the reconciliation of the soul with its god.  This performance should be interesting on many levels:  it features Cecilia Bartoli, René Pape and Daniel Barenboim conducting his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.  Made up of young musicians from all over the Middle-East, and I do mean all-over, it is reconciliation in the true meaning of the word.

I must admit that looking over the programme - particularly that busy Monday - that we would have to sacrifice a few things ourselves - like aperitivo and eis caffe on the terrace of Cafe Bazar or dinner in the Sketch Bar at the Hotel Bristol. But somehow I think we can fit it all in.

May 17 - 1866: French composer Erik Satie is born.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shoe In

I know that based on a few past postings there was a dreadful rumour out there that I was a retifist but I'm not really into shoes.  No honestly!  I mean I like shoes but I'm not like one male co-worker who at last count had 32 pairs of some of the coolest shoes I've ever seen.   I'd be surprised if I have more than half that and even then I find myself wearing the same ones all the time.

Take those great Italian brown leather sneaker style pair that I wore over on the flight on Monday.  They are amongst my favourites.  I found them quite by accident one day when wandering through the streets of Rome.  They are stylish, look great and are extremely comfortable and I wear them all the time.  Only downside is that the laces are a bit long.  Fast forward to Tuesday morning as I am transferring from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 at London's Heathrow and I'm using one of those moving sidewalks.  Now I don't know about you but as a kid I was always afraid I was going to be pulled into the escalator when I reached the top.  Same with those moving sidewalks when I reached the end.  I just knew if I didn't get off quick I'd end up going round and round like something out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.  

Turns out that's not what happens at all.  When one of those suckers grabs - oh lets say a slightly long shoe lace on a pair of stylish, great looking and extremely comfortable Italian brown leather sneaker-stye shoes - what it actually does is send you crashing face forward and rips through the leather eyelets and traps you until someone hits the emergency button.  Result is one very embarrassed, shaken-up traveller with one shoe needing some very particular and creative type of repair.   And also a traveller with no brown shoes to wear when the occasion demands.

Again fast forward yesterday to a shop on a side street in Munich where we stop to pick up a few postcards.  As well as postcards the rather funky lady there stocks all sorts of fun and silly stuff - clothing, nick-knacks, cushions, table cloths and... shoes!  Really great shoes by Maruti!  And as I paid for my postcards my eyes feel on a pair of their washed shoes that though they aren't anywhere like my Italian brown etc. pair are brown, stylish, look great and extremely comfortable.   Now understand I had no intention of buying shoes but damn these had my name on them.  And while I was trying them on Laurent saw a pair that just screamed "Buy me Beaulieu".  What else could we do - beside we both believe in helping the local economy when we're visiting a country.

So here for your viewing pleasure are two pair of very stylish, great looking, extremely comfortable and dare I say trendy shoes.

Willym's shoes: if Maruti's publicity is to be believe these shoes are washed
and have some sort of special finish.  Much like my hair they will
continue to change colour as they age.

Who says blue doesn't go with brown? I think Laurent's
new shoes look pretty damned cool.

May 16 - 1891:  Richard Tauber, acclaimed as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, is born in Linz, Austria. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sidd in Spargel

Since our friend Lara introduced him to us Sidd has been on two trips with Laurent and I and two with me to England.  Unlike a few of our friends we haven't been able to take him to exotic places like Tripoli or the North Pole but we have shown him a few bits of the world.  We've also sponsored one of his relatives - you may remember Jööhann his cousin from Sweden who now has a job at Foreign Affairs - to come to Canada.

Sidd thought the smell of pizza as the Flight Attendant
came down the aisle with the trolley very appetizing.
He thought it tasted pretty good too.
As always where there is Sidd there is food, drink, sights and a camera.  I was going to get a photo of him in,  what seems to be his accustomed seat, Business class on the flight from Ottawa to London but he waved the camera aside.  Been there!  Done that!  Move on!

He wasn't too thrilled with the wait in Heathrow - and that silly episode with the shoelace put a bit of a kink in things - well actually took the kink out and had me landing flat on my face.  However he did experience the service on Lufthansa from London to Munich and seemed to enjoy his pizza and trying to make eye contact with the friendly fight attendants.  Once we had checked in at the Eden Hotel Wolff and we had unpacked, much like us, he decided that a nap would be in order.  After all it had been a bit of a journey: 17 hours to be exact from door to door.

But needless to say he woke up in time for diner.  And of course it's May in Bavaria and there's a saying in Germany that a day in May without asparagus is like a ... well May day without asparagus!  Well okay it really isn't a saying but it probably should be!  May is spargal season in Germany - and Austria too - and the markets are filled with plump white stocks of asparagus and they are on the menu of every restaurant in town.   At this time of year spargel season is hard to miss!  And neither Sidd nor Laurent and I missed.  Last night it was dinner at the hotel - asparagus, boiled potatoes, hollandaise sauce perch for me and a schnitzel for Laurent.  Sidd had a bite of each and pronounced them good - as was the local Riesling that washed it all down.  And the rhubarb compote (another seasonal treat) with sour cream gelato that finished the meal was found more than satisfactory.

Spargal, schnitzel, boiled potatoes and hollandaise sauce!
Many a gnome has made a meal of less.
You have to admit those are some spargal spears!
But there's always room for rhubarb compote, sour cream
gelato - and the mint leaf makes it healthy.

And there's small chance that after all that flying time even
this cafe-latte would keep Sidd awake.
At that point Sidd was all set for a good night's sleep and an early morning wake-up call.  We may have seen Munich before but to Sidd it was all new and exciting.  He had places to go and things to see.

More Travels with Sidd can be found by right clicking the link.

May 15 -  1858: Opening of the present Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

I don't talk about work a great deal because a) it's boring and because b) I'd have to kill or at least paralyze you for life after I told you what I did.  But I can guarantee one thing if I had written the previous sentence at work the position of the repeated "because" would have been cause for discussion.  Should the "because" really have come before the alpha tag or would it have been better after?  And was it really necessary to repeat it or would a single "because" have been sufficient? 

Yep I work with a bunch of language nerds!  The air temperature in our office can rise on the placement of a comma or the number of bullets on a PowerPoint as readily as it can when the kettle boils for afternoon tea.   And be assured that no point of grammar takes precedent over a "nice cuppa" in what we affectionately think of us our "college dorm".   But that's a story for another day.

So for the gang at the office who make my days, and a good few of my evenings, enjoyable here's a few lunacies that I feel somehow you'll understand and probably agree with.*  And okay that last one isn't about language but lets not pretend it's not something we've never done!**

*Yes I know I ended a sentence with a preposition but how often have I said it's a silly rule that was applied to English only because it was a Latin rule and the codifiers of English grammar where all bloody Latin scholars at Oxford!!!!  So drop it okay?  Tea anyone?

** Yes I know a triple negative - Geoffrey Chaucer used the multiple negative in the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales to describe the Knyght: He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde (line 70).  Two centuries later, Shakespeare used it in Twelfth Night:  Nor never none / Shall mistress be of it, save I alone (Act III, scene i).  If it's good enough for Chaucer and Shakespeare then it's bloody well good enough for this crowd!   Anyone want one of Jenn's Costco biscuits?

13 May - 1848: First performance of Finland's national anthem.