Thursday, June 18, 2015

Festwochen 2015

 Rob has been coming to Wiener Festwochen productions since we were here in 2002. When I'm around, he bends over backward to find the ones that I can understand in English or Spanish. They had several offerings this year, and I think we went to most, if not all of them in English.
This was put on by an Australian company. It all took place right out on the pedestrian section of Mariahilferstrasse (big shopping street). Our headphones helped us hear the actors, who wore mics, but they'd occasionally talk to random people on the street, or hide out, and it was interesting to see the kind of fringe elements turn out to have more moral fiber than the normal-looking actors. I'd work on the story a little more.
The stage for Small Metal Objects. We also saw Common People which was an evening of first dates. Introductions of 20 people and then carefully scripted meetings between two of them. A good concept, but I thought the scripts needed improvement. Rob wanted more diversity among the participants. We saw Fishers of Hope, about people in Africa: the breadwinner wounded by a hippo, a traumatized mute stepson, a flaky brother, and the only woman on stage the only one to shoulder things and move on.

 We heard the works of one of Shostakovich's protoges performed at the Golden Room of the Musikverein. He (Weinberg) managed to walk away from the incoming Nazi invasion with his sister. She got tired and decided to head back for dinner, and he never saw her again. He moved to Russia, became a successful composer, met Schostakovich, but then because he was jewish, was suspected of something under Stalin and was imprisoned. It was only after Stalin died, and through Schostakovich's influence, that he was freed.
 The venue was fantastic. Maddie and I also saw the Chiaroscuro Quartet at the Konzerthaus (by then, even Rob was feeling like we were going out every night).
 And I attended my first performance at the Burgtheater: an opera in gibberish with metallic and satin costumes and rubber wigs. I loved our box seats.
 The opera was almost sublime in places (the film noir section, the part with 12 adults on a giant couch all speaking gibberish in different accents), and just plain embarrassing in others (the eating-a-napkin section and the flatulent aria just didn't do much for me).
It was another year with lots to take in and plenty to discuss afterward. I always know that with the Wiener Festwochen, I'll get some headscratchers and things that I'll still be thinking and talking about for years to come.

Monday, June 15, 2015


 One of the most famous performing groups in Vienna is the Spanish Riding School. These are a special breed of horses, Lipizzaner, which perform in the downtown palace, or Hofburg, as they have done for 450 years now. Our family had been to see a rehearsal here (which isn't really worth the time or money, though it does take place here).
 We ended up with two extra tickets and Rob tried to sell them back to the ticket office. He asked some guy standing around what to do and the guy responded "You don't want to be asking me about that . . ." so Rob went out on the street and found a mother and son and sold the tickets to them.
 We were way up in the balcony and even though we had seats, we often stood just so we could see. The ends of the balcony would have had the best views. The music was great, the horses were great, their handlers were great. Then the guy that Rob had talked to came out: he was the pooper scooper entre'act. Rob's exchange with him made me snicker through the whole second half.
 After the show, we walked across to the horse dormitories and actually saw some of them! I've never seen them before or since, so I don't know why we were lucky that day.
Here's a closeup. The Lipizzaner begin life dark and then get lighter and lighter as they reach maturity until they're nearly all white. They seemed whiter and brighter to me than they had in the past. I think they're pretty magical with their dancing and prancing and braiding through each other and leaping and jumping. I'm glad the kids got to see them. Two of the students are allergic to horses and came out sneezing and eyes watering, but they were still really excited about them.

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!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hellbrunn to Home

 Here is the breakfast room at the Turnerwirt. German and Austrian hotels (or gasthof, gasthaus, or pension) have great breakfasts and usually great breakfast rooms to go with them. Even the scary place we stayed in Munich in 2006 had a great breakfast room--it was like two baronial rooms in a zombie building.
 This room is all decked out in music and I'm a huge sucker for it. And the breakfasts are great too!
 After we'd filled up on breakfast, we loaded onto the bus and headed out here to Hellbrunn, the archbishop's palace. Salzburg isn't usually so hot, but every time we come we hit a heatwave, so we love this place. I think it was the Disneyland of its time. It's filled with trick fountains.

Our kids and students hopped right up to the table to get a seat. They love it. And then they didn't worry too much about when they got wet during the rest of the tour.

 The grotto.
 Joss spent the tour in another wheelchair, but this is still an improvement over his 2009 trip. Joss got sopping wet at the first station and then sat wailing until Rob took him out (we realized he hadn't eaten much of anything, so the two of them went to the snack bar and filled up). Joss didn't think much of the squirty moose head.
 The kids got along in brief moments. You take 'em where you can get 'em. Even in decorative baroque alcoves.
 After the water tour, most of us went through the palace, which, like the Turnerwirt has grown on me each time I've visited. Of course this time I got to see more and read more since I wasn't juggling a baby. Learned what Mannerism is (transitional period between the Renaissance and the Baroque) and even how the traditional Hellbrunn fountain works (just like the kids' waterworks at the Rec Center).
 We went to see the Sound of Music "I Am 16, Going On 17" pavilion that the producers didn't want to pack home to LA graciously gave to the city of Salzburg, probably as a warning shot for all the crazy Americans we'd be sending over in the coming years. Rick Steves says "Edelweiss is not actually the Austrian national anthem" and our student said "Yeah, that was a heartbreaking day when I realized that."
 Maddie, post-jet lag meltdown at the Landzeit. 
Blood sugar is real, folks. 
Also, sleep.
 The view at the rest stop in Mondsee. I wish there were even one view like this at a rest stop on I-80 between SLC and SF.
. . . and a picture of me at the Schwedenplatz Eissalon. It's there in the photos, so it must have happened, but what was I thinking?!?! And why did I get two scoops?!

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!