I can now say I’ve been to an opera. Not only that, I can now say I’ve been to an opera at the State Opera House in a city known for it’s music. Vienna was home to such prominent figures as Mozart, Brahms, Strauss, and more! The city is full of theatres dedicated to all forms of music and in the summer time, the parks and squares are filled with concerts.
The opera we saw was…not one I would have picked out, given the choice. “Tannhauser und der Sangerkrieg auf Wartburg” (Tannhauser and the Singers’ War at Wartburg) is a German opera written and composed by Richard Wagner. He tells the story of Tannerhauser’s debate with other singers at a court contest (to whom the victor will be granted one wish by the female lead, Elisabeth) over the true nature of love, using a mixture of French and German elements of opera. Tannhauser argues in favor of physical love and passion the likes of which he experienced with the goddess Venus in “Venusberg”. He is condemned for his outrageous talk and sent to repent in Rome, only to return if he gains pardon from the pope, and thus, from God. Thinking ahead, I had looked up the opera beforehand so that we would have some clue as to what was going on. However, even in the standing section, they provide these little screens that you can choose a language to read the lyrics in. It was quite nifty!
The reason I say that it’s not one I would have picked, is that I really just didn’t understand how it is a story of redemption…and why everyone had to die at the end. First was the woman who loved Tannhauser, Elisabeth, fighting to save his life even after his betrayal in the song debate. Then Wolfram, who loved her and was probably the coolest character (definitely had the coolest name at least) but shoots himself after she dies. Before dying, though, Wolfram also saved Tannhauser from returning to Venusberg and a life of damnation by reminding him of Elizabeth’s faith, when he listens to Tannhauser tell of his failure in Rome. Finally, there was stinking Tannhauser who broke Elisabeth’s heart and never learned his lesson! Except in the last minute of the opera when he tragically realizes Elisabeth died – for him. And apparently God decided that was ok and Tannhauser is now forgiven. Tannhauser, too, just drops dead then. Well, I suppose it was a work of it’s time; first performed in 1845 at the Royal Theater in Dresden.
So yes, I admit this opera didn’t quite resonate much with me – it didn’t help that we were standing for three plus hours as well (I forgot that operas are so long!). Were I a musician, I might have understood more of the music to a deeper degree, perhaps adding to the opera’s meaning. But! It was very cool to see the inside of the opera house, and I’m so glad to have had this experience. The overture was nice, and while the first and third acts were pretty slow-paced, the second act was cool. The singer’s contest is the primary action of the second act, and was very impressively done. “Tannhauser” hasn’t turned me off to opera, and I’m willing to give it a try again, though perhaps starting with a more well-known opera. Even so, I’m going to go ahead and say here – thank goodness for Rogers and Hammerstein for giving us the musical with a high standard for a strong story being woven in with the music (as opposed to a story loosely thrown together in a musical that really only highlighted actor’s talents before them). Though I do recognize that opera and musical are two different genres.
The inside of the Staatsoper is exquisite. Though not as grand as the Opera Garnier in Paris(which is the largest opera house in Europe), it is not without it’s own splendor. The inside is white and gold, and there are three levels of seating. The ceiling in the stage area boasts a golden, circular chandelier. We paid 4 Euros for our standing tickets and ended up with a great view of the stage, being centered with it. Traditionally, with standing “seats”, people will tie a scarf around one of the bars to mark their place before the show. This leaves them free to wander around the opera house itself. Ironically enough, we were behind a group of four other Americans!
I’m very glad to have taken the opportunity to go, despite my thoughts on the opera we saw. Taking these opportunities and trying new things, that’s what life is all about! We would miss out on so much if we only ever stuck to the things we knew and were comfortable with. Our night out at the opera was fun all the same, experiencing the high and low points of it together, and is one I’ll not forget! And in case you were wondering, readers, I’m feeling much better now and even made it to Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday during the weekend celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday (which is today!). You can expect a break from the Travel Tales for a post on this very soon! Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…