New seasons, new hands

Nights at the Opera: Oct. 2010

Columns | Oliver Macdonald | October 2010

Now that the new season is firmly established in Vienna’s four opera houses, the risk of the ODS affliction has disappeared. Usually occurring during the months of July and August, it can be a very stressful and unpleasant experience but effective relief is available, althought sometimes at considerable distance and expense, such as in Salzburg and Bregenz, where an overnight stay is usually required.  Or much closer to home, in Klosterneuburg and Gars am Kamp… So now you’ve got it?

Fortunately. Opera Deprivation Syndrome (ODS) disappears immediately by attendance at an opera anywhere far or near.  The best offering this summer was Romeo et Juliette with Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala in Salzburg.  However, Carmen in Klosterneuburg, with its two casts of delightful young voices, was so good that Intendant Michael Garschall wore a permanent happy smile throughout the three weeks of performances and even had to provide an extra performance at the end.

Across the Danube, at an extra 30 minutes or so away in Gars am Kamp, no less than three different Violettas appeared in a riveting production of La Traviata by Karel Drgac.  The lonely isolation and suffering of a woman dying of consumption, who sacrifices her own happiness for others was poignantly evident, and maybe more than usually reminiscent of the real-life Marie Duplessis. The presence of the Chorus from the Bratislava National Theatre reminded me that a visit to the opera in the Slovak capital makes for a very pleasant excursion from Vienna.  I propose to look more closely at this idea in the near future.

In Vienna, September was not the just the beginning of another season at the State Opera (Staatsoper). The new director, Dominique Meyer, has already made his presence felt in several positive ways both on and off stage.  He achieves change without dramatic headline-grabbing upheaval, but calmly and with clear intent. Physically obvious changes are in upgrading of standards in the house: improving public services such as bars, buffets  and in the presentation of programmes and other literature.  The grotty Stage Door area has been converted into a bright airy space, attractive to staff and visitors alike.

Together with the new musical director, Franz Welser-Most, he has ensured that the first showings, La Boheme and Tannhauser, have marked improvements in staging and music. Welser-Most has the gift of accentuating the beautiful flowing lyricism of Wagner’s music to the pleasure of the orchestra and the audience alike. Visually, this production of Tannhauser is beyond redemption. The whole Venusberg has become a lobby and supposed pilgrims appear in Frack. What rubbish!

In La Boheme, the lingering notes in the Third Act enriched the strong emotional tensions almost to a breaking point. The pathos of the impending, inescapable tragedy took hold so strongly that it took the audience some seconds to break out of the spell and applaud at the end of the Act. Powerful stuff!

Fear of change is a normal human reaction, but from first impressions there are strong indicators that there is nothing to fear and a lot to look forward to with pleasant anticipation. Many have used the word "elegance" to describe the changes.

In the Volksoper, the foyer has enjoyed a summer makeover which makes the theatre even more welcoming.  An early treat was La Traviata with Renato Bruson singing the role of Georgio Germont, the father of Alfredo. From Padua, he first came to fame at Spoleto when he sang the part of Di Luna in IlTrovatore. Five years later, I heard him sing the same part in Dublin to great acclaim.  What is noteworthy is that he sang the role in Spoleto back in 1961! No wonder his appearance in the Volksoper in the season 2010/2011 was greeted with sustained applause by hundreds of lifelong fans.

Over by the Naschmarkt, Theatre an der Wien, whose programme for the season reflects its unashamedly adventurous style, was rewarded with a well-deserved total sell-out of all performances of Handel’s Semele in a wonderful production by Robert Carson.

This reflection on the start of the season leads me to look forward to an exciting season in all three houses as well as in the fourth house, the Kammeroper, which hides itself modestly off the Fleischmarkt, not far from Schwedenplatz.

The three bigger houses have a full season’s booklet (about €6) which lists all performances, with detailed information on each one, from now until the end of June 2011.  These booklets also contain valuable information on tickets and how to get them. The houses also publish monthly programs up to two months in advance which are free of charge. As of this season, tickets are available for direct purchase from two months before the date of the desired performance.  For the big night out, all houses have premieres in October. A selection of the best is shown in Events on page 25.

Curtain up!

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