Summertime is opera time

Nights at the Opera: Jul/Aug. 2012

On The Town | Oliver Macdonald | July / August 2012

Vienna’s houses are dark. Does that mean no opera for two months?

Well, not all of them are closed. For one, Theater an der Wien has Jacques Offenbach’s famous comic opera Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) in July and Donizetti’s belcanto opera La Donna del Lago based on Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lady of the Lake in August. Also, there is the film festival on Rathausplatz, which shows many operas in its programme. It ends with live transmission of the first of the new season’s operas from the Staatsoper, which can also be seen on the large screen at Herbert von Karajan Platz.

Meanwhile these two months are the time for many festivals, including outdoor performances. Some are within easy striking distance of Vienna. These include St. Margarethen and Mörbisch in the general direction of Eisenstadt and the Neusiedlersee, the Kaiserhof of Stift Klosterneuburg, and the Burgruine at Gars am Kamp, about an hour northwest of Vienna (see listing in "Concerts in the Park" in TVR Jul/Aug 2012). Attempts to get there more quickly often result in speed-trap camera flashes. All of these shows can be attended without an overnight stay away from the home base in Vienna. A bit of detailed searching will reveal several others. Theoretically, this is also possible for the Salzburg Festival, by returning to Vienna on the night train. I stopped doing this some years ago after I discovered that the part of the train I had jumped on was bringing me to Zagreb, armed only with an opera programme, which was deemed to be insufficient documentation for international travel.

Plans for the great opera on the lake, Bodensee, at Bregenz and adventures further afield, such as to Verona or to Bayreuth are obviously a bit more complicated but not enough to deter the thousands who attend the performances nightly. I once heard of an angry lady at Bregenz. She was miffed because she had not been allowed to bring her little Pekingese lapdog with her. Bad planning! And good management decision!

So, what’s on? Which is the best, and why so? Firstly there are common characteristics such as those shared by Bregenz, St. Margarethen, (operas) and Mörbisch (operettas). All three have very large outdoor arenas and the productions are very spectacular and imaginative. They perform one work only for the duration of their season and may have three, or more, different casts. The start tends to be late, so performances are partly in darkness, which is fine and sometimes even more spectacular.

Downsides are weather, which can be very fickle, late evenings which can become very cool, and amplification, which is necessary because of the size of the arenas. Booking is essential and costs can vary considerably depending on seat location and the day of the week. Bregenz presents its opera in two-year cycles. This year is the second one of Umberto Giordani’s very moving opera set in the French Revolution, André Chénier (18 July –18 August). St. Margarethen is presenting Bizet’s Carmen (11 July – 26 August) in what promises to be a musical and visually stunning fireworks display. At Mörbisch, Johann Strauss and his ever-popular The Bat (Die Fledermaus) will be setting Viennese hearts fluttering from 12 July – 25 August.

Similar, but on a much cosier scale are Donizetti’s rich comic opera Don Pasquale in Klosterneuburg (8–31 July) and Verdi’s beautifully poignant tearjerker, Rigoletto at Gars am Kamp (13 July – 5 August).

The Salzburg Festival is mostly indoors. It runs from 20 July – 2 September. It includes nine operas, two in concertante performance and a mind-boggling slew of concerts, orchestral, chamber and solo, as well as theatre, art exhibitions and the occasional talented busker.

An anticipatory note for the new season ahead: The Kammeroper is back in action. Enjoy the halcyon days of summer and balmy evenings of opera.

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