Bye Bye Bayreuth

With the telling of "The Tales of Bayreuth" as yet untold, on August 2nd I arrived back in the real world of work and worry and the cares of the everyday. As I hadn't had a computer while in Germany, I logged onto an opera discussion board to wade through 300 or so postings on this and that topic related to opera or feline care.

There are certainly a lot of cat lovers out there! I don't get too attached to cats since my own cats died gruesome deaths back in the early sixties. One had tire tracks on him when I scraped him off the road to carry him home for his last night on earth and the other- a tail-less Manx cat -was poisoned as he had a taste for racing pigeons, which were to Portavogie what Keno is to Las Vegas.

But cat lovers, like people who have children, seem to think that other people are infinitely interested in their doings and comings and goings. I could care less about either. Show me a picture of your pet, baby, or Little-Leaguer, and I'll be asleep in a trice. I find it very hard to be excited about things that are of no interest to me. My body language- the slow unfolding of a sleeping bag and inflation of a rubber pillow should tell you something. They are your enjoy them.

Excitement for me comes from travel and being with interesting people, and there I have been blessed all my life. Soon after I returned from Bayreuth I had the distinct pleasure of hosting a friend from my teenage years in Ireland, in a week of touring around the fine city of Chicago and Marco Island, Florida. This friend had unwittingly introduced me to the music of Richard Wagner on a previous visit in 1994 when I was living in New Jersey which is sometimes (unjustly) referred to as the "armpit of America".  It was payback time.

Less than an hour after arriving, jet-lagged from London he was strapped into a chair to watch a video of Parsifal, the Horst Stein Bayreuth production. At one point he was offered the chance to shower and change, following his 7 hour flight, to which he replied "Sure, after the music stops". I was so happy to hear that. The Wagner magnetism was working.

Buena Vista Social ClubA week of dining, swimming, sunbathing and boating was endured, always to a soundtrack of Wagner or in certain special instances, sunsets over the Gulf for example, to the sound of Enya from Ireland or the Gipsy Kings from France.

As I write I am listening to Cuban music from The Buena Vista Social Club. Variety is the spice of life, to coin a phrase.

From the tropical heat of Marco I next visited my beloved ____ in Michigan, whose location must remain a secret lest you decide to pack the kids and the cat up in the car and come join me. It is quiet there, and cool. The kind of place a log-burning man like myself can make a cosy fire, uncork a barrel of wine, and read a good book. That man like myself can fall asleep to the sound of the waves rolling in from Lake Michigan, mingled with the sound of squirrels having sex in the trees (hard to describe). I encourage all city dwellers to get the hell out of the city as often as possible and walk down a leafy lane or sit on a beach watching a sunset as if it were your first. But not in Michigan! Unless you are very quiet!

In October I found myself at short notice, in Las Vegas, which bears no resemblance to Michigan. I was there to work and work I did, but on my last evening there, I drove down the Strip and spent 3 hours visiting the famous hotels, which were fantastic escapist fun. I didn't gamble but rather observed the gaming hordes. Though a very ugly city during daylight it is quite a sight when illuminated at night. My taste, as I grow older, leans away from cities toward quiet gentle places, kissed by water, be it lake or sea.

I don't go to bars nor to dance clubs nor to parties. I do go to the Opera and to Symphony performances where the music isn't too loud and you don't have someone spilling his/her drink down your neck. You cannot (though you can) talk during the performances I attend but neither can you talk in a dance club unless your semaphore is first rate. Don't get me wrong- I like to hear music played loudly, but it needs to be music that appeals to me and in a dance club Lord knows what you will hear could be "YMCA" by the Village People for Goodness sake (and it usually is).

There is no Festspielhaus back in the Real WorldBack in the Real World there is no Festspielhaus, and that I have learned to live with.  It's a sobering thought, but, having lived a rough and tumble life, I am hardened. If asked to sum up the Bayreuth experience in a short phrase then I would say "It was the best time of my life".

Back in the Real World I have been attending operas in Chicago and New York City. When I say attending I mean going in and sitting through at least the first act. A rare occasion when I found myself there at the final curtain was the Met's Tristan und Isolde on the Premiere evening of November 22nd, 1999. (I have yet to walk out on a Wagner performance. My Service Revolver is in the top drawer of my bedside table - feel free to shoot me when I leave a Wagner performance early.)

There were some disappointments for me in that performance, yet my expectations ran high from the memory of Seattle. Although Michelle De Young wasn't there to sing a memorable "Einsam wachend", the casting was as good as one could hope for in these times. I loved the production design (see Kent's review elsewhere on this site for details, wonderfully remembered, which is why I pay him huge wheelbarrow-loads of hard cash to write for OJ).

Even if the singers in a Wagner opera aren't capable of making the drama totally absorbing, I can usually count on the orchestra to pull me through. I was spoiled in Bayreuth by the orchestra in this opera, led by Daniel Barenboim. The Met Opera orchestra under James Levine was tepid by comparison to the Bayreuth conscripts:  the French horns in particular not able to play to a professional level, yet again. Overall though, I was very happy to be there and to hear this sublime music being attempted, for, even if imperfectly realised, it is still light-years ahead, musically and emotionally, of the usual opera theatre fare.

This performance has been reviewed extensively, not only by the aforementioned Kent and our own Curmudgeon-in-Residence in Opera Jamboree, but also by Albert Innaurato and others on AOL's "Opera Oasis" discussion board.

Chicago is the next venue for the Tristan roadshow in America. Ace reporter Doug will be there to bring it vividly into your living rooms. I will be attending the dress rehearsal and two live performances.

Dress warmly!

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