Lohengrin preamble

Waking up after a lengthy nap following our trip into the Bavarian countryside, we were faced with the unexpected:  as it was a quiet non-opera night, the fabulous hotel restaurant was closed early through lack of patrons and we were forced to walk the deserted streets of Bayreuth in search of fodder.  Even Weihenstephan had thrown in the towel by midnight.

We eventually "dined" in a small place which purported to be some kind of "Pizza Express".  A large menu on the wall was perused, and I got excited at a spaghetti dish I had not tasted since Nuremberg in 1972.  To my dismay, the chef/owner said he was about to close.  Apparently the hours posted on the window are meaningless and would be the hours of operation in a Perfect World.  He could make us a quick pizza apparently, and as we were starving, we agreed to this.

The only other customer in this store was a drunken German who took a shine to us, and even though we told him in his native language that we could not talk to him, he continued to treat us as his long lost cousins.  I reached inside my jacket, and to my utter dismay, found that I had left my service revolver on the dressing table in the hotel.  So shooting him was right out of the question.  He was just trying to be friendly, I know.

Seeing we were American, they kindly turned the TV to the CNN channel from Bonn or somesuch, and we were treated to a story of some mutant in Atlanta shooting his family and later innocent people in an office, because he was having a bad day/week/life or suchlike.  It dulled my enjoyment of the pizza, which was actually very tasty, as it lacked that petroleum-based "cheese" topping they use in my local Sbarro's... you know, the orange colored oil that runs down your sleeve when you try to eat the slice before it disintegrates in a gummy mass and falls with a tie-staining splat on your paper plate.

In a nearby hairdresser's, a large white bust of Wagner caught my eye.  It was not for sale.  The odd thing about Bayreuth is that away from the Festspielhaus Bayreuth's old section.(where there is a postcard, calendar and CD shop), there are few Wagner souvenirs to be had.  This was not the case in 1876 when one could buy mugs, snuff boxes, and the like, bearing the man's portrait, in the least likely of places.  When I went to buy a tee shirt early in my visit, I had to "order" one and come back an hour later when the ink was dry.  This I obtained in a photo developing store.  Nothing in Bayreuth was shouting "WagnerWorld!!"  It was all rather low key, which is fine enough with me.  The merchant in me saw many opportunities however, which I guarantee would not go missed in the USA.

Saturday July 31
What we American shoppers found out the hard way, was that on Saturday the shops close at 1pm (and all day Sunday)!  We did however make our way through the Walking Street, past the brass band which came close to being mown down by the many buses trundling along, and found some bottles of Lohengrin Wine and some Wagner mugs and plates tucked in shop window corners, almost apologetically.

Once the stores had closed, there was nothing for it but to take the tour of the Markgräflisches Opernhaus. Markgräflisches Opernhaus. I had the camcorder whirring all the time as we entered the small and disgustingly ornate theatre.  It is over-decorated and fussy and tasteless to the nth degree (for me).  The lights, weak as they were, dimmed, and an audio-visual presentation began on a screen upon the stage.  It was given in German and, as the keywords "Bier" and "Wienerschnitzel" didn't appear in the commentary, I was totally at sea and disinterested.

The only thing that was running through my mind was the fact that this place was packed to the rafters (it seats about 300) on Wagner's birthday 1872, following the stone-laying ceremony on the Green Hill, and that Beethoven's 9th was conducted by Wagner.  That must have loosened the plaster somewhat.

Walking back to the hotel we came upon a shop whose large windows were festooned with photographs taken from the balcony of the Festspielhaus during intermissions, and noticed our goodselves among the crowd.  It was easy to spot us as I was the only camcorder wielder in the shot.  We would come back at a later date to buy some photos.

The last of my dress shirts and new ties were removed from their wrapping.  This, in itself, told me my final trip to the Festspielhaus as a spectator was imminent.  A quick check in the mini-bar confirmed I had only two days of grog remaining.

Lohengrin!  The first Wagner opera I ever heard.  It was the Met video and my first taste of it was on a 13-inch mono TV in my office.  That was 5 years ago and now it was to be right in front of my grinning face...this very afternoon!

Though you think I may be exaggerating, I must have listened to the Prelude, oh at least 25 million times in the past five years.  This hasn't left me much time to sleep and I have lost a lot of weight....but my ears are eternally grateful.  My favorite reading of it is still the Levine from the video laser disc.  I cannot say that I have heard many vocally good Lohengrins, from top to bottom of the cast, but there is enough going on in the band to keep me interested and excited.  I read that Wagner, upon hearing it for the first time, exclaimed "Too much brass!", but I say there is no such thing when it somes to the Bayreuth Orchestra.  If it were possible I would sit in the pit amongst the trumpets and trombones with a six pack of cold grog, and happily be deafened by the sizzling snappy licks in the Lohengrin score.

My watch told me it was time to go.

To be continued......

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