Gonzo Opera Tour of Europe

A Journal

Dateline: Sat, 22 Apr 2000 03:24:45 PDT
Subject: Twilight of the Highly Flawed, but very real humans

Hello from Germany

I'm at a cyber café in Stuttgart and don't have a whole lot of time . What, pray tell, is a cyber café? Is it a place where you eat guacamole with silicon chips? For the unannointed, a cyber café is a facility where you can go and log onto the internet, use computers, and do various other high-tech things when you don't wish to lug your laptop, palmtop, or desktop computer on holiday. Some cities are littered with them, and in other cities it takes a compass, Geiger counter, and Tarot cards to find one. Such is Stuttgart-- there is only one known cyber café in this town, and it is in a department store.

Enjoyed Das Rheingold and Die Walküre very much for the singing; however, the staging was somewhat less engrossing than what I saw last year in Kassel. Overall, the operas have been exhilarating. With only a few exceptions, the singing has been SUPERB. I will use Stuttgart's Alberich (Esa Ruuttunen~bone chilling curse), Mime (Francesco Lorenz), Fasolt (Roland Bracht~also a formidable Hagen) & Fafner (Phillip Ens~also a dynamite Hunding) as the standard to measure all future portrayals. Angela Denoke's Sieglinde was electrifying and Nadine Secunde's Brünnhilde (last minute replacement for Renate Behle) lit her own FIRE in Act III, figuratively and literally. Keep your eyes peeled for Robert Gambill, whose poetic singing of Siegmund was sensational.

More later. . . . .Die Tote Stadt tonight!


Dateline: Tue, 25 Apr 2000 03:50:36 PDT
Subject: Ring, Ring, Ring. . . .Brünnhilde calling


Everything closes on Sunday for Easter and also Easter Monday. We had to run to the cybercafe for a "fix". I cannot begin to describe the Ring we saw in such a short space of time. It was just magnificent. I believe that had we seen this Ring and then the Met Ring, we would have been bored to tears @ the Met production. I cannot shout the praises of the singing and acting from the lofty heights of Valhalla and do these artists justice. Luana DeVol is a miracle. This is possibly the most dramatic and well sung Brünnhilde (Gotterdammerung) I have witnessed.

Die Tote Stadt was mind-blowing. The singing was superb and the production supported the story very effectively. We were all floored by the emotionalimpact of this opera. Since this was a premiere, we stayed after for a glass of wine and met the singers. The female lead (Elizabeth-Maria Wachutka) will be singing Eva in Die Meistersinger in S.F. in 2001-2002 season. Incredible soprano and a great actress.

It has been sunny and warm here the whole time, except for a tiny bit of drizzle yesterday. I have to go T-Shirt shopping . . . .this is for REAL. I anticipated cool weather and only have turtle necks and sweaters. Found a great CD shop today. I used self control, however Tony has to go find a new, larger set of luggage.

Gotta dash!

Dateline: Wed, 26 Apr 2000 06:31:21 PDT
Subject: Munich-Beer Time

Hi all,

Last night we dined in a Schwabian restaurant and had all of the local Munich regional specialties. . . esp. spätzle and sauerbraten. Yummy food and a day without opera. We were going through withdrawal after opera for 5 days straight. I was trying to explain to one of the corps d'opera what the word "Jones" meant.

Tonight is another night off. We have resisted the urge to stand in front of the theatre begging for tickets to Parsifal. Tomorrow we plan to go to Ludwig's castle and then have a performance of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the Prinzregentstheatre (sp?). It is sooooooooooooo nice having an internet machine in the lobby. Schlepping down to the department store to the only internet cafe in Stuttgart was a real pain. American Express didn't have internet access in Stuttgart either.

Nice hotel though, centrally located and close to 2 U-bahn stations. The breakfast room has a groaning board of European breakfast treats:  eggs, wurst, rolls & croissants, yoghurts, cereals, cheese, fresh fruit & juices, all served up by a charming lady in traditional dirndl attire. We are adjacent to the Oktoberfest grounds too. I think we will avoid the ooom-pah bands and crowds of the beer halls and find a quiet place for supper tonight.

The weather is unbelievable. Blue skies and 70's. I haven't had time to shop for T-shirts because it is just too beautiful to be indoors. Wait a minute here. . . .what am I saying. I have to go.

Terri von München

Dateline: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 05:34:19 PDT
Subject: I got an "Opera Jones"

When we left Stuttgart for Munich, it was a two day pause without opera. I was explaining to some who didn't know the meaning of the slang term "Jones", that we all had an "Opera Jones". If you don't know, a "Jones" is a craving which comes from the withdrawal from your drug of choice. . .ours being OPERA.

Monteverdi's L'Orfeo was a really fine way to get rid of the "Jones". Since I had to pack up my programs, I will just say a few short words. It was a wonderful production and exquisitely choreographed and had splendid singing and musicianship throughout. The production was given in the magnificently remodeled Prinzeregents Theatre. This jewel box languished in near ruin until it was rescued by August Everding, who is known now as "The Godfather" of the Prinzeregents Theatre. The theatre is beautifully gilded inside, with splendid painted ceilings throughout. It is a small theatre, with something in the area of about 1,000 seats, maybe fewer. Oh and those seats. . .they rival those in Bayreuth, I am told. Rock-hard, but with higher backs, the seating is steeply raked for especially good acoustics and sightlines. L'Orfeo was given without intermission.

We took a side trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber and it was all the tacky kitsch in Germany in one central location. Very fortunate for us. We had the local pastry, schneeballen and "cough-ie" (Joe's pronunciation). The schneeballen are "snowballs", but are more the size of cannon balls, dipped in chocolate, powdered sugar, cinnamon and sugar and other various fattening materials. Tony found a dreaded Beanie Baby for his sister (outrageous at $95.00). And I bought a T-shirt. So immediately thereafter it started to rain (at about 2:00 a.m.Sunday morning).

We are driving into Wetzlar today to say "HI" and "Good-Bye" to Wolf. After our tearful goodbye, we are off to Frankfurt for Flying Dutchman with Nina Warren as the Senta. We are planning to depart early tomorrow a.m. by train for Bern. We will pick up the train in Giessen, transfer to an InterCity train in Frankfurt, then stop in Bern for Tristan. We shipped two small parcels to the U.S. on Friday, then we lightened the luggage further with 9.4 kilos of stuff shipped off today. This included a set of original librettos given to the first patrons to see the Ring in Bayreuth, and additional librettos and books on Wagner and gobs of CDs. I found a very early Schott Ring in German with the leitmotif on fold out pages.

Funny side note, at the antiquarian bookstore in Munich, I asked for books on Wagner. The proprietor pointed to a complete set of the writings of R. Wagner, about 10 volumes. He said, "These are the scriptures of Richard Wagner". I started laughing pretty hard. He asked what was so funny and I told him he made a bit of a joke. I explained that in the U.S., "scriptures" usually refers to the Bible; however to some of the most vigorous of Wagnerites. . . .Wagner's writings ARE the Bible. He took no offense and laughed with me and offered to burn some incense. At any rate, the books were far too expensive and cumbersome for me to purchase. He did have a copy of the "Niebelungen Lied" in old German for 260 DM.

So now the intrepid opera nuts will venture out on our own from Altenkirchen to Switzerland, Italy and Vienna, without our German guardian angels. I'd better break out that phrase book really quick.

Guten Tag,

Dateline: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 23:22:16 PDT
Subject: Re: Great Trip!


We are off on our own today by train to Switzerland. However, no yodeling lessons. We have one hour to get to the opera house after storing our bags at the train station. Then we have our opera and then back on the night train to Venice. Probably not the way most people would do it.

I didn't realize that May 1st is a holiday in Europe, or at least in Germany. I wasn't able to make reservations in Venice for a hotel because they required two nights minimum. If it doesn't work out we will go to the next town and find a place, our only nail-biting part of the trip.

I heard wonderful singing last night in a preposterous opera production of the Flying Dutchman (Frankfurt), but no one called me for my opinion in advance. Now I understand why my dear friend Wolf shouts the praises of Ms. Nina Warren to the rooftops. She was just wonderful. I don't think Senta is the best role for her magnificent HUGE voice. The conducting and even some of the other singers were so Italianate that I expected Scarpia and Rigoletto to show up for Senta and Dutchman's big wedding scene, complete with 40 bridesmaids and groomsmen. Right now Ms. Warren is also singing Salome and Marie/Marietta (Die Tote Stadt) in Germany, and she is scheduled to sing Isolde in a few years, roles more appropriate to her lustrous voice and considerable dramatic abilities. She is also scheduled to sing in Los Angeles soon.

I have to pack and be out of here in 1 hour 45 minutes! Bye for now.

Yodel-ay Heee-Hoooooo (did I spell that right?)

Dateline: Tue, 02 May 2000 07:54:54 PDT
Subject: Traviata-Florence


We are now in Florence after a hair-raising trip to Bern, Venice and to Florence.

The Gonzo-Opera trip from Altenkirchen to Giessen, Frankfurt and Bern went off without a hitch until we got into Bern later than expected. We had exchanged money in Frankfurt so that we had money to feed the lockers in the Bern train station. Dragging a heavy suitcase and carry-on down a passenger ramp in high-heels is inadvisable. With only 45 minutes to check luggage into lockers, run up to the WRONG Exit for TAXIS, we were lucky to find a vacant cab. He had just dropped off a handicapped passenger and normally would not have been there (cue sound of angels singing in the background). Tony thought he would be funny and told the driver that I had to get to the Opera House really fast because I still had to get costumed, made up and into my wig by 5:00. To add extra effect, I "warmed up" in the cab. We made it there with time to spare for a coffee.

Tristan und Isolde was worth the hassle. We thoroughly enjoyed the singing (except for a woeful Melot) and found the staging simple, but elegant. To our great surprise, there were none of the ubiquitous TV sets used in this production.

While spare on sets, the drama was wonderful with imaginative lighting, elegant costumes and effective but genuine emotion from the singers. I don't have a program with me, but Linda Watson sang a very credible first Isolde. I think she could use some work on a more dramatic interpretation, but all the notes were there and she has excellent projection. She was a passionate, yet regal Isolde. I especially enjoyed the Tristan (Alfons Eberz). Reminded us a lot of Jon Vickers in his musical interpretation, and he sang the uncut Act III scene with power to spare. König Marke was sung in the most KINGLY fashion by Hans-Peter König, whose gorgeous, burnished basso will live in my ears for many, many moons.

The night train from Bern to Venice was nothing short of a nightmare. In a train where the heaters were stuck in the "ON" position, we tried to pull out the seats and sleep. There was a man in the compartment who refused to leave. Tony talked him into moving to another compartment. I really wish I had reserved couchette for that leg of the trip now. There was NO First Class and people were ignoring the no-smoking signs. When we crossed from the Swiss border into Italy, the Italian Gestapo boarded the train and put dogs into our compartment, demanded to know how much money we had, and were generally jerks to us. They actually threw a young guy off the train and we peeked through the curtains to see him empty his pack out. He never got back on the train.

We arrived in Venice exhausted and had to wander around for 4 hours until our rooms were ready.

In retrospect, all of the hassle was worth it to see a wonderful Tristan und Isolde in BERN.

We were incredibly fortunate to find a fabulous hotel just 2 blocks from the train station and get a 40% discount. After seeing 2 questionable places that weren't clean and nice, it was another miracle to find a bargain and clean comfortable room in PACKED Venice. Shower and sleep set us in a better mood for a Grand Canal Boat trip, light lunch at the Lido and then shopping and dinner overlooking the Grand Canal. Just the right amount of time there. Because May 1 was a national holiday, Venice turned into Disneyland of Italy and it was SHOULDER TO SHOULDER tourists.

The packed train to Florence was a long trip. People in the aisles because there were so many people extending the holiday. Time's up on this 'puter.

I screwed up. So if anyone e-mailed me between the 28th and May 2nd, PLEASE RESEND YOUR E-mail. Unfamiliar with this Italian Computer, I accidentally deleted all e-mail.

Ciao Amici. . .we are having a blast.

A più tardi,

Dateline: Wed, 03 May 2000 01:59:16 PDT
Subject: Baubles, Bangles, Bracelets that Jangle!


Wonderful day in Florence. High season is in full swing here and Florence is also packed with tourists and school groups. We are really showing signs of wear and tear now. Sore shoulders from schlepping luggage, sore knees from braving cobbled streets and plenty of walking, cramped theatre seats and packed trains. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

We got to Florence at about 1:00 and were starving. Luckily the hotel is one block from the train station on a narrow one-way street. There isn't much traffic, so it is quiet. We dumped the luggage and headed for the Duomo and lunch. After a magnificent lunch, huge portions of gelato, and a trip into the Duomo, we headed back to the rooms exhausted from the trip. Rested and showered we took a taxi to the Teatro Comunale to pick up our tickets and have coffee and pastry before the program.

I am so disgusted with smokers right now, I want to grab cigarettes and put them out in people's faces. I guess we get a bit blasé in the states when it comes to having clean air to breathe. I am coming to believe that smoking is MANDATORY. However, my point is that there is smoking in lobbies, lines (queues), restaurants, trains, stores, EVERYWHERE. We tried to find a place near a window during intermissions, and that place doesn't exist or you must run a gauntlet of smokers to get to it.

RANT OVER! Zubin Metha was conducting the Teatro Comunale Orchestra in this 63rd May Music Festival. Thomas Hampson sang Lied from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Tony and I had heard Hampson sing some of these same selections with piano accompaniment in February. When all was said and done, Tommy sang very well, but Zubin swamped him with orchestration frequently. We liked the piano program better when it came to German Lied. After coughing through intermission in the lobby, Metha led Brahms' 2nd Symphony in a very spirited and moving performance. Unbeknownst to Maestro Metha, he had an unpaid volunteer working for him in the theatre. This generous individual was so kind as to join in the orchestra with humming, seat kicking, talking and vigorous bangle bracelet jangling. When I pointed out the disturbance this was causing, I received a very cold stare (they were Americans) and the unpaid musician fled after Metha's baton lowered at the end of the Brahms. One good thing is that several theatres make anti-cell phone, beeper and watch announcements over loudspeakers prior to the program. The cell phones in Italy are nearly as annoying as the smokers.

After the program we strolled over to Trattoria Armando which was a favorite restaurant during my last visit to Florence. They were closing and so were the other bistros along the Arno. We did find a restaurant which served until 1:00 and dug into some wonderful pasta and risotto.

Sunny and pleasant today, we just saw the Medici Chapel and are off to the Accademia.

A più tardi,
Terrisima. . . . seeing La Traviata tonight!

Dateline: Wed, 10 May 2000 06:34:58 PDT
Subject: Traviata-Florence


After a day of wandering all over Florence and seeing the Baptistry, the Accademia, the Medici Chapel and wandering until our feet were pounding, we ended up back at the hotel for a nap, early dinner and La Traviata.

I don't quite know how this country survives. Our opera started at 8:30 p.m., so we planned dinner for 6:30 or 7:00 so we would not have to rush. The restaurant which I selected (Armando's) did not begin serving dinner until 7:30 and closes at 11:00. This proprietor must be starving to death. Not to worry though, we walked down the street to a competitor. The staff was eating its dinner before the evening dinner service at 7:00, but he welcomed us with a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio and served us a huge assortment of luscious appetizers from the tavola. That alone could have been a meal, but not for us! We added chilled marinated clams and mussels, prawn pasta with saffron sauce, house specialty canneloni, and veal with lemon sauce. My dogs (feet) were still barking from all the walking and my trusty high heels wouldn't take me the 5 blocks to the theatro, so a cab was summoned and whisked us to the theatre.

Tourist Tip: Buy top price seats in Florence! Traviata seems to be the town's favorite opera for the May Music Festival. I was a bit late in ordering and so I had to get 2nd Gallery seats. You are treated like a peasant if you buy Gallery seats. We came into the main lobby and presented our tickets. With an upturned nose we were told, "You are second gallery. Please go back outside and use the side entrance!" It was not pleasant to be herded away in shame to take the entrance for the poor! No matter, we were closer to the air conditioning vents in the upper reaches of the theatre. It has been so hot here! I never imagined it would be so warm the first few weeks of May!

La Traviata was pretty standard with a few tacky (my opinion) touches. Act I was set in a fin de siecle Paris hotel (Violetta didn't have her own digs). Violetta was entertaining in the ballroom-gaming salon, with a gigantic Lautrec painting on a scrim separating the salon from the hotel entrance. Ms. Valery was painted as an older woman, and Alfredo something of a country bumpkin, Georgio Germont a two-faced lecher. Puppy love was written all over Alfredo's face. Yes, yes, I know that Violetta is "The Fallen Woman", but do directors have to make her as a street-hustling whore? Is it necessary to have Georgio paw her and try for a piece of the action?

The libretto and source material paint Violetta as a woman of dignity in spite of her chosen profession, a profession which was widely accepted and even encouraged during that time period. So, I don't go for having Violetta receive guests (Georgio) in her bedroom, bed in post-coital dishevelment, and in her undergarments with her dressing gown open. The director stopped short of having her shout out, "Next!" after Alfredo departed. Opening night crowds shouted hearty "BOOOOO"'s on opening night. The cast included: Mariella Devia, Violetta; Marcelo Alvarez, Alfredo; and Carlos Bergasa, Georgio Germont; Zubin Mehta conducting.

I have heard of Ms. Devia's reputation from several of my opera buddies, but had never had the opportunity to hear her sing. She was really wonderful! Her voice was full and rich with plenty of passion and pathos. Her curtain calls were met with ROARS of audience approval. Mr. Alvarez' voice was a bit too smallish and very unromantic to my ears. Carlos Bergasa was part of the regular cast for this production; however, he wasn't scheduled to sing on May 3rd. I consider myself lucky to have heard him sing though. He had a luscious full baritone voice and "Di Provenza" was meltingly gorgeous, he also looked quite young.

The next day was departure day for Vienna by overnight train in cozy couchettes. So that left us the entire day to explore the wonderous city of Florence. Lucky for us it was in the high 70's, possibly low 80's, for our final day in Italy. We both packed far too much stuff for the trip and unfortunately, SHORTS weren't in the luggage. Our foot travels took us to the Rialto Bridge, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and to the Uffizi Gallery. . .the Gonzo Renaissance Tour. This was our final opportunity to use a net café during the trip; we didn't seek out or use one in Vienna because there simply wasn't the time.

I'm safely home now, but I will write a summary of the crowning glory of the trip. . . .Vienna and the magnificence of the Vienna Staatsoper <sigh>.

A più tardi,

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