Tristan und Isolde was the first Wagner opera I ever saw, at Seattle Opera about four years ago. It was glorious and dark and tense. The production the Bayerische Staatsoper has (which dates back to 1998, and which I hope they keep for many more years) is the exact opposite. Bright colors! A cruise ship! Childish scribbles! It’s absolutely not what you’d expect, and it works beautifully. This cast was also fabulous. I cried. You can read my more complete and coherent review on Bachtrack.
Part one of my Goethe pilgrimage took me to Leipzig and Weimar. But my love of Goethe began with Werther, and for that I needed to visit Wetzlar and Wahlheim (Garbenheim). Wetzlar is where Goethe interned at the court and fell in love with Charlotte Buff, the model for Lotte in the novel. In spite of Goethe’s admiration, she stuck to her engagement and married her fiance Johann Kestner. (Goethe actually bought their wedding rings in Frankfurt.) Goethe’s friend Karl Jerusalem also inspired the character of Werther with his suicidal love for a married woman. He lived and died in Wetzlar.
“I walked across the court to a well-built house, and, ascending the flight of steps in front, opened the door, and saw before me the most charming spectacle I had ever witnessed. Six children, from eleven to two years old, were running about the hall, and surrounding a lady of middle height, with a lovely figure, dressed in a robe of simple white, trimmed with pink ribbons. She was holding a rye loaf in her hand, and was cutting slices for the little ones all around, in proportion to their age and appetite.” (June 16)
“I felt myself more than mortal, holding this loveliest of creatures in my arms, flying, with her as rapidly as the wind, till I lost sight of every other object; and O Wilhelm, I vowed at that moment, that a maiden whom I loved, or for whom I felt the slightest attachment, never, never should waltz with any one else but with me, if I went to perdition for it!” (June 16)
From Bath (yes, that was ages ago; this post is late), I headed to Scotland. I didn’t actually start in the highlands, preferring to conquer Edinburgh first. But I spent a lot of time there, and Brigadoon songs make for excellent post titles. This was a change from my usual traveling modus operandi in that no opera or theatre was involved! This trip was all about castles and heroic battles and hairy coos. Mostly hairy coos.
But let’s start with a castle, since there’s conveniently one right in the middle of Edinburgh. It’s quite the authentic medieval castle, but apparently the Victorians thought it didn’t look medieval enough, so they put forward lots of proposals to re-design it. Some of the drawings are displayed in one of the exhibits. (I kind of love the Victorian obsession with making things more medieval. It led to the magnificently ridiculous Scottish Baronial architecture you can see all around the country.) There are a lot of buildings in the castle complex, which house (among other things) a war museum, a war memorial, a Victorian-ideal-of-medieval banquet hall, a prison, and the Scottish crown jewels. Did you know that Sir Walter Scott was the one to re-discover the crown jewels, which had been locked away in a chest for centuries? It’s hardly fair that he got to do that on top of (well, because of) being a famous author! But I think his novels are actually pretty dull, so there!
Actually, I’m not a huge fan of most Scottish literature. So of course I took not one but two literary tours of Edinburgh. The first was a pub crawl led by two actors, and it focused on Burns, Scott, and Stevenson. It struck a fun balance between the informative and the comedic, with a lot of emphasis on these great authors’ fondness for women, beer, and whiskey. There was a pop quiz at the end, and I obnoxiously answered all the questions. But I suppose my literature degree and complete sobriety (I was still recovering from Cambridge) probably helped. The next day, I visited the Writers’ Museum, which was dedicated to the same three authors. There wasn’t much new to learn, but there was lots of their paraphernalia and furniture there, which was fun to see. There was also a book lovers’ tour, which I of course signed up for. We wandered all over the city, hearing tales of Iain Banks, Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling. I especially loved the stories about Joseph Bell, an Edinburgh surgeon who taught Doyle and whose incredible inductive reasoning ability inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. We also heard about William McGonagall, the world’s best bad poet (and the namesake for a certain Hogwarts professor). His poems are so bad, they’re almost good! He supposedly brought an umbrella to his readings to protect himself from the crowd’s projectiles. Yet he continued writing. Somewhat disappointingly, neither the tours nor the museum included anything about Ossian/Macpherson. I suppose it’s hard to be proud of a poet whose largest contribution was premised on a lie. Still, I would have enjoyed the Werther connection. Continue reading Once in the highlands, the highlands of Scotland
Just when you think German opera stagings couldn’t possibly get more confusing, there comes a production that seems to be premised on the action having nothing to do with the text or music. The audience reaction to the Bayerische Staatsoper’s Pelleas et Melisande was so overwhelmingly negative that they cancelled the planned video broadcast. You can read my review for Opera Online here.