Ilana is a current Fulbright student scholar researching theatre and opera studies in Munich, Germany. She also plans to visit (and blog about) lots of other cities in Europe, particularly those with good theatre, opera, or dance scenes. Formerly, Ilana earned her M.Phil. in European Literature at the University of Cambridge (as a Gates-Cambridge Scholar) and her B.S. in Systems Engineering at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. She also spent a few summers as a Program Manager for Microsoft. In her spare time, Ilana acts, sings in operas, and dances in historical attire. She belongs in the nineteenth century and takes every possible opportunity to pretend she's actually there.
While this blog chronicles Ilana's adventures during her Fulbright year, this is not an official Department of State website or blog. The views and information presented do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.
I’m happily settled in San Francisco. My German season is most definitely over, and so is this blog. It will remain here as a monument to my Fulbright year, but those of you who want fresh content should head to my new blog at ilanawb.tumblr.com. The posts will be shorter and less frequent now that I’m working a regular job, but I’ll provide semi-regular updates on my life as well as links to all my theater and opera reviews. (There will continue to be plenty of those, once the seasons begin.)
If you don’t have a Tumblr account and want to subscribe to my new blog by e-mail, I’m sorry. Tumblr doesn’t allow direct e-mail subscriptions. But you can use a service like blogtrottr to get e-mails whenever I post—just enter “ilanawb.tumblr.com/rss” and your e-mail address.
To wrap up this blog, I offer you some summary statistics of the year:
I attended 38 plays in four languages (German, English, Italian, and Persian)
I attended 44 operas in eight cities (Munich, Stuttgart, Salzburg, Berlin, Stockholm, Tallinn, Vienna, and Budapest)
I performed in 1 opera in yet another city (Burgos)
I danced at 13 balls (three in Munich, seven in Vienna, and three May Balls in Cambridge)
I traveled to 16 countries, counting Germany and the U.S. (the others were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom)
I visited 10 cities in Germany and 26+ citiesin the rest of Europe (depending on where you draw the line between a city and a town)
I had 4 academic papers accepted at journals, all in very different fields (narrative psychology, feminist analytical philosophy of language, Spanish Golden Age and Romantic literature, and Italian pastoral drama)
I wrote 138 posts on this blog, which I estimate at a total of 75,000+ words
I wrote 35 opera reviews for Bachtrack and Opera Online, which I estimate at a total of 26,000+ words
3,111 people visited my blog at least once
My blog traffic mostly came from Twitter, but the second-most frequent referral route was online searches, and the most common single search term (49 times) was “Kierkegaard in City Museum of Copenhagen“
My most-used blog tags were “Regietheater” (26 times) and “WTF” (25 times)
I’ve probably miscounted somewhere, but it looks like I saw 38 plays and 44 operas in Europe this past season. As you might guess, I have some favorites. So without further ado, let’s begin with operas:
The Unexpected but Awesome Colors Award for surprisingly successful production aesthetics is split between David Bösch’s dark L’elisir d’amoreand Peter Konwitschny’s (initially) cheerful cruise-ship Tristan und Isolde.
The Totally Regie Award goes to Antú Romero Nunes’ bold and striking William Tell, where everyone was a terrible person and the overture was not where I expected it. A close runner-up is the gritty TraviataI saw in Stockholm, where Kasper Holten managed to make strippers and homelessness part of this usually sparkly tragedy. (Note: many more productions were totally Regie; these are just the ones that were most successful at it.)
The Are They Even Human? Award for absurdly good singing is a three-way tie between Evelyn Herlitzius (Brünnhilde), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), and Javier Camarena (Don Ramiro) in Die Walküreand La Cenerentola.
The Went Back for Seconds Award is reserved for the only opera I went to see twice: Hans Neuenfels’ Manon Lescautstarring Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais. It was even better the second time, even if I never quite grasped the logic behind the Oompa Loompas. Oh, and did I mention that I got to meet Jonas Kaufmann?
The I Guess Modern Opera is Actually Pretty Good Award has three winners: Andreas Kriegenburg’s staging of Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten, Dmitri Tcherniakov’s staging of Berg’s Lulu, and Peter Konwitschny’s staging of Rihm’s Die Eroberung von Mexico. None of these shows was particularly fun to watch (mostly because of the dark subject matter), but they were all breathtakingly well-directed and well-acted. Great conducting brought out the lyricism in atonal scores and prevented the music from just sounding like noise. Continue reading The Ilana Opera and Theater Awards→
I’m currently in Salzburg for the annual opera and theater festival (reviews here and here, with more to come). But opera and theater are generally evening activities, so I’ve had plenty of time to explore the city.
Salzburg is beautiful. There are old buildings and churches and statues and fountains all around.
I love Goethe. Goethe is the reason I learned German. That doesn’t mean his texts are sacred. (No texts are sacred.) But it does mean that I bought tickets to Clavigo at the Salzburg Festival because I was excited to see a very rarely performed Goethe play. I saw a press release that the main roles had been gender-swapped and got even more excited. I saw the dreaded byline ‘nach Goethe’ (‘nach’ implies ‘inspired by,’ in contrast to the more straight forward ‘von’ or ‘by’) but still held out hope. My hope was sadly misplaced.
Goethe’s play is a tale of competing ambition and love. Clavigo is an up-and-coming Spanish writer. In his younger and poorer days, he fell in love with and became engaged to the charming but sickly Marie. However, when his star started to rise, his friends convinced him that Marie would hold his career back. At best, she’d be a distraction; at worst, she’d prevent an advantageous marriage. So he broke the engagement. Marie’s brother Beaumarchais (yes, the French playwright—this is loosely based on real events) has come to Spain to confront Clavigo. He exorts a (potentially career-killing) written confession of wrongdoing from Clavigo but promises not to have it published until Clavigo can ask Marie for pardon and renew their engagement. Clavigo successfully does this, but his friends (and his own feelings) convince him that this was a mistake and begin criminal proceedings against Beaumarchais. Marie, upon hearing of this, dies. Clavigo (who has not heard the news) stumbles upon her funeral procession and is distraught. Beaumarchais fatally stabs Clavigo, and Clavigo accepts his death as atonement for his crime. Continue reading A Clavigo full of hot air→
A dull Don Carlo in Munich, though one worth seeing for the singing (especially goddess Anja). Note to directors: black on black is a bad color scheme. Note to translators: please actually translate the libretto rather than leaving us to guess every other line. Note to artistic directors: Asher Fisch is a much better conductor for Strauss than for Verdi.
A silly Barber of Seville for Childrento kick off my Salzburg Festival experience. The young singers were not only musically solid, but also fabulous actors (especially the Figaro). Even the conductor (Duncan Ward) was wonderfully dramatic. I prefer my Rossini in Italian and complete, but this abridged version in German was interactive and fun.
The Conquest of Mexicoin a VIP-filled crowd at the Salzburg Festival (including the composer Wolfgang Rihm). It had nothing to do with Mexico. It was modern and bizarre and high-tech but also primitive and abstract. Artuad, Octavio Paz, Hegel—philosophy and literature and tones and grunting and screaming. Sound coming from all sides. Brilliantly staged so that it was somehow accessible despite the chaos. A totally unique operatic experience.
Ah, San Sebastian! The beaches are pristine, the water is clear, and the mountains are green. I spent a very relaxing few days here recovering from my operatic adventure. I cruised on the ocean. I sat on the beach. I read my book. I ate lots of pintxos. The only sightseeing I did (on a rainy day) was visit the Museo San Telmo. It has very cool architecture—a daring, modern add-on to an old convent. It was also hosting an exhibit about the Italian filmmaker Pasolini. Among (many) other accomplishments, he directed Maria Callas is her only non-singing film role!
Combs of the Winds
Combs of the Winds
People fishing on Santa Clara Island
The proprietor ensured me that carousels are for adults, too