on my second to last night in vienna, i went out to the staatsoper with anna and astrid. i can’t imagine better company for an evening at the ballet in vienna. anna is a former dancer and knows the history of the company and many of the dancers. astrid is terribly up to date on modern language german speaking theatre. my contribution would be a wide knowledge of classical ballet companies.we had some time to wait and sat together in the quite lovely café at ground level.
while we were there an older lady came and sat with us. i took this picture of astrid and her. in the café and thought that in her time she might have been quite like astrid. or the inverse. that astrid is just a reflection of the lady. quite dark thoughts, but i was already booked to return to toronto for a funeral.
the interior of the state opera house is extraordinary. it is very large and quite regal, all gold and red. it is the opera house which reminds me most of home, in the bolshoi. it clearly belongs to the imperial days of the austro-hungarian empire.
apparently the history of the theatre’s construction is quite tragic. built between 1861 and 1869, the building is representative of romantic historicism, its design much inspired by the renaissance. the viennese of the time were very critical of the building – at that time many of the extraordinary buildings of the inner ringstrasse were being erected and most citizens considered themselves at least part-time architecture critics.
the criticism was so vicious that one of the two architects, a certain eduard van der nüll, committed suicide in 1868 even before the marvellous structure was completed. but that’s the viennese for you – extremely critical. the other architect, august sicard von sicardsburg, also died – but of natural causes – before the building was completed. the first performance in 1869 was mozart’s don giovanni.
the picture on the right, finds me still in the grand buffet, in the company of richard strauss the director of the opera (1919-1924) and composer of such works as der rosenkavalier and also sprach zarathustra. the death spell of the opera was enough gone by then that strauss lived well into his eighties. other famous staatsoper directors have included gustav mahler and herbert von karajan.
it is unsurprising that such great composers would choose to accept the directorship of the staatsoper. the vienna staatsoper orchestra is the finest i have heard in a musical theatre in the world. it is a great symphonic orchestra. even if there are no tickets available with good stage visibility it is still worth attending staatsoper for the atmospher and the concert alone. even in the worst seats, one can usually see at least the orchestra pit.
all of us very much enjoyed the evening which is largely made up of jiri kylian pieces generally well performed.some complain that the dancers in staatsoper are not hungry or aggressive enough. i don’t know. they dance quite well if perhaps not as furiously as in the bolshoi or new york city ballet. one pleasant side-effect – they actually seem to get along.
the season has been a tumultuous one as the artistic director of the ballet has been dismissed (after 2005) after a tempestuous dispute with the general director. it seems a pity as renato zanella as an expatriate italian has done a good job bringing modern work to vienna and has completely assimilated into the austrian cultural world (his german is marvellous).
his own work is not evenly brilliant (who’s is?), which i had ample opportunity to observe in a full length program of his work danced several times this season. his sacré de printemps was spectacular however. for the most part, the dancers wore jeans in a very casual modern atmosphere. in part this simplicity made the horror of the ritual rape and slaying all the more intense. as you can see by this picture of conversation, the kylian night left us more than enough to talk about.