lunes, marzo 09, 2015

From Frankfurt to Stuttgart: the richness of German art

              Dear reader, you probably feel as I do that the most important touristic countries in Europe are Italy, France, Spain and Great Britain. But in recent years Germany is just a step behind: not only the ex-West is chockful of wonderful cities and scenery, but now we have at our disposal such jewels as the unified Berlin, Weimar, Dresden, Leipzig, Eisenach, Erfurt, Halle, Brandenburg...

            If I had programmed this traversal for early June rather than July, I would have found practically all opera houses open; but only the big ones extend their season to July, so I could catch performances in just three cities: Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich. I will stray in the following paragraphs from my usual field, for I think it worthwhile to mention some highlights of my driving during 22 days through as many sites and cities. 

            From Frankfurt to the colossal Dom (cathedral) at Mainz and the fascinating Gutenberg Museum; the charming Koblenz, where the Mosel and the Rhein converge (a half-century ago I saw at their small opera house Orff´s "Die Kluge" – "The Wise Woman"); Bonn, with its Beethoven-Haus. Warning: it seems that Summer is the time for making repairs in streets and Autobahnen (roadways) and there are some nasty surprises about which the GPS seems to have no inkling. Forty Km may take an hour.

            An excursion from Bonn to Maria Laach was gorgeous; the lovely Romanic abbey stands close to one of the many beautiful lakes in the country. Köln (Cologne) is famous for its Cathedral, but it also has one of the best art museums in the country, the Wallraf-Richartz (back in 1964 I saw a first-rate "Oedipus Rex" –Stravinsky- in the modern Opera House). Then I entered the Ruhr, an immensely intricate conglomerate of industrial cities where the surprise is scant contamination and  abundance of parks. Düsseldorf´s center was in the midst of vast city works; it too has an excellent art museum, and the first-rate Deutsche Oper am Rhein (shared with Duisburg). Although few visit Essen, a big industrial center, they miss the admirable Folkwang Museum. I had no time to prolong my stay in the Ruhr, and so I sacrificed Wuppertal and Dortmund.

            One of the unforgettable visits was Aachen´s Dom with at its core the Carolingian building inspired by Ravenna´s style; Aachen is Aix-la-Chapelle or Aquisgrán. A short dip into Belgium brought me to a fast city tour of Liège, the Wallon capital, and then, advancing through picturebook scenery, the revelation of the most Roman city of all Germany, Trier. The following day, pieces of very old Germany in Lorsch and Worms. A stop in a big city, Mannheim, with a good museum and opera house (I saw the German version of Wolf-Ferrari´s "I quattro rusteghi" – "Die Vier Grobiane"- 50 years ago). And then to touristy and lovely Heidelberg by way of Speyer´s Dom.

            A very recommended city, Würzburg, with its Fortress sheltering a great collection of that fantastic sculptor, Adam Riemenschneider, and the best Rococo Palace in all of Germany. Then, the pleasant and hilly Bamberg, and Bayreuth with its famed Wagner Festpielhaus; but both Wahnfried (the Wagnerian house) and the beautiful Eighteenth-Century Margrave´s Opera House are undergoing repair.  I was bowled over by the gigantic Dom at Regensburg (Ratisbonne). And finally, a long trip from there to Stuttgart, the Württemberg Capital, close to the famed Black Forest (Selva Negra).

            Coming from the East you come into the city from a height. My hotel was close to the things that mattered for me: the very good Museum and the famous Opera House.

The Museum does  little to help the tourist: it doesn´t allow photographs and has no catalog; just a few postcards. I witnessed a sole operatic performance back in 1964, but it was outstanding: Wagner´s "The Mastersingers" conducted with sovereign command by Ferdinand Leitner, their longtime Generalmusikdirektor and a a frequent visitor to the Colón, where among many other operas he did the wonderful Wagnerian comedy about which I recently wrote.

            The old theatre isn´t big but it has very good acoustics and it feels cozy with its beautiful architecture. It is also home to the famed Stuttgart Ballet that visited us with Marcia Haydée dancing the great works of John Cranko such as "Eugen Onegin". Typical of their programming are the opening weeks of the 2014-5 season: "La Boheme", "Tristan and Isolde", Weber´s "Der Freischütz", Rihm´s "Jakob Lenz", "Ariadne auf Naxos" (Strauss) and "Khowanshchina" (Mussorgsky). All from September 20 to November 30. The season will continue changing operas all the way to late July 2015.

            I was left rather cold by their version of Gluck´s "Orphée et Eurydice", the French adaptation of the composer´s "Orfeo ed Euridice". I deeply enjoy the beauty of this music on Pierre-Louis Moline´s text, and it follows the French tradition of adding a lot of ballet, including the famous "Dance of the Furies". The musical interpretation was nice, with young singers of good standard (tenor Stuart Jackson, sopranos Irma Mihélic and Maria Koryagova (all members of the Opera Studio of the institution), and correct conducting by Nicholas Kok. But the production and choreography by Christian Spuck, minimalist in its conception, took an intollerable liberty by transforming the dramaturgical ending: in the opera Orpheus and Eurydice exult with joy in an apotheosis of ballet music, but Spuck contradicts the music by inventing Eurydice´s death.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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