lunes, marzo 09, 2015

Munich, unforgettable town of art and music

            The second installment about my German trip went from  Frankfurt to Stuttgart. Now I will go from Stuttgart to Munich and remain there, except for two not-to-be missed excursions.

            At only 30 km. from Stuttgart you can visit Ludwigsburg Palace, "the Swabian Versailles", built between 1704 and 1733 by order of Eberhard Ludwig, Duke of Württemberg; it is enormous, impressive and beautiful. From there to Ulm, with its imposing Cathedral, boasting the highest tower in Germany. Then, a short visit to Augsburg, in whose majestic Maximilian Strasse you can see admirable  buildings, including the house of the Fugger, the most influential bankers of the Renaissance .

            And finally, Munich (München), the capital of mighty Bavaria, after Berlin the most important city in Germany. I have loved it ever since my first visit back in 1961, for it offers everything for the culturally inclined tourist: the vast Residenz Palace, essential museums (the Old and the New Pinakoteken – picture galleries- plus the marvelous Lenbach full of Kandinskys), beautiful Baroque churches, the largest beer hall in the world, first-rate urbanisation and an intense operatic and concert life.

            As so many of German cities, Munich was heavily bombed in WWII, but it rebuilt in just two decades. In 1961 the big Neoclassic National Theater hadn´t been quite finished. But then the Opera Company functioned in the Prinzregententheater (Theater of the Regent Prince), and I saw for the first and last time that charming German version of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" written by Otto Nicolai.

            It was in 1964 that I was completely bowled over operatically: the National Theater had been inaugurated months before, and the centenary of Richard Strauss´ birth was being celebrated abundantly, including operas I saw only then: "Die Aegyptische Helena" (never done at the Colón) and the bucolic and warm "Daphne" (only seeen here in 1949). Plus "Elektra", "Salome", a fantastic "Arabella" with Della Casa and Rothenberger. And a gem in a gem: "Capriccio" at the Rococo Cuvilliés Theater contained in the Residenz.

            About ten years later, my visit was marked by a proficient rather than memorable "Marriage of Figaro" at the Nationaltheater, plus a truly memorable experience with Karl Richter´s Bach Ensemble: the St. John Passion at the  vast concert hall of the gigantic Deutsches Museum.

            A couple of paragraphs about two memorable excursions in my current trip. The first was a stroke of luck: a special connection allowed me to visit Strauss´ home at Garmisch, the lovely village in the Bavarian Alps; his grandson, an elderly doctor, led a group through this beautiful house, chockful of souvenirs and exciting material for Strauss scholars. To boot, from there I visited the highest German mountain, the Zugspitze; the belvedere is close to the top and gives marvelous views all around.

            And then, of course, the Königsschlösser in the Alps: 130 Km. from Munich, you can visit two splendid King´s Castles: Hohenschwangau, built  by Bavaria´s Maximilian II (1832-6), and the ultrafamous Neuschwanstein that Disney took as a model for Sleeping Beauty´s Castle, born of the unbridled imagination of Louis II  and with references to Wagner.

            Back to Munich and opera.  I had been there for Strauss´centenary, and on July 2014 I was there for the 150th anniversary of his birth; it was a strange sensation. Munich stages an Opera Festival every July, culminating the year´s operatic schedule. Connoisseurs combine it with Salzburg. As happens in Berlin or Vienna, they offer a mighty succession of operas during the season (late September to late July). To mention just a few standouts during July: Rossini´s "Guillaume Tell", Strauss´ "Ariadne auf Naxos" and "Die Frau ohne Schatten" , Donizetti´s "Lucrezia Borgia" with Gruberova, Verdi´s "Macbeth" with Netrebko. Plus Liederabende (song recitals) with Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Thomas Hampson, Anja Harteros.

            I had an exercise in contrasts: a wonderfully staged "Der Rosenkavalier" (Strauss) by the unbeatable team of Otto Schenk and Jürgen Rose, with a pretty good cast; and an absolutely horrid staging of Verdi´s "La forza del destino" with a memorable cast. The National Theater is huge: stalls plus five floors.

            The Strauss was done with impeccable taste and charm and sung by real pros. I especially liked Alice Coote as Octavian and Peter Rose as Ochs, but Soile Isokoski (the Marschallin) and Golda Schultz (Sophie) did well. A young conductor, Constantin Trinks,  showed a promissing talent.  The Orchestra is, naturally, first-rate.

            I find it amazing that this great theatre allows such a misjudged and ugly production of Verdi´s  work, signed by Martin Kusej and Martin Zehetgruber, and I pity the great singers that have to accept it (they should rebel). Under the professional but rather tame conducting by Asher Fisch, three leading singers were as good a cast as possible nowadays. Let me state it unequivocally: Jonas Kaufmann is the greatest tenor we have:  incredible musicality,  acting ability,  beautiful personal timbre: he has it all. And Anja Harteros and Ludovic Tézier are certainly powerful artists of vivid presence and splendid voices.

            Finally, this time at the Prinzregententheater, a bad staging of the first important opera in history: Monteverdi´s "Orfeo". Well conducted by the specialist Ivor Bolton, and with Christian Gerhaher as a commanding protagonist, it was ruined by a willful and silly production by David Bösch. So Munich opera is currently uneven, it doesn´t have the steady quality it showed a half century ago.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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