Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
Can there ever be too much music? We’ve just done a double-dose of opera, with the fourth reprise of a trip to Neusiedler See, on the Austro-Hungarian border.
This year, it was grand-opera Tosca in the old Roman stone quarry at St Margrethen, and operetta Eine Nacht in Venedig (One night in Venice) on the lake-stage at Mörbisch. Too much? – just wonderful!
Part of what draws us back is the area itself – Austria’s Burgenland is rolling grape hills, charming wine towns, and the lake itself of course.
Rust (it’s easy to remember to pronounce that ‘Roost’ when you think of the storks) is an old wine-town with roofs supporting a whole society of storks, and courtyards of places to sample the local product.
And Mörbisch – our belief that Mörbisch is one of the most welcoming places in the world was reinforced yet again.
The story goes … when we were there in 2009 Margrit and I saw a sign with something about there being music in the town the next day. So four of our party wandered down town, saw a tent straddling the whole street which had been closed to traffic, with a full brass band playing inside and tables set out with bottles of wine, beer and water. Looked right! We made ourselves comfortable, then Roman and Mani thought they’d better find someone to pay. A handsome woman in a dirndl looked like chief-of-staff. How much is the wine? they asked. Oh, she responded, this is a private party. Apologies and hasty back-tracking… But you must stay she said. My husband is celebrating 25 years as the Chief of the volunteer fire brigade. Be our guests. We stayed. We sang along to the band and got introduced to the gathering by the band master. We had a ball. She even kissed us goodbye!
So – our determination was that next time we went to Mörbisch, we’d show we remembered the hospitality.
A bottle of homemade cherry brandy and one of Appenzeller schnapps were decorated with a photo of the 2009 party, and we started the search.
A friendly woman at the Gemeinderhaus (Council building) thought she knew who we meant, gave us a name, and said he was at the Czardas restaurant most afternoons. A waitress in a café serving us ice-cream said – yes, she knew that chap too, and phoned the restaurant to make sure that if he turned up before us they would keep him.
We went to the restaurant… and the chap arrived. Didn’t quite look as we remembered, but hey six years can do that to a man. We launched our story … wrong bloke. But he said, I know everybody. I can track him down. Off he went, to return not much later, with the name of the man we were seeking, his card (yes, that was the name we’d forgotten) and the news that he now divided his time between Mörbisch and his other place in Germany, and wouldn’t be back for a week or so. And yes, of course he’d pass on the bottles and greetings. A beer later, and a new friend, and Mörbisch’s reputation burnished.
So, to the performances. The Steinbruch, the Roman stone quarry at St Margrethen is a wondrous place, on a huge scale. The first time we were there was for Aida in 2004. We had walked in, looked open-mouthed at the rock-solid (literally) stage – there could be elephants I, half-hoping, had muttered. There were. Two of them. And horses and chariots. Then there was the Nabucco production with the huge fire-breathing war machines and the city ablaze.
What would they do for Tosca? Well, there was this huge sculptured angel, whose wings opened to provide the main playing-space, and whose torso slowly turned on occasion to regard, or disdain, the audience.
Projected décor inside the opened wings took us to the church or the prison. And even cleverer, during the major arias, when you really want to see the singers’ emotion but normally can’t in these big open-air venues, up came their projected images giving you sudden intimacy within the massive overall impression.
I’ll put more pictures at the end – it was so stunning!
A couple of nights before, we’d seen Eine Nacht in Venedig.
A glorious night, with the full moon rising.
Composer Strauss would almost have recognised the Venice the set portrayed at the start, but we the audience roared with recognition when in the second scene a hulking cruise ship appeared between the buildings.
The lake-stage at Mörbisch is another wonderful outdoors venue: you sit lake-side, with the stage a few meters over the water. Of course I expected lots of gondola-action.
But there wasn’t. Somehow, the water just acted as a bridge between stage and audience.
Back in June we’d seen I Due Foscari (Verdi’s opera also set in Venice) outside the Cathedral in St Gallen.
There, they’d built a canal into the set, and the water was a major presence. There were gondolas as transport, singing-stage, and prison cage; the chorus spent a lot of time singing from in (not on) the water which emphasised their separation from the grandeur of the Doges’ chambers; and as the Doge himself descended into sorrow, remorse and death, he stumbled down the steps and into the water. Brilliant symbolism.
Somehow I felt Mörbisch missed their watery opportunity. But … nonetheless, a great night.
Funny, I haven’t mentioned the music. You know, I think we take it for granted now that the singers will be great, and able to act and move as well – and that the orchestra will be full-scale fine, and that the sound production will be impeccable. It’s the overall production that stays in the mind.
As these will. Too much? Never!
So, a few more photos too.
And looking back to 2007 at the St Margrethen Steinbruch, just because we can …