22 August 2006

the bling of the Nibelung

The opening of Das Rheingold might be my favorite of any opera; even the really amazing amount of coughing during it tonight couldn't spoil the excitement of hearing the beautiful swells in the building built to hold them. Perhaps the cool weather has prompted a rash of colds; usually I'm semi-understanding about coughing (it's better than talking, for which there is no conceivable excuse) but I can't help noting the auditorium was pretty much cough-free until the lights went down.
The cool weather may have affected local respiratory systems but not the local wasps or hornets. As I strolled around today I passed a bakery and stopped since I am as easily distracted by baked goods as by bright shiny objects. Then I noticed about a dozen of the wasps (or hornets) buzzing over and landing on the seeded rolls and sticky buns. I kept on walking. It helps restore circulation, anyway. Sorry to go on about my ass, a subject no one but myself has ever been much interested in, but I think I'm developing Bayreuth butt. The thing about the hard seats is that as the days go by recovery is slower and slower, even though I've finally found a use for my jacket by using it as a seat pad (there is only a piece of brown corduroy over the wooden seat). And Rheingold is two and a half hours with no intermission, but the time actually speeds by for me. Of course there are no surtitles, but I am of the last generation of opera goers to attend performances before they become mandatory, so it's not a new experience for me, though I have to say I find them invaluable. But I re-read each of the librettos beforehand and am familiar enough with the works anyway so that I know what's going on, even if I can't always repeat exactly what is being said.
Language is not really a problem here anyway. Many people speak English well enough to have a conversation of the sort that's necessary in tourist life (certainly their English is better than my German) and even when they don't it's usually pretty clear that they're saying Would you like a bag or You need to enter on the other side of the theater. Reading the librettos and street signs it's easy to pick out certain recurring words and parse meaning through similarities to English, so that it's very easy to end up thinking you speak more German than you actually do.
Earlier I said that it would be odd to hang out at the Festspielhaus if you weren't attending the opera; I think I was wrong. The people-watching would be a plentiful source of entertainment. I don't know what cable TV costs in a small Bavarian town, but this has got to be just as good. I was mesmerized yesterday by the hunched old woman in front of me, who had a wart on the side of her nose almost as big as her nostril. Straight out of the Brothers Grimm. She wore an elaborate brocaded top but when I glanced at her all I saw was her nose. Tonight I saw a Japanese woman elegantly dressed in a traditional kimono of subdued color and design; this was practical as well as elegant, since the obi would provide some much-needed back support. Many of the other women go for bright even gaudy colors; for some reason Tristan brought out changeable taffeta in abundance.
The house is full for every performance, though ticket-seekers still gather in front with pleading signs. I don't know exactly how many of them get in, but I noticed one clean-cut young man nicely dressed in a suit and tie tonight whose sign identified him hopefully as a student seeking a ticket (I can't remember the German); the appeal to possible scholarly patrons must have worked since I saw him in the lobby after the performance, so at least some seekers are successful. One man literally started dancing around yesterday after receiving a ticket for Act III from a woman who I guess already knew how it ended. I was glad he could get in after waiting in the showery summer evening through the first two acts (that's four hours including the intermission between the first two acts).
I'll talk about the productions later, as I mentioned earlier, but I will say that at least one gentleman was sweet enough to boo loudly at the curtain call; I call this sweet since no new production of the Ring can be considered a success without some scandal. As it is the audiences still have to fuss over the warmed-over scandal of the Parsifal staging, which is now two or three years old.

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