Whistle Stop European Tour for Strauss’ 150th Anniversary – April 2014

Andrew and I decided a few months ago it would be a good idea to invite a group of friends to join us for a whistle stop tour through the music centres of Europe to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, especially since Andrew is the president of the Richard Strauss Society in the UK.

So this crazy journey started on 14 April in Dresden and coming together besides ourselves were a motley crew including Inese Curtois, Patrick Muhlen-Schulte, Simon Johnson, Leo Schofield, David Maloney, Erin Flaherty and Terry and Julie Clarke. Andrew organised the accommodation and the internal flights and I the performance itinerary and the tickets.

All told we attended thirteen performances in fifteen days in six cities, and Leo and I attended an extra performance in Vienna. Highlights (and lowlights) included:

  • A charming modernistic Ariadne auf Naxos in Dresden
  • A completely transforming performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on the Easter weekend in his own church the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. I had difficulty understanding the seating plan when I booked for us online and most of us had seats with no view of the performers – mine was sraight into a massive pillar about half a metre in front of me – but our concentration on the music in the rich acoustics of this large plain church gave us all an overwhelming experience
  • At breakfast the next day after the Bach, Patrick said: “Hi guys, did you know there’s a performance of Parsifal here to night in the Opera House? Let’s get tickets!” I said remember we are going to Parsifal in Berlin in two days time – do you all want to go twice? Resoundingly YES was the answer, so we managed to get tickets in the second row of the stalls! It was a sober realistic production, very well sung and being so close, utterly absorbing. Three cheers for Patrick’s resourcefulness.
  • Next on the whistle stop was fabulous Berlin and in my unbelievable booking coup some months earlier., I had tickets for what became the celebrity concert of the year at the Philharmonie, a piano duo recital by Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich. They are both 71, and studied together in Buenos Aires in their teens so are old friends but haven’t played together since. They played Mozart’s Blanc et Noir for four hands, Schubert’s Grand Duo for two pianos and after the interval Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in the two piano arrangement. What a program! In the Schubert, she seemed to lose a note at one point and during the applause, hung back, causing Barenboim to put his arm around her. They were marvellous, especially Barenboim, playing primo in magisterial fashion.
  • The second Parsifal at Deutsche Oper was directed by Philipp Stoelzl and could not have been more different that the Leipzig production. To me it seemed to be conceived in a dystopian future with the story being acted out in some sort of warehouse, starting with an enactment of the Crucifixion during the the Prelude. What ever the case it was an extraordinarily effective and moving performance with Parsifal sung by the terrific Siegfried from the Melbourne Ring, Stefan Vinke
  • At the Staatsoper at the Schiller Theater we saw a new production of Tannhauser conducted by Barenboim, only two nights after the fabulous recital wirh Argerich, and in between we saw a production of Le Vin herbe of Frank Martin, a wonderful oratorio/opera based on the ancient version of the Tristan legend. I have to say it was a very static and mysterious production in modern dress that left me cold
  • Departing Berlin for Amsterdam was the ultimate lowlight as I had somehow managed to lose the jumbo train ticket for the whole party Andrew had bought in the UK and given me in Leipzig. After frantic searching overnight, there was no choice but to buy another ticket for the party of 11!
  • In Amsterdam, we arrived in the morning, saw in the evening a charming modern production of Strauss’s Arabella which as usual never fails to delight, and then hopped on another train to Paris the next morning.
  • In Paris we stayed in an apartment hotel for two nights near the Bastille where we saw Peter Sellars famous production of Tristan und Isolde with Bill Viola’s whole backdrop video projections throughout the entire opera. The experience of this production was deeply moving and in a way gave a totally different view of the opera based on ever changing and beautiflly imaginative visuals.
  • We flew to Vienna and stayed in the elegant little Konig von Ungarn Hotel, for a very tired Rosenkavalier and on our last night a rousing Lohengrin in a new production in a Bavarian village setting, that worked very well I thought.
  • But the most outstanding performance of the whole tour was at the Theater an der Wien. Leo Schofield had heard about the production by Claus Guth of Handel’s Messiah and had been given two tickets. The two of us went quietly off to see it and it was just about the most original thing I have ever seen. The music was wonderfully played by Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, who also acted out the choregraphed story of a family, friends and colleagues in a crisis after the suicide of the central character, played by a mute dancer. Leo was so impressed tht he has decided to try to bring it to Brisbane for his festival.