October 18 – 20, 2011 — Traveled to Vienna via Austrian Airlines. Martha and I have for years wanted to see a Mozart opera in the Vienna State Opera house, and we learned that The Magic Flute was playing there for one night.
On the 19th we attended the morning practice at the Spanish Riding School located in the heart of the old city, featuring the famous Lipizzaner horses. These are not the full performances they put on from time to time, but rather individual training for horses and riders. There are four 30 minute sessions for five horses each. The various gaits, poises, and jumps the horses perform during the period are impressive. The riders wear their performance uniforms, and doff their hats toward the former imperial box when they enter. At one time, there was no charge for attending the sessions, but the interest was so great, a small entrance fee was imposed. Though in Austria, the school’s name comes from the origin of the Lipizzaner breed, and reflects the fact that the Habsburg family once ruled half of Europe, including Spain, during the 16th and 17th Centuries. The conquest of Mexico and most of South and Central America was accomplished under Charles V, who was the king of Spain as well as Austria, half of Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The horses were sent to the Czech lands during the latter part of World War II and nearly fell into the hands of the Soviet Army but for the efforts of General George Patton, himself an avid horseman.
We also visited the Mozart house about a block from St. Stephen’s cathedral. It is reputed to be where Mozart spent his last days composing the famous Requiem. It is now a museum and has quite a few original documents, including Mozart’s composition manuscripts. Like it was presented the film Amadeus, the manuscripts have no corrections or edits – as if he was “taking dictation from God.” The allegation that Antonio Salieri killed Mozart out of jealousy was debunked, though, as well as the legend that the Freemasons had him done in for revealing their secrets in The Magic Flute.
The opera itself was enjoyable. The orchestra and vocalists were suitably great. The performers seemed to be mostly Russian, at least by their names. The set was too abstract and unimpressively avant-garde for me, though. And the costumes were weird, some almost Halloweenish. The Dallas Opera is performing The Magic Flute this coming May. I am sure it will be an interesting comparison. One note: here in Dallas and I suppose most of the U.S., translations are presented in super-titles above the stage. In Vienna there are LCD screens on the back of the seats in German or English, as one chooses. The building was severely damaged by American and British bombs during the war, but completely restored with modern infrastructure in the 1950s, as were many other historical buildings in Europe that were casualties of the war.