Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Do You Think Your Parents Might Enjoy A Luigi Nono Opera?"

Andrew and I definitely will be joining my family for a trip to Austria this summer.

We will spend the first week of August in Austria—that much is settled—and we will visit Salzburg, Melk, Vienna, Graz, Zell Am See, Kitzbuhel and Innsbruck.

At present we are trying to decide whether to add a few days in Bavaria to our Austrian journey. Once the Bavaria issue is out of the way, we will book our flights.

No one in my family has been to Austria, and it should be an interesting vacation for us.

This vacation will be devoted more to Alpine scenery than to historic and cultural attractions, but we nevertheless will explore the primary attractions of Vienna.

We will be in Salzburg during the Salzburg Festival, but we will not attend any Festival performances.

“Do you think your parents might enjoy a Luigi Nono opera?” was one of Andrew’s rhetorical questions to me—the Salzburg Festival will present a Luigi Nono opera this year—and I assured Andrew that my parents definitely would not be interested in hearing an atonal opera, no matter who wrote it, and that Andrew very well knew this.

“Then I guess we’ll have to forego the Luigi Nono” was Andrew’s response, his voice filled with fake disappointment.

“Yes, Nono would definitely be a no-no” was my rejoinder.

However, we WILL attend one opera performance during our vacation: a performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien, featuring an international-level cast (Erwin Schrott, Hanno Muller-Brachmann, Veronique Gens) in a major new production. My mother wants to attend an opera performance while we are in Vienna, and “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien is the only option, since the Staatsoper and Volksoper are closed during the month of August.

I look forward to a visit to Theater An Der Wien because it was the theater in which my favorite opera, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, received its first performance in 1791. It was also the theater in which the first version of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” premiered in 1805. That both Mozart and Beethoven worked and conducted in a theater still in existence and still in use is quite an amazing thing.

Andrew says that, for the last few years, Theater An Der Wien has mounted its own international-level opera season each year, presenting ten productions in stagione, with international casts, international conductors and international stage directors. Its productions are rehearsed to a festival standard and have received worldwide acclaim. The performance of “Don Giovanni” we will attend will be only the second performance of the run.

I have never attended an opera performance in Europe—and neither have my parents, and neither have my sister and brother.

In fact, I believe my father has never attended an opera performance anywhere, and I know my sister and brother have never attended an opera performance in their lives.

Andrew and I will take a recording of “Don Giovanni” to Oklahoma when we return home for my brother’s high-school graduation late next month. The recording will give everyone a couple of months to become familiar with the opera.

I hope they don’t hate it.

If they dislike “Don Giovanni”, I shudder to think what might be their reactions to an opera by Luigi Nono!

BELATED CORRECTION ON 19 MAY 2009: Andrew had to remind me that I HAD attended an opera performance in Europe. In November 2006, we had attended a performance of Puccini's "La Boheme" at the Hamburg Staatsoper.

TWO BELATED CORRECTIONS ON 10 AUGUST 2009: (1) Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” did NOT receive its first performance at Theater An Der Wien, as the opera pre-dates the theater by ten years; and (2) the current Theater An Der Wien production of “Don Giovanni”, which ends its run on Friday, is NOT a new production.


  1. Josh,

    Talk about "deja vu"! My own parents would have suffered sudden death, to be sure; but my mother's sister, Aunt Sarah, and my Uncle Danen DID hear an opera by Luigi Nono - and NO, NO, they most definitely did NOT like Nono; but at least they survived the experience.

    My aunt and uncle had introduced Mozart and Beethoven to me when I was only seven years old, giving me my first vinyl recording (remember those?): Beethoven 9 under Furtwaengler. (At last I no longer had to wait each evening for the end of the "Huntley-Brinkley" report on NBC just to catch a snippet of the scherzo.) Later, my uncle provided me with four years worth of full subscription tickets to the Boston Symphony, between 1969 and 1973.

    Being the loving and considerate nephew I was, I took the both of them to Salzburg in 1993 to hear their very first opera in Europe. So, what did I select for them? Fidelio? NO, NO! I, the loving and infinitely grateful nephew, picked "Prometeo, Tragedia dell'Ascolto." After all, it was Nono's masterpiece; and, although I despised the composer's Marxist politics, I nevertheless had admired some of his other works.

    I enjoyed the experience. (I later acquired an EMI recording of it.)

    My uncle died in 1999, but not before he forgave me for that Salzburg. Aunt Sarah, bless her heart, still rolls her eyes heavenward when I mention "Nono" (but she has forgiven me, too).

    I love them passionately. And I miss Uncle Dane so terribly.

    There IS an available recording of "Prometeo," I believe (the Metzmacher is out of print). There's enough time for you to order it, so that you and Andrew can listen to it during your trip to Oklahoma.

    Wouldn't that be swell?!

    After you've heard the work about forty times, you might change your mind about Nono.

    Good to see you posting again. I thought perhaps that you had abandoned the blog.


  2. I know nothing about Luigi Nono's music, but Andrew says I would hate it.

    We will be flying to Oklahoma, so there will be no time to listen to Luigi Nono opera recordings on the trip, thank heavens!

  3. Pity.

    How about, "No-No Nonette" by P.D.Q. Bach?

    It's short.


  4. I shouldn’t make fun of Nono’s music, having never heard a single note of his work. However, the thought of dragging reluctant, even unwilling, family members to a Nono opera is sort of amusing.

    Andrew jokes that the Nono would be an ideal “first” opera—it would let the listener know, immediately, that he or she never wants to set foot in an opera house ever again.

    The joke would be on us, however—the next morning my family would dump Andrew and me in Salzburg and move on to Melk by themselves, enjoying the rest of the trip on their own, without worrying about what other forms of torture Andrew and I had up our sleeves. Andrew and I would be left to fend for ourselves however we could. We’d probably have to swim home.

    Have you seen Salzburg Festival ticket prices? They are outrageous! There is no way we would have thrown away the necessary sums on something we wanted to hear, let alone a Nono opera.

    We saw ticket prices for a piano recital by Martha Argerich quoted at 500 Euros per seat!

  5. Josh,

    Oh, yes, Parker and I are all-too familiar with the prices of Salzburg tickets - they are OBSCENE!

    Since you have written that your family is also considering a trip to Bavaria, may I recommend Garmisch-Partenkirchen? The Alpine Mountains are wonderful and would be especially welcome to Oklahoma dwellers, I'd wager.

    Parker and I spend at least two weeks a year there, usually in the summer (our favorite hotel is Reindl's Partenkirchner Hof, but the Riessersee is cheaper and almost as fine). We both LOVE "GP". I even lived there for two years, between 1973 and 1975 while attending the Army Russian Institute. In 1993 my aunt and uncle and I drove over to GP after the disasterous Nono incident for a few days: That turned out to be their favorite city (Salzburg is frightfully crowded in July and August, as you know). I was suprised to find out in 1993 that the Army Russian Institute had been absorbed into the George C. Marshall European Center for Strategic Studies.

    I have been in love with Oberbayern for 35 years. I still consciously roll my German "R's" in the front instead of the back - as they do, for instance, in Hamburg - in deference to the south. Parker and I are stopping over on the way back from Moscow in June (and we should still be back in time for Independance Day).

    Just thinking about GP right now makes my mouth water for "kaesesahne" and a "spetzi." (It helps to take my mind off of Moscow!)

    Until a couple of years ago, we observed the ritual of swinging over to Salzburg to attend at least one concert (never opera) while visiting GP. Neither of us can abide those prices, anymore, however. Sorry, we're not paying $850.00 for one seat in the "Felsenreitschule"!



  6. If we add time in Bavaria, it will only be three days, which means we will spend those three days in Munich. I’ve never been to Munich, and I want to see Munich. My mother has not been to Munich, either, and she wants to see Munich.

    I was shocked at the Salzburg Festival ticket prices. They are obscene.

    The Festival only runs thirty days or so, and yet the Austrian government subsidizes the Festival to the tune of fifteen million Euros, which works out to a 500,000-Euro subsidy per day. That is obscene, too. Given the outrageous ticket prices, it would seem to me there is no need for a lavish government subsidy.

    Andrew is the only one going to Austria that has been to Salzburg before, but Andrew has never been to the Salzburg Festival—and yet he doesn’t seem to mind in the least that we will not attend any Festival performances during our trip. He was more offended than anyone how absurd the ticket prices are.

    My father has an uncle who was stationed in or near Garmisch in the 1950’s while he served in the U.S. Army. He still talks about Garmisch once in a while.

  7. Munich is fine as well. (I was stationed there from 1975 to 77 at the American Consulate.) You can still get a great "spetzi" there on Marienplatz at the Hoch Cafe (if you can find it: second floor, opposite the Rathaus).

    On a hot day the Hoch Cafe is a God-send. (And they even serve drinks with ICE!)


  8. I don’t think we’re worried about food in Munich. I understand that the food in Munich is excellent.

    Our problem is trying to decide how to spend three days in Munich, given how much there is to see and do.

    Tentatively, on arrival day we will walk the center of town and visit the most important churches, of which Andrew says there are eight or nine.

    On another day we will visit the Residenz and see the half open in the morning and the half open in the afternoon and visit its Treasury and Cuvillies-Theater.

    On another day we will visit the Glyptothek and the Alte Pinakothek.

    We’ll have to save everything else for another time.

  9. You haven't lived until you've sat through a 3-hour atonal Opera!