Ein Brief aus Bayreuth

August 12, 2010

Having received today the following — which he had valiantly typed on a quickly-borrowed German keyboard — from the distinguished acoustical engineer Larry King, I asked his permission to share it here:

I generally dislike sending group email messages, so I now see why blogs have become so popular. Anyhow, I have an hour to kill this rainy morning (the first one of my visit), so here is a brief recap of the events to date.

So far, I’ve seen the first three Ring operas; Götterdämmerung is tomorrow. I then train to Munich for a day and a half where I plan to make an all day trip to poor King Ludwig’s two fantasy castles. Bayreuth is a small town (about 75,000 in the wider region) with small town mores, although they generally cater nicely to tourists. I had a pair of surly waiters one evening at a popular restaurant, but the good food (sauted pike-perch zander) made up for it. The best eating so far has been at Konditorei Roman– truly top notch, not expensive, but also not open for dinner. Just as well because the operas begin at 4pm and end around 10:30pm. A hearty lunch followed by a 20 minute walk up the “green hill” to the Festspielhaus takes care of the hungers. The long intermissions, almost an hour, allow snacking (if the hungers return) on bratwursts, weissewursts, movenpick icecream, champagne, wine, coke, minneralwasser, etc, etc. Plus there’re a fancy sit down restaurant and a less fancy cafeteria that offer more substantial fare.

The operas have been, how shall I say?, entertaining. Singers have been variable in vocal quality but generally excellent as actors, especially the Siegfried (last night), Wotan, Alberich, Hundig, and Mime. Brünhilde in Walküre was so-so and was replaced in Siegfried by Sabine Hogrefe. She was outstanding (but not a Nilsson or a Flagstad– their kind appear only once or twice a century). The hall acoustic is excellent: clear, balanced, warm, just the right loudness in the big parts, and dead silent (no air con). The public areas including toilets do have a.c.

I’m sitting on the fifth row, house right, so I see almost everthing with HD clarity. Only the staging at far stage left is obscured, which hasn’t been a disappointment. The seats aren’t cushioned (only thin pads like carpet on backs and bottoms), and row spacing is definitely 19th century (i.e., tight for tall persons). The hall is constructed of thick timber and plaster, which enhance resonance. The crowd loves to stamp their feet while clapping and cheering, so the floor vibrates excitingly. Concrete won’t do that! Coughing, sneezing, cellphones ringing and such common annoying distractions in North American houses are strictly frowned on. So far I’ve heard only one muffled cough. The park gounds around the theatre are lovingly landscaped– groves of old trees,spacious green lawns dappled in shade and afternoon sunlight, flower gardens, pools and fountains abound. There’s a small bookshop carrying only Wagner lore and an adjacent post office to speed off your souvenir postcards.

The scene is of a very fancy-dressed audience with obviously much moola to spend. About one third of the men wear tuxedos or some variation thereof, while the women are diked out in all sorts of coloful garb– mostly tasteful but some outrageously odd. The winner so far wore a flowing, leaf green silk dress off the shoulders and an amazing feather construction on the right side of her head. Her swain sported peroxided hair, a white dinner jacket and the almost universal black toursers, and joined this with a silver swan tipped walking stick that he certainly didn’t need to manuever around the grounds. It is truly a big deal, I guess comparable to the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals, although I expect Salzburg’s tops Bayreuth’s. I’m taking lots of images, including a few videos, that I’ll share with those interested.

So, it’s time to close. I’ve comandeered the computer in the tourist office long enough (still can’t get used to the German keyboard). Hope all is well at home. It’s nice to be away from the busy-ness of NYC. Love, Larry

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One Response to “Ein Brief aus Bayreuth”

  1. wickedragnar said

    His experience is much like mine when I was in Bayreuth in 2008, though I found the waiters friendly and helpful. I was lucky to have had a two-hour lecture each day to while away the morning; otherwise, one visits Wahnfried and the Margave’s opera house and wanders around the town. The only difference from what he reports is that a cellphone did go off during a performance, there was more coughing than I expected, and someone had to squeeze along the row to get out during one of the performances.

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