Noilly Prattle: January 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Get thee to a nunnery

 our apartment -
2nd floor of yellow building in center
     So, taking Hamlet's advice to Ophelia, we got us to a nunnery. Our new apartment in Prague is, literally, in an old convent, or, if you prefer, a nunnery.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof
     Yesterday, we bade Berlin a fond fare thee well, took a train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central station) to Prague Hlavni Nadrazi (central station) and were met by our new landlord, Mirek, in front of the Burger King in the station...and he drove us to the nunnery. Appropriately, it is located near Bethlehem Square.

gate to the former cloister
      After settling in we went out for a bite to eat and some basic shopping to launch our two-month stay here in our beloved Prague. After Berlin, it seems like Alice has fallen through the looking glass and landed in Neverland...or, am I mixing up my stories? Hmmm. Anyway, we took a walk to the Moldau River, only a few steps from the nunnery, and the soft haze from the low clouds make it look, in fact, like wonderland—the paving stones all wet and misty and shining and Mala Strana, across the river, looking vaguely ghostlike and full of nostalgia. It seems like coming home after a year's absence, this town is so simpatico.


door on left is our apartment entrance

interior of our apartment

settling in 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Here came the sun—at last!

      After more than two weeks of gray skies here in downtown Berlin, the sun finally came out in earnest yesterday. That worked out beautifully.

      On the train on our way to Potsdam the other day, I noticed a little lake from the window and what looked like a nice small town on that lake called Nikolassee. I filed it away in the back of my mind as a good place for a walk in the country.

      We had pretty much seen what was to be seen in Berlin and were ready to explore outside of town along the S-Bahn line that runs near our apartment. And we had yesterday with no opera to go to. The night before, on our way home from the opera, the sky was clear and we could see an almost full moon and some stars. It looked like a good omen for our planned trip to the country. The day started out iffy, looking like a return to the usual clouds but the sky lightened up little by little during the morning and by the time we headed out the sky was blue and the remaining clouds had almost lifted.

nice little house on the lake
      Sitting on the train I couldn't drink up enough sunshine and let the rays fall directly on my face. It felt like coming out of a long dark tunnel into a light explosion. After some initial confusion in finding our way to the lake we changed train lines at Nikolassee and took a train for one stop to a town called Schlachtensee (“see” is the German word for lake). The town appears to be a very upscale summer home kind of place with the cheapest homes I estimate at more than 1,000,000 Euros. Very swank. But the lake has a beautiful walking path that goes for some 5 kilometers all around the lake and it doesn't cost one Euro cent.

view from SW end of Schlachtensee
sun followers galore
     I expected that we would be pretty much the only people walking about on a cold albeit sunny winter day and have the whole lake to ourselves. Wrong! It seems that the sun had the same effect on lots of other people and the path around the lake was full of them just walking and soaking up the rays. It was such a pleasure that we decided to walk all around the lake—the whole 5 kms.—meeting people in ones and twos and larger groups all along the way. After about 3/4 of the way around the lake we came across a food and drink stand at the NE end of the lake. We decided to stop and have some glühwein (hot spiced red wine) if they sold it. As we were wondering aloud if they had glühwein and how to ask for it in German, a young woman overheard us and told us the correct way to ask politely (haben Sie Glühwein?) So I tried out my German question, got “Ja.” for an answer and ordered two with my fingers. Sitting in the sun and snow and drinking our glühwein.  Who could ask for anything more?

      Well, how about a terrific steakhouse called Asador to cap off a perfect day in the country with a perfect meal....

forget butter, try olive oil with salt and pepper added
 to dip your bread - goes well with red wine

      Or, maybe a car that "starts where others stop?"

another Bentley

or maybe a Bugatti?

this would be my choice if I had the bucks

Friday, January 25, 2013

Come to the Cabaret...

...or: Am I in the wrong theater?

orchestra integrated with stage set
     What to make of the performance of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld we attended last night at the Berlin Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater? I've seen reviews that hailed this production as something of a fresh breeze blowing away the stuffiness and stodginess that this operetta has become. I don't know about all this stuffiness business, but sitting in the theater I soon noticed that the sound was a little funny. It sounded canned. We were sitting in the front row of the balcony. I noticed that there was no orchestra pit. The small orchestra was at the back of the stage. When the show started, we were close enough to notice that the singers were wearing pick up microphones on the side of their faces. That accounted for the funny sound. The singers' voices were amplified by loudspeakers on the walls of the theater...and not very well mixed. Strike One!

     This production is billed, by the Staatsoper, as “an operetta in an unusual shape - without a large orchestra, but with combo sounds and absurd wit. The absurd and witty reworking of the libretto by Thomas Pigor and arrangement for small orchestra by Israel Christoph bring the disrespect of the original work to the full extend.” This is all well and good, perhaps, if you are presenting the “reworked” operetta in a music hall or cabaret. But if, like me, you expect to hear opera in a State Opera House with the music fully intact and not a cabaret night club act full of “reworked” dialogue and comic patter that you don't understand, you might not be totally charmed by this bringing of “the disrespect of the original work to the full extend.” Question: if the original work was so disrespectful, why did it have to be reworked? Strike Two!

cast, conductor and orchestra taking their bows
                   With the shrinking of the orchestra, comes the “shrinking” of the music, especially the removal of the overture. I realize the overture was added later; still, I go to hear music not a stand up comedy act. I love stand up comedy and cabaret shows, but in their proper venues. If I go to an opera I expect to hear music, too much of which was missing from this “reworking” of Orpheus in the Underworld at the Staatsoper im Shiller. Strike Three!

    If you want disrespect, get a DVD of Liza Minnelli in the great movie Cabaret.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Photo impressions around Berlin, Winter 2013

our S-Bahn stop Savignyplatz
40 Euro fine ticket
      Berlin has turned out to be a bit of a bummer. As I look back on my posts since our arrival at Frankfurt Flughafen they seem to be mostly a catalogue of bitches and gripes: screwed up trains, language dustups, physical injury and, last but not least, today we got pinched on the S-bahn for not having a properly stamped train ticket and got fined 40 Euros each. Well, at 70 Euros each for a monthly train pass, we still got off cheap.

Schloss Cecilienhof
Churchill, Truman, Stalin in Potsdam

   The weather has been uncooperative as well. The skies have been uniformly gray almost the whole time we have been here (since January 10), there has been quite a bit of show and temperatures remain stubbornly at or below 0 degrees centigrade.       

     Nevertheless, we have intrepidly gone out and about town taking daily walks. We took a day trip to Potsdam yesterday for a little more walking and sightseeing. I was especially interested in seeing the venue for the Potsdam Conference among the "Big Three" powers (Churchill, Truman and Stalin) to discuss the fate of Germany and Japan in 1945 at Schloss Cecilienhof, an early 20th Century palace that was spared the allied bombing of the rest of Potsdam. 

Unter den Linden
Brandenburg Gate
     Of course my camera was ever with me and following are a few photos of my impressions going about in Berlin. You will notice that only one photo shows blue sky--a rarity during out stay here. We are off to a Berlin Philharmonic concert tonight and off to Prague next week on Monday. 

guarding US Embassy, not the Tor

 the Wall is an open air gallery, this is one of the paintings
Jewish Holocaust Memorial

section remaining of the Berlin Wall

another painting on the Wall with graffiti

souvenirs at end of the Wall

love hotel? -- across the street from the Wall

this drab station was in old East Berlin

Schloss Charlottenburg Palace, [only blue sky photo]

flea market in Tiergarten

Schloss Charlottenburg statuary 
Burger KIng in Tiergarten

Lion Bridge in Tiergarten

sign seen at U-Bahn entrance 

photo on subway wall near
Brandenburg Gate

portico of Sans Souci Palace in Potsdam

swans bottom feeding in fountain
at Sans Souci Palace

BigThree conference room in Schloss Cecilienhof


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lasciate ogni speranza.....

January 17, 2013 - Don Giovanni cast curtain call at Deutsche Oper, Berlin

signs reads "Abandon all hope"
Michael Volle
     Abandon all who enter here reads the inscription over the gate to Inferno (hell) in Dante's Divine Comedy. It was also the theme of last night's production of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. The title role played to perfection as a world-weary dissipated looking Don with strong undertones of sadomasochism by Michael Volle a veteran baritone with a perfect combination of power, depth and even sweetness in his voice.

Alex Esposito
     The stage set, in keeping with the frugal spending habits of opera companies in these economic hard times, is, at the outset, less than minimalist—it is threadbare. Costumes look like cheap, off the rack, contemporary outfits. But what the set lacks in expensive costumes and scenery, is more than made up for in the energy of the performers. This is a very kinetic opera with the chorus going through all kinds of antics and semi-dance and acrobatic actions. There is a lot of broad farcical gesturing dripping with sexual innuendo including pedophilia. Yet it is curiously mechanical, almost detached from human experience, yet uproariously funny. Alex Esposito as Leporello is especially effective as a stage comedian with just the right touch of flippancy and lechery in his voice and actions and some surprisingly agile acrobatics.

Donald Runnicles
       As the overture, ably led by Donald Runnicles, wanes, the chorus emerges slowly from total darkness downstage into partial shadow moving upstage—one at a time at first and then in twos and threes and then small groups until they fill the stage. They all represent Leporello, the Don's manservant. The question “will the real Leporello please stand up” popped into my mind. The opening lines are performed by the whole chorus instead of with a lone Leporello singing solo. Echos of this multiple male characters imagery continues throughout the production.

      Patricia Cioffi's Donna Anna was flawless in her aria Non mi dir, and Yosep Kang was one of the better Don Ottavio's who, unfortunately, had one of his arias, Il mio tesoro, taken out of this performance. I was looking forward to hearing him try this most difficult of tenor arias.

      A notable scene occurred in the final act at Don Giovanni's supper. The table, the Don (as Jesus Christ) and twelve of the chorus singers were arranged in a tableau parodying Leonardo da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper.

Don Giovanni's Last Supper

     All in all a very original, thought provoking and successful production of Don Giovanni. Mozart the iconoclast would have approved I think.

Silke Sense


Don Giovanni
Donna Anna
Don Ottavio
The Commendatore
Donna Elvira

Note: All photos [except the top one] are publicity photos taken from the Deutsche Oper web site.