Staatsoper, Wien

October 6, 2006

Somehow it was only on reflection that we realised how perfect the performance was, on the night of 3rd October 2006, of Mozart’s most ambiguous and dramatically difficult but most musically perfect opera, The Magic Flute. Of course it’s well known that The Magic Flute changes course mid-way: the putative villain — Sarastro — becomes the saviour figure, and all of that, as though either Schikaneder or Mozart had said, late in the piece, “Hey, hang on….”. But none of that matters. In a great performance, all the incongruities fade away in the face of music of such perfection. It was G.B. Shaw, no less, who said that the music Mozart composed for Sarastro was the only sound one could with decency imagine issuing from the mouth of God.

So it was two nights ago. With a perfect orchestra, faultless singing and the effortless but commanding direction of Alfred Eschwe we experienced virtually the perfect performance. All the bits fell into place and complemented and reinforced each other with a sweetness and felicity that can only be imagined from recordings. And the audience’s applause seemed never-ending.

[This is not a case of being Vienna-struck. Tonight we went to a performance of The Marriage of Figaro at the Volksoper, about which the less said, the better, at least for now.]

Now, the Staatsoper itself — the venue, not merely the seat of performance. Well, Old Europe was there in strength, dripping with jewels and fine fabrics, men and women both, old and (surprisingly, at least to us) young. Wearing the wealth and heritage of hundreds of restless years with effortless and invisible style, they managed to impale us — the non-European parvenus, the un-dinner dressed — without moving a single muscle of their faces. Like watching an outraged cat: you wonder how they do it. Their disgust and revulsion were the more eloquent for being silent. They hated us, all right, just for being there, for interloping, for being able to jostle with them for a place at the bar — their bar. Perhaps they abhorred us not for simply being, but for not even trying while we were about it. Did we have to turn up in jeans, speaking English?

I could see their point. Indeed, you had to both admire and pity them. Theirs is a Europe which is no more — and perhaps never was, except for them and theirs. But without them and theirs there never would have been a Staatsoper in Vienna, and no patrons for to sponsor young Mozart through to immortality, and no audiences like us to write what I just wrote about the impossiblity of matching the experience of two nights ago unless one goes again to Vienna, to the Staatsoper, and to another performance of one of Mozart’s deathless masterpieces.

Oh, and Vienna is sensual. The streets and buildings breathe it somehow. Even the tramcars are sensual, sliding around on their silver tracks, butting against the stop signs. The women are foot-, earth- and heart-stopping. You never saw such grace and elegance. At least I never did, even in Italy. (The guys are ordinary enough, however.)



  1. Maybe you’re just biased against the fellers, Rob.

  2. No it’s an empirical truth coolly observed and arrived at, sl. btw, Eastern European keyboards are laid out differently to ours, as I am currently discovering. Where is the z

  3. Yair the umlaut is a pain in the butt too. I remember lots of fun in German internet cafes with that one.

  4. I have an English keyboard in the hotel I am currently at in Poland, but cannot compose any new posts for some stupid no doubt technical reason totally unrelated to me personally. Such things I’d like to say, too — mostly about the crimes of Stalin, naturally, which somehow take on a new and special resonance when you’re camped across the road from one his monuments to himself, erected by his grateful and adoring people.

  5. BTW Rob, we had a server crash and the old ‘badanalysis’ link no longer works. You’ll need to stop by http://catallaxyfiles.com/

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