A Night at the Opera

April Johnson
March 30, 2017

One of the key reasons I chose to study abroad in Vienna is because it can arguably be called the classical music capital of the world. The influence of geniuses such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn radiate from the city. Working at a performing arts theatre at Harvard, I had come to appreciate classical music a lot more. When I was registering for my classes at IES Abroad, I knew that I for sure wanted to take at least one music class. I decided to take MS207, music in performance. Let me just take a minute to say that this class is awesome. Not only are you introduced to timeless masterpieces from operas, to string quartets, to symphonies and songs, but the professor is a PROFESSIONAL SINGER/MUSICIAN. It totally revolutionizes the classroom experience because in the middle of lecturing he will just sit at the piano and start playing the piece accompanied by a pitch perfect voice.

One of the requirements of this class is that you attend an opera or musical event in Vienna. I attended the performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Wiener Staatsoper. The production was conducted by Adam Fischer and directed by Jean-Louis Martinoty. Don Giovanni was played by Adam Plachetka, Donna Anna by Albina Shagimuratova, Don Ottavio by Saimir Pirgu, Donna Elvira by Olga Bezsmertna, and Leporello by Jongmin Park. The performance took place at the Vienna State Opera house. This was my first time attending an event at the Opera house (something you must do when in Vienna) and I was blown away by the capacity and design of the space. Everything seemed to be shining gold with a velvety red carpet to go along with it. It was also dazzling watching the guests come in, mostly dressed in impeccable suits with a matching bowtie while many women came in wearing fashionable dresses and beautiful shawls. It was interesting to see the contrast between the standing room wardrobe and those of the ones sitting in the lower levels, closer to the stage. I had my standing room spot in the balcony (for 3 euros!!), and only had to get into one minor argument to retain my rightfully claimed (via scarf) spot. The standing room was a mix of younger and older people, however; the seats were predominantly occupied by the elder generation. One issue with the sheer size and layout of the theatre is that there seems to be many spots with an obstructed view. My standing spot was centrally located and I still found trouble seeing the performers at times—particularly when they would be positioned at stage left

The opera opened with a blank stage and only the overture playing. This overture captured several qualities of the opera and served as an overview for what was to come. The overture was dramatic, serious, and playful, hinting at the nature of the opera as comedic, tragic, and over the top at times. Mozart wrote this opera buffa with Lorenzo da Ponte after the pair successfully completed and premiered The Marriage of Figaro. This work premiered in Prague where The Marriage of Figaro was even better received than in Vienna. Similarly, Don Giovanni had a largely successful premier in Prague, where the Mozart-Da Ponte duo had already achieved a celebrity type status

This production at the State Opera was difficult to appreciate because the standing room “seats” are not ideal for the length of operas. Most people in the area left during intermission, likely out of exhaustion of straining their necks to see and remaining standing throughout the entire duration. For me, what made it most difficult to enjoy the production, was the constant back and forth I went through to read the subtitles on my little, personal screen, while simultaneously trying to pay attention to what was going on, on the stage.

This was a unique and fascinating experience that I’m glad I got to have while in Vienna. For 3 euros, who could complain?

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April Johnson

<p>April is a junior at Harvard University studying Neurobiology and Astrophysics. When she is not in the lab or looking at the stars, she likes to force her friends to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack, get away to the beautiful beaches of Southern California, and plan spontaneous trips. April is studying in Vienna, Austria this spring to drink lots of coffee, learn some German, and finally learn how to Waltz.</p>

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