Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vienna: A City of Culture I

Vienna is known for its cultural attractions - especially music. December is the beginning of opera season, when people come from all over Europe. Last time I was here during the opera season, we were unable to get tickets, but this year we were lucky. We saw Verdi's Don Carlos, performed in Italian. I don't know what was more impressive - the performance or the opera house.

You must check out the Vienna Opera House, which was built in the mid 1800s. (For a special treat, check out the panoramic views available here.) It suffered bomb damage during World War II but was meticulously restored, with some modern safety and acoustical modifications. We had fantastic seats on the front row of the middle row of box seats toward the center. One really neat modern convenience was a small screen in front of each seat that translates the lyrics into the language of your choice - but can only be viewed from directly in front, so it is not a distraction.

Opera tickets are very expensive, but there are a large number of standing room only seats that are very reasonable. They become available the day before the performance, and people stand in line for hours to buy them. Although the opera audience is exceeding formal and polite, those in the standing sections are known to be more rowdy - showing enthusiastic appreciation of good performances and displeasure with poor performances. Since the most popular standing section was below us, I checked them out periodically, and they seemed to approve.

The opera lasted almost four hours with one long intermission, during which the opulent public rooms offered food and beverage for sale. We settled for a bottle of water and spent our time admiring the rooms and their occupants.

The opera orchestra is composed of members of the Vienna State Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the best in the world, and is as impressive as the singers themselves.

Music is to Vienna as football is to America. The streets of Vienna are full of street performers, but not the kind we are used to. You can see opera singers and violinists performing for tips - trying to earn a living until they can make it to the big time.

To be continued.

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