|Prague’s State Opera House|
Looking back, it seems inevitable that our visits to Prague and Vienna would heavily involve classical performances. Yet, prior to our departure, we had only purchased tickets to the Don Quixote ballet at the State Opera House in Prague for the evening of our arrival. We soon took advantage of the many musical offerings in these two old Austrian-Hungarian Empire cities.
At the ballet, I tried to dress up my very basic travel clothes with a scarf and small necklace of pearls but the black walking shoes and rain jacket gave me away. Suits and high heels surrounded us. Fortunately, in the dark we could enjoy the performance of Don Quixote in a gilded gold and red concert hall. After the performance, we were introduced to clapping the European way. Crowds don’t just politely tap a hand. Lengthy plaudits continued for three curtain calls and flowers for the principals. And, no one left – no rushing to the exists to beat the crowd.
Prague has a long history of promoting the musical talent of its youth. Thanks to a musical education system within villages surrounding Prague in the 18th century, the best musicians from rural areas were hired by the nobility or taken into the Church to further pursue their education. That emphasis continues today in even their poorest schools thanks to local foundations.
The city has also long had a love relationship with Mozart who rejoiced in his celebrity status here. The first performance of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” ended with one-half hour of applause and his “Don Giovanni” was written for and debuted in Prague. On the streets today are young men dressed as Mozart, handing out pamphlets promoting organ, trumpet and string quartet concerts throughout the day at different venues which are many.
Here’s just one day’s offerings. In Prague, on June 5th, there were eight classical music concerts, including works of Dvorak, Mozart, Stauss and Vivaldi, two operas performing Verdi’s Rigoletto and Dvorak’s Rusalta, and one jazz concert. Performances were in churches, opera houses, museums, Lobkowicz Palace, and the Municipal House, the city’s foremost Art Nouveau building. Granted, some of the concerts were for the benefit of tourists only but on that same day in Dallas, a city of equivalent size, only the Dallas Symphony was performing at a park. Most American cities struggle to support one opera house but Prague has two beautiful, well-used opera venues.
We happened onto an organ concert at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, celebrating the first World Organ Day, originating out of Notre Dame’s 850th anniversary in Paris and being duplicated in 850 cathedrals and concert halls worldwide. This chilly church was begun in 1344 and only finished in 1929. It is so cold inside that the archbishop is considering installing heated bench cushions. We shivered through a performance by four of Prague’s top young organists, enjoying the venue for which the organ was created – high stone ceilings and walls, the better to reverberate finales from the large reed pipes.
|Vienna’s State Opera House|
The music tour continued with an unexpected but welcomed attendance at the Vienna State Opera for a modern day production of La Traviata. Our travel clothes still couldn’t keep pace with the glitter of the locals who make up 60% of attendees. The crowd knew their opera singers and some were favored, including the American, Thomas Hampson. Once again, they gave a hearty applause at the end and about half rose for the ovation. Many remained seated, an indication the performance was very good but not at the standing ovation level.
Our last classical music exposure surprised us all. At the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass in the mini-cathedral of St. Augustine, the church’s own orchestra, choir, solists and organ performed Franz Schubert’s Mass in G Major. In small towns, culture is often carried by church choirs, and we experienced from whence this tradition came. Despite the service being in German, all were lifted up by the sung Agnus Dei, Sanctus, and powerful Alleluias. Many remained for the organ postlude which resulted in ……… (no surprise) ……. strong clapping at the end.
It is easy to observe what music is valued in a community by the offerings. Paris often has country western concerts, bluegrass performances, and even acoustical guitar singers at That Guy’s Coffee. The Dallas Symphony only gets as close as Greenville. For Prague and Vienna, centuries of classical music training and education continue to result in bountiful performances of high quality, benefitting tourists and locals alike. The truth is “surround sound” still can’t compete with live music, particularly if it’s before an audience who knows how to show their appreciation.