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The Music of Prague, Budapest and Vienna
June 14-July 6, 2005
by Olga Nespole

Our first musical outing in Prague sent us to the State Opera House to discern whether any tickets were available for the time we were in the area. Lucky us! We were able to obtain tickets for Turandot. The opera house itself is quite a jewel. Every inch is decorated with hand-painted scenes and sculptures reminiscent of La Fenice in Venice. Turandot was a solid performance but nothing really outstanding. Turandot was sung by Eva Depoltova and Calaf by Igor Jen. Both are well known in the Czech Republic and were well received by the audience.

A highlight of our visit to Prague was a private concert in the Dvorak Museum, formerly the composer's home. Excellent 18th-century-costumed musicians and singers performed many of his works, including The Cunning Peasant, Rusalka ("Song to the Moon"), The Stabat Mater (inspired by the death of his three children) and The Gypsy Melodies.

In Budapest, the opera season had ended, but we made sure we obtained a tour of the Hungarian State Opera House. Its beautifully detailed painted scenes and sculptures are awe-inspiring. Overall, a very decided Turkish influence is evident.

The Hungarian National Orchestra, consisting of about 100 tuxedoed musicians, began the free summer outdoor concert series by playing to a large crowd in the very impressive Heroe's Square. Here we witnessed something very clever: six foot high cardboard structures, intricately assembled and promptly disassembled, were provided for the many hundreds of us in the audience to act as 18 inch sitting-stools. We could learn from them!

The next night, we went again to the Heroe's Square to hear a free concert by none other than Lionel Ritchie. This time there were 200,000 people assembled. The immense crowd was extremely enthusiastic, and we felt wonderfully safe strolling among them at midnight.

Vienna's last opera of the season was scheduled for the evening we arrived in the city by train from Budapest. We were excited to hear that Placido Domingo was going to sing Parsifal, but very disappointed to learn that the opera was sold out. Even tickets for the more than 300 standing room spaces were gone! However, as in the other two cities we visited, we were determined to see the opera house itself and again took a tour. There were several tours of the opera house occurring at the same time, each in a different language, and all orchestrated so that one didn't conflict with the others. The Vienna State Opera House is indeed a jewel. The Emperor and Empress suite in particular is magnificent, restored to its 18th-century splendor. There were Gobelin tapestries with opera scenes abounding and busts of the leading composers and conductors of the past 100 years. Outstanding!

We also attended a concert by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. Thirty first-class musicians and renowned singers regaled us for 2 1/2 hours in the fabulous Golden Hall (Musikverein). The following evening found us in a huge park, the Vienna City Hall Plaza, attending the first night of the free Vienna Film Festival and listening to the London Philharmonic Symphony and Anna Netrebko performing in concert.

Not only will we long remember the music enjoyed during this trip but also the artistic and architectural beauty found in the castles, museums and cathedrals which were beyond our imagination and should be seen by all.

(SJOG Newsletter August, 2005 Issue)

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