Apr. 26th, 2014

allochthonous: (Default)
Full of glee because I achieved my Azerbaijan visa (no mean feat) and my Georgian work permit today, so I am all set to get back home next week. Vienna is nice and all and has good cake and drinkable coffee, but I am missing khachapuri.

For reasons of misplaced cultural enthusiasm I ended up this evening at a performance of Hamlet at the Burgtheater which I think is effectively the Austrian equivalent of the National. What I did not realise was that this was entirely uncut, although the 5.30 start time should perhaps have tipped me off; we didn't get out until 11. Bum-numbing qualities aside,  it was actually pretty good (well, Hamlet and Gertrude and weirdly, Rosencratz, were excellent; everyone else sort of so-so and they did some weird thing where a different actor played Ophelia when she was mad which I thought was just odd) with a  young Hamlet which makes him so much less tiresome (he still is fairly tiresome, but I find it way more forgivable when played by a 20-something as opposed to a pushing-40, which seems standard in the UK these days), and a slightly bizarre set like the interior of a sad 1980s conference centre, but five and a half hours of Hamlet is generally far more Hamlet than anyone needs.

But the final scene was entirely worth the preceding five hours as after all that Serious Acting everyone let rip: I've never seen such stupendously histrionic death agonies. The duel was great, which it isn't always, but was totally overshadowed by Gertrude rolling around on the floor behind them while Hamlet wasn't going to let deadly poison prevent him from emitting earsplitting shrieks between every line. Meanwhile Claudius sort of stood around forgetting to act until it was time to die and then he collapsed tenderly into Osric's arms, and then young Fortinbras came in and giggled like a psycopath and beat up Horatio. It was superb.
allochthonous: (spirit)
Going to a concert in Vienna is pretty much obligatory, even if you manage to avoid being mobbed in Stefansplatz by all those students dressed as Mozart, so I grabbed a last-minute ticket for a performance of The Messiah which did at least promise to be in English. I assumed it would be a standard concert setup, but apparently this isn't weird enough for Austria, and it turned out to be an arrangement into a kind of operetta that told a story which was not the one you might expect from the libretto, and in fact I never quite worked out what it was.
After a while I found it worked better when I thought of it as a random selection of possibly improvised scenes which included the soloists crashing a funeral to sing at people,  "The People that Walked in Darkness" delivered to the accompaniment of the singer vigorously thumping a coffee vending machine, and "How Beautiful are the Feet of Them" sung at an actual pair of feet, and occasionally a lady wandered on and signed part of the libretto and wandered off again,and the final scene involved the chorus building an enormous tower of chairs in the middle of the stage. None of this particularly mattered, as the singing was gorgeous, even when it had to be done from a slightly odd position (stiff competition with last night's Hamlet in the writhing around on the floor stakes; full credit to the bass soloist for managing most of the beginning of "The Trumpet Shall Sound" in this way), and the countertenor and tenor in particular were sublime. Fantastic orchestra as well, taking it at a good pace (I like my Messiahs zippy) and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Future Messiahs without drunk funeral-crashing will be so disappointing.

That said, I think I'm going to make cake the focus of my final few days in town, as it appears to be reliably less surreal than the arts.


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