Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Symphony

When we arrived at the Rudolfinum Thursday night, we could see the crowd attending was elegantly dressed. I felt somewhat out of place in my frayed Dockers and black tennis shoes. We arrived early enough for Cherie to get a quick bite before the concert started.

The concert hall was gorgeous; a neo-classical paradise. The hall was somewhat smaller than I expected. It's like Israeli halls in that there is no middle aisle, but rather, you have to step over 15 people to get to the middle seats. Ours were in the sixth row, on the far left. They were wonderful. High over our heads (maybe six or seven stories) was an immense chandelier, and the upper balcony was rimmed with three story neo-classical columns. On the stage, behind the orchestra was a large organ with three story pipes and Paladian pediment.

The program was Offenbach. The first half featured selected areas from The Tales of Hoffmann, the same opera I saw in Berlin. This time, though, it was sung in German. The orcestra and the soloists were fantastic, particularly Marie Fajtova. Visibly pregant and in a tight, shimmering black dress and strikingly high heels, she brought down the house with "Song of Olympia" (the doll in Act 1). It was a far better performance than I had heard in Berlin.

At the Intermission, we all oohed and ahhed over the performances. I rushed out so as to be near the front of the line and bought us all glasses of prosecco. I don't know much about Offenbach, but I can hear a lot of similarities with Johan Strauss. Both have a strong waltz or dance element, though Offenbach generally comes across, at least to me, as somewhat "dreamier." There's a kind of wave-like quality to many of his melodies, as if one were lying on the deck of a boat that gently swayed to and fro.

In the second half, they did three selections from Orpheus in the Underworld, including the overture. I think we were all amazed to hear the "can-can" theme suddenly appear. The final selection was from La Belle Helene. In both the last two operas, the soloist I mentioned above appeared. It was clear that not only the audience but also the conductor, Ondrej Lenard, and the other musicians loved her. For the encore, all the soloists returned to the stage for a reprise of the "Can Can." As the audience started to clap in time, Lenard would turn around and direct us when to stop and when to start. It was very cute.

After the concert, we went out to eat. I thought the perfect conclusion would be a meal at the Municipal House cafe, with its ornate chandeliers and beaux artes facade. We had a lovely snack and then walked all the way back to the hotel.

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