Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, July 04, 2010


I have a purpose today and feel much better, thank you. We did not take the Autobahn to Bayreuth, our next stop since were only about a 100 km away. Since Bayreuth falls into the ‘theme’ of Opera, the theme we had for the last few weeks, it makes sense to visit. We rode a winding, pastoral road to Bayreuth and arrived by midday.
Part of Bavaria, Bayreuth is world renown for the yearly Wagnerian Festspiele. In fact, the Opera built for and by Richard Wagner is not an opera, per say, but a Festspiel house.
This Festspielhaus, yes, it is an Opera, specifically built for Wagnerian Opera ( is part of Bayreuth. It is the holy shrine of Wagnerian Opera. Nothing else plays at this Festspielhaus, only Wagnerian Opera. If all this sounds strange, it is. Compare it to having an opera built just to hear Mozart’s Operas. Weird, but such is the case with Richard Wagner. I am not sure I understand all of the implications but those are the facts.
I decided to visit Bayreuth and see this place for myself.
Checking in with our friends, the Info center people, we found an affordable hotel, the Hotel Weihenstefan, just outside the center of everything. Close enough for us to walk to the bus depot and to visit the city and attractions Bayreuth has to offer. We parked our bikes in the back of the hotel next to the kitchen, secure and away from public view. The space was tight but we managed to get the bikes close together and away from the kitchen traffic, too.
The hotel Weihenstefan is an old place, not very posh yet Weihenstefan has been making beer since the year 1040. Weihenstefan is the oldest brewery in the world still making beer every day. I am not sure if our hotel had some connection with the brewery specifically, but since we were in an old place with the name Weihenstefan in its name, there might be some connections.
The beer certainly was good and the ratings given by others are excellent.
For the afternoon, we decided to walk the town. The Info center gave us a city map and with that, we were all set. Our first stop is the Margrave Opera, a building built in 1748 in an all-wood construction in the most decorated Baroque style I have seen. Gold leaf decorated everything. There were audience boxes for the elite and common floor space for the paupers. I could truly feel the atmosphere of the place, the old set up certainly adds to the feeling of authenticity. This is an opera house as they should be, as they used to be, very festive and formal.
We were the only visitors and had the place for ourselves. I sang an aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute from near center stage but no applause followed. Carol then sang Skinamarink and even though the acoustics were phenomenal, the thunderous applause could not be heard. Bummer! Maybe we picked the wrong song; it could not have been our voices, could it?
This Margrave building is wonderful. Nominated as a world heritage building by UNESCO, it needs to be preserved.
Going back to our hotel we had a pizza/pasta dinner and then watched, along with many others Germany play Ghana in the 2010 World Soccer cup. Since Germany lost the last game against Serbia they would be out of the competition should they lose! The tension was high. Young people had their faces painted with small German flags. Grownups drove past us with flags mounted on their cars. Honking and blaring their horns when Germany scored a goal. When Germany won with a 2 to 1 win, everybody cheered and the mood, helped by all the alcohol consumed, made for a noisy affair. Carol used her earplugs to sleep that night. It was fun, it was nice to see the pride and the good time everybody had. I could have done without the flag waving, but so be it.
The next morning we decided to visit the Festspielhaus.
The bus depot, I read, is important because to visit the Festspielhaus you need to take the bus. Sitting on the ‘Hügel’ (hill) a bit outside of town, in the middle of a small park, the Festspielhaus had closed when we got there because rehearsals were scheduled. Yes, we tried to sneak into the building but we had no luck. Caught in the act and after receiving a small reprimand, we were back outside. No matter, just seeing the general layout of the place, its surroundings and the scenery for various Operas stacked outside, made me realize that Bayreuth is for connoisseurs, for Wagnerian fans. The seats inside the building, I heard, are very uncomfortable for the performances. Some performances run for over three or 4 hours. I wanted to see all of this myself but it seems not everything is going my way. I took some pictures of the Festspielhaus from the outside, including some of the stage backdrops. We walked around the surrounding park of the Festspielhaus a bit and, naturally, took some pictures of the statue of Wagner, too.
I did not realize, but found out while photographing Wagner’s bust, that Franz Liszt was the son in law of Richard Wagner. Oh, how much I do not know about the world.
After the ‘visit’ of the Festspielhaus, Carol wanted to visit the Hermitage. We took the bus. The royals of the area, in about 1717, a sister of the German Kaiser named Wilhelmina, improved the already existing Hunting lodge and a small zoo with, for the times, a revolutionary idea, a landscaped garden. This was the first such garden on the European continent and included water fountains, a temple dedicated to Apollo with gilded busts of 40 Roman Emperors, nymphs, stone gardens, a dragon grotto, Japanese temples, etc. Whatever the fantasy could create, was presented to us in statues and buildings, planned and spread throughout this garden. This is a huge layout, miles of walking trails and garden paths. We did what we could, even managed to see the hourly fountain display before we returned via bus, to Bayreuth proper.
On the way back, we stopped off at Wahnfried, the residence of Richard Wagner, the place where he wrote some of his music. The name Wahnfried is a strange name. Wahn translated means mentally deficient. Fried means peace. So a place where Wagner found inner piece from his mental burdens?
He certainly was a mental case. Yes, he was talented and he knew it. Constantly in debt, he was ruthless in begging and showing off his talent, all in order to get money. He used everybody, including the very young King of Bavaria, named Ludwig. The King was just 18 years old when Wagner met him. Wagner was the original egomaniac. Wagner was so conceited, so full of himself, that reason failed him. On the other hand, was he a product of his time? When I read some of the letters on display, they all sounded contrite to me. All of the writing was too fickle or considered inappropriate today. Talk of love, talk of heroes, talk of heroic actions, or self-denial, of wanting this, of poets and poetry, of false and real or overpowering music and a somewhat sheltered life. I read about a lifestyle long past that was in its own stratosphere. Reality, the daily grind, work in factories, sports were not part of the lifestyle of Wagner. He was like an orchid, living only in his protected world. It seemed to me he knew little, if nothing, about hard work and labor. He wrote drama plays, not opera. He wrote constantly, letters, opinions, music and his own lyrics. He lived in his own world, loved by some and hated by others. Having had a difficult youth, his father died a few months after his birth, he matured into a peculiar character. The critics then and now are many. His music however was new, was powerful, was loud and substantial. Even today, the overtures to his operas play like symphonies. Wagner was different, his house, the name he gave it, and all other things about him make the man for some people a demigod.
Right next to the Wahnfried house is the residence of Franz Liszt. He was another tortured soul. There was no question that Liszt was a superb pianist. Chopin and Liszt were equal in their dexterity and could display their emotions musically. While Chopin composed, Liszt played for the elite. So much so, that, after years of submitting himself to the whims of the few, Liszt burned out. Liszt was very religious. In fact, he became an ordained monk in his later years. That Liszt was the son in law of Wagner surprised me. I did not realize it but yes, all these musicians lived at the same time. Even Chopin, whom Liszt knew well (they even played fourhanded piano together or gave concerts), was a contemporary. I think I need to see a timeline of all composers.
The small museum in the Liszt house, packed with anecdotes of his life, again is for scholars. So much information is given that it becomes overwhelming. I just love the music of those men, and yes, I am trying to figure out what made them write, what made them compose, what made them so special. Could they write music the way I write sentences? Did they hear the music in their head before they wrote it down? Did they dream in music? Could they think musically? Why did we have so many composers at this time but none now? Sorry, I do not call Rap Music, music and I hate Techno Sounds. So what happened then? Why could Vivaldi just sit down and write music the way I write words? I find it amazing, maybe because I know nothing about music. I just know what I like to listen to, but cannot spell out to you why I like this piece and not that piece. Music is a mystery to me.
As a side note to the Wahnfried Museum, when we entered there was a showing of the life of Arturo Toscanini, the conductor. I did not come to Bayreuth to visit Toscanini or learn about his life but could not help myself. The exhibition showed the transition in music from live performances to performance for the record industry. The world certainly changed and playing the piano, as Liszt did most of his life, was no longer needed or interesting when you can hear music from a record. Toscanini was instrumental, pun intended, in working on this transition. The show certainly gave me ‘food for thought’.
After a day of searching the city for what it has to offer and taking in all these impressions I get tired out and there comes a point when I am too full of newness. I have had enough museums, parks, ideas, etc. Maybe I need to come back to Bayreuth once more to see other things but for today, this is it.

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