Tag Archives: music

A Night at the Opera

12 Jul

My 12th challenge on my #40Before40 list is to go to the Opera. I admit that this is not the most difficult of challenges: find an opera that you want to see, book the tickets and go and see it. But, like so many things, unless it is on a list of things to do, it ends up getting forgotten about and never being done. That is one of the reasons that it was on my list. If it is on the list it HAS to get done.

The other reason it was on my list was that, when I was in Vienna last year, I went to see a Mozart concert in the famous Vienna State Opera. The concert was a mixture of classical symphony music plus opera. Although I had no idea what the opera singers were talking about, I found the performance completely amazing. So, I thought it might be a good idea to see a whole performance and experience that.

I booked the tickets to go and see Carmen at the very start of the year and didn’t really pay much attention to the details. The day before the performance I realised that it was sung in French (but the story is set in Spain) and the performance lasted for three and a half hours. If you have been following my blog for a while, you may have picked up on my hatred of films that are longer than two and a half hours because, and you can quote me on this “if you can’t tell me a story within two and a half hours, I’m not interested”. Before we had even made it to the Opera, I was worried about falling asleep half way through it.

I have only ever seen Zürich Opera House from the outside but the inside is even more impressive. It is ornately decorated and is really well-maintained. I had always had the misconception that Opera tickets were hugely expensive and weren’t worth the price. I did buy the cheapest tickets and the view was a little bit restricted but it was a good experience anyway. I was also a bit surprised by the audience: some had got dressed up like it was London Fashion Week, some were really young and looked like they were also there for the first time, and there were some who you could clearly see were regulars.

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In the end I didn’t really notice how long the performance was because I was so engrossed in the story line. The story is about a love triangle and at the heart of it is Carmen, a feisty gypsy woman. Of course, it ends up in tragedy.

I still can’t fully comprehend how they manage to sing like that for such a long period of time. I was also slightly surprised that I did know some of the songs. I think a few of them have been used for television theme tunes over the years and some how I never thought that it was a operatic song. The staging of the story was also really interesting. The set was very minimalist but they still managed to transform the stage into a bar and a smugglers’ den at night.

I picked up a brochure of the operas and events that are on at the Opera house this season and I am very tempted to go again at some point later in the year.

That is another challenge struck off the list. As I said, it wasn’t the hardest challenge on the list but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

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Vienna: Days 10 and 11

25 Aug

On Wednesday morning I was back in the school. Although it has only been less than 2 weeks that I have been in Vienna, I have definitely got into a routine that works well. I normally leave at 8.10am and take the underground for about 12 stops and then I walk for 10 minutes to school. At the beginning this was a lot longer. Somehow I managed to take a longer route but on the way back I noticed that I could make a few shortcuts.

In the conversation class we were talking about the preconceptions or clichés that exist for different countries. Everyone in the class is from a different country so it makes it really interesting when we have discussions about how things are different in our homelands. The different nationalities are: English, Swiss (from the Italian part), Slovakian, Russian, Czech, Italian, Iranian, Ukrainian, Polish and Japanese. I am not sure if you could get a more diverse group of people if you tried. Some of the other students are staying in Vienna for a longer time, some are here while looking for jobs and others don’t really know what they are doing!

In the intensive course there were only two of us because none of the other people turned up for the class. We did a funny exercise where we start to write a story. I had to write a thriller and the other person wrote a love story. After we had started the story we had to swap and finish the other person’s story. I was quite surprised at how good my writing was. The language wasn’t very sophisticated but it made sense. I think it was better some of my writing in English to be honest!

In the afternoon I was treated to more “excellent” Austria customer service. This time at the hairdresser. The hairdressers here are a fraction of the price that they are in Switzerland and also cheaper than at home. I was left waiting for more than 20 minutes. I was about to leave when they came over to wash my hair. They then put some intensive conditioning treatment on my hair and left me with my head in the backwash for about 15 minutes. It is bad enough having your head in these backwash sinks for the time it takes them to wash your head but after 15 minutes I was in agony. Again I was ready to walk out with wet hair. There was no apology or embarrassment. I think that this is just normal customer service here.

In the evening I had bought a ticket to a Mozart concert at the Vienna Opera House. I got a 50% discount with the language school so I managed to get a seat 8 rows from the stage for 25 Euros. It was a really good view of what was going on on the stage. The concert was a series of excepts of Mozart’s works. There was an orchestra and two opera singers. The conductor was a bit of a smug bastard but I guess that he was playing the part of Mozart well.

The concert was only for 2 hours but I could have stayed there all night. At the beginning it was a bit like being at a pop concert when the band play songs from their new album that you don’t really know and all you want them to do is to play the greatest hits. It is incredible that some of these songs were written in the 1700s and they are still loved all over the world today.

After school on Thursday I decided to have an art afternoon. I went to Schloss Belvedere and saw an exhibition of Gustav Klimt, who I didn’t realise was Austria until I arrived here. The exhibition was called Klimt and the Erotic Encounters. Some of the art wasn’t too far from being pornographic. Shocked would be a good word to describe my reaction. There was an exhibition in Kunsthalle, Zurich which had a part of Japanese erotic art. These paintings were in a sealed off rooms and there was a person on the door who was checking that only over 18s were admitted. Maybe Austrians are more liberal in this respect.

Later I went to visit the Hundertwasser Museum. The museum is home to the art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who was one of the most, if not the most, significant Austrian artists of the 20th century. I only came across his work when one of my German teachers gave me some of his pictures to use in an exercise to improve my ability to make descriptions. The museum is full of his work and it is interesting to see some of the projects that he worked on during his life. There was also a photography exhibition of a Canadian photographer called Edward Burtynsky on the subject of water. The photos show how the effect of humankind is affecting water sources. He uses drones as well as standard cameras to make impressive landscape pictures.

In the evening I went for a quick run and then packed. Tomorrow is the last day of school and I fly back to Switzerland and my own bed.

Trends on the train

13 Mar

I have noticed a trend that I find quite worrying on public transport. Or should I say completely irritating rather than worrying?

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Lately I have seen several people on the train using their phones. OK, slightly irritating but mobile phone are so-called because people want to be mobile when they are using them. This I can cope with. What I can’t cope with is people using FaceTime during the journey. On one occasion I saw someone doing this without headphones.

I’m not quite sure what would possess anyone to do this. Zürich is very international and I completely understand that people might want to contact their loved ones in another time zones before it gets to late but why do this on a train packed full of commuters who just want to sit in silence, read the free paper and get home?

If it really is that important to speak to someone via FaceTime on your commute then why not stay behind at work for 10 minutes? Find a meeting room and have a chat with you nearest and dearest in private without strangers listening in to your conversation.

It is infuriating enough to hear one side of a phone conversation on public transport let alone being able to hear little Benjamin or Florence’s excitable shrieks in response to daddy’s questions about how their day at nursery was.I don’t know how social norms come into existence but, in my opinion, this is the opposite of both social and normal.

I even saw a man in the supermarket who was watching a TV series on his phone while shopping. The reason it caught my attention was that he wasn’t using any earphones. He was lholding up the device to his ear to listen to what was happening and not watching what was happening on his screen. If you are really so busy that you can’t sit down and watch the acting (which must be a fundamental of the show or it would just be done on the radio and would save the producers a lot of money) then you shouldn’t even bother.

Even more irritating for me is when someone sit near to me on the train and the music that they are listening via headphones to is so loud that I can hear all of the lyrics of the song. Of course this is irritating but, for me, there is added cause for concern. I used to work for a hearing aid manufacturer and I know the amount of damage that can be done to the ear when it is exposed to loud noise over a prolonged period of time. The ear is a very fragile organ and needs to be protected. The ear didn’t evolve with the intention of having a ear bud shoved down it and Justin Bieber on full blast.

I am never sure if I should politely lean over to my fellow passenger and explain that they might be doing some harm to their ears but I’m not sure if they would be able to hear me or, perhaps more tragic, if they would care about my friendly advice.

I appreciate that I might sound like a bit of a bore but private conversations are called private for a reason. And you might get a few less angry stares from your fellow passengers on the 17.31 if we can all hear a little less of Justin Bieber.

Another Sunday evening…

19 Feb

Why is it that the weeks drag and the weekends go too fast? It is Sunday evening already and soon I will preparing my lunch for tomorrow and getting my bag packed for Monday morning and the 6am wake up call. I sort of feel like the weekend has been a bit of a waste. I don’t really feel like I have done anything, although that is not strictly true.

On Friday evening, I went to see Mary Poppins the musical. I think it is the first time that I have been to see a musical in around two decades. To begin with I was a little bit disappointed because the plot of the musical is not like the film at all. Obviously, I understand that there are somethings that you just can’t do on stage that you can do with a film that is ended and not performed live but fundamental part of the story were changed.

For example, Mrs Bank is not a suffragette fightinhgfor women to get the vote; she is instead a woman who is chastised by her husband because she is basically good for nothing. I am not sure that P. L. Travers would approve about this change to the character.

However, the performance was fantastic. The hairs literally stood up on my neck when the first song began. The set and scenery was inspired. The cast were so talented. Not only did they have to sing, dance and act but they also tap danced. I mean, who learns to tap dance these days? It seems like a bit of an antiquated craft that doesn’t have a lot of use in the 21st century unless you happen to be appearing in a West End musical.

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As I left the theatre I wondered if my life had gone astray a bit. Here I was completely entertained by complete strangers, completely in awe of their talents and the woman who played Mary Poppins was so “practically perfect in every way” that I thought I was watching Julie Andrews in the original film. I have a new heroine to look up to. It made me wonder how people can end up in jobs where they spread so much joy and I spend most of the week looking at spreadsheets and adding up numbers. I don’t ever remember “Star of a West End musical” being a career’s option at school when we had career days and I am not sure that would have interested me back then anyway. But hindsight is wonderful thing.

Everyone has different talents though. The cast might be able to tap dance but can they do a vlookup or a Sumifs formula in Excel? Possibly not. Possibly they wouldn’t be interesting in learning something like that anyway.

I wonder if the cast of these productions ever feel the way we feel about going back to our everyday jobs on a Monday. Perhaps Mary is sitting in her dressing room now thinking “Oh my god, I have to sing A Spoonful of-bloody-Sugar AGAIN today. It’s the tenth time this week”. I guess we all get stuck into a routine at some point and think that the grass is greener on the other side.

Although it would be amazing to have to find my umbrella that makes me fly on a Sunday night for the next day, I will stick to finding my badge to getting me in the revolving doors at the office. For now…

 

 

Politics and Pop Music

10 Nov

I woke up this morning wondering if what happened yesterday was some sort of dream or a virtual reality Hollywood movie that had mysteriously found its way into my flat. It just didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t. In case you didn’t catch the news yesterday, I am talking about the results of the US presidential electionclipart-ballot-fn0n3v-clipart and the news that Donald Trump will soon be moving into the White House.

I can imagine that many Americans took the news as I took the news of British Brexit vote back on 24th June. Shocked, appalled, complete disbelief are some of the adjectives I can use but somehow they don’t even quite cover it. With Brexit I also had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and, as the implications of what might and might not be, sunk in the feeling grew and grew throughout the day.

I am not so melodramatic to say that I felt the same feeling yesterday than I did when Brexit happened. On one side I had no right to vote so, in a sense, nothing that I could say or do would make any difference to the outcome of the vote and, on the other side, I think to a certain degree the political events of 2016 have desensitized me slightly. Now, nothing is impossible.

There are lots of similarities between Brexit and the US elections. The most worrying parallel is that both of the campaigns were centred on the negatives, on hate and on fear. Playing on peoples’ fears will always stir up strong emotions and the protagonist will hope that this fear will sway the voter to see there point of view. So much in both campaigns was made about immigration and foreign workers. This is a far too simplified view. Immigrants can bring immense advantages and often are not immigrants just to take from the country that they have emigrated to. I should know this as I am also an immigrant, expat, whatever you want to call me.

Where is the positivity? I remember campaigns where hope and promise of new beginnings was at the forefront of campaigning, not instilling fear into the nation so that votes are cast on irrational emotions and not on the facts or reasonable assumptions.

It might seem like a crazy comparison but I think the negativity of political campaigning is directly proportional to the demise of popular chart music in the Western world. No really, hear me out!

In the 80s and 90s we had hope that our politicians would deliver a better future and they urged us to vote on the basis of hope for the future and not fear of what might happen if we voted for the other guy. The chart music in the 90s also instilled us with hope. It told us, young girls, that there is a young man out there who will tell you he loves you and want to be with you forever and ever (in fact, sometimes forever wasn’t enough). You didn’t need to settle for second best; you would find someone who loves you and deserves you.

These days pop music is about twerking and bae riding in your pimped up car. There is no lyrical indication of the complex emotions that come with relationships, love and heartbreak.

Ok so maybe this is just a coincidence. But I think that it is definitely worth making a social experiment, or even a commitment, to bring back the sentiments and depth (a relative term!) of music from yesteryear  to see if my theory has any legs at all. If it doesn’t improve the vibes of electioneering, then at least we will have better music than we have today.