Politics & Policy

Salzburg Souvenirs, Part III

Okay, Salzburgers, welcome to the third installment: this third installment of these scribbles about Mozart’s hometown, and its assorted doings. For Parts I and II, go here and here. Where were we? Doesn’t matter — I’ll just type.

One of the guests in our interview series is Christiane Karg, a young soprano — German. Specifically, she is from Bavaria, and I say, “Oh, you’re from ‘Grüss Gott’ country.” In southern Germany and Austria — in South Austro-Germany (though some will kill you if you say that) — they say “Grüss Gott.” In greeting, I mean. Elsewhere, they say “Guten Tag,” etc.

Anyway, Karg is a light, high lyric soprano — Amore (the character) in this year’s Orfeo ed Euridice (the opera by Gluck). And she makes a fascinating comment — fascinating to me, at least: Her favorite voice of all time is Pavarotti. Not a lyric soprano or other soprano, but Pavarotti. A lot of singers feel that way: I have ascertained that from many of them.

And Karg gives me an occasion to tell one of my favorite stories: Matthew Polenzani, the American tenor, was in our interview series. (Swell guy, very good golfer.) We were saying how the Pav Man was 1) lyrical and 2) loud — really, really loud. Huge sound. He focused it so it drilled right through your forehead: yet his voice always retained its lyricism and freshness. “How did he do that?” I asked. Polenzani said, “I have no idea — otherwise, I’d do it myself.”

I’ve always loved that answer.

Another singer, Stephen Costello, is with Karg and me in this same session. Like Polenzani, he is an American tenor. And he makes a point about the Pav Man: His voice never failed; it held true (or true enough) till the end. It’s the rest of his body that went to pot.

‐Sometimes, when I tell my Polenzani-Pavarotti story, I tell this story, too — which I adore. These stories go together like peaches and cream. (Although, come to think of it, I’ve never had cream with peaches — or peaches with cream.) Tom Weiskopf had finished his round at the Masters, and was in the television booth, providing color commentary. Nicklaus was on the 16th tee, I believe. And the announcer said to Weiskopf, “Tom, what’s going through Jack’s mind right now?” Weiskopf answered, “I have no idea. If I did, I might have won this tournament a time or two.”

‐Feel like a quick picture? According to my e-mail, readers are kind of digging them. Although one said, “What’s with the cellphone jobs? How about investing in a digital camera?” Well, gotta crawl before you can walk. Or something. Anyway, here is just a country snap — a snap from a walk out in the country. I consider this a friendly view, a friendly scene — very Salzburg. Very Salzburg environs. See what you think.

‐On the Mönchsberg, overlooking Salzburg, there is a very glamorous party — a 60th-birthday party for Stephan Braunfels. He is the famous German architect, the maker of the Modern Museum in Munich, plus a slew of other buildings. I remember going to the Modern with the Pryce-Joneses, very shortly after it opened. Braunfels is a highly, highly cultivated man: a pianist, a music-lover, other things. He has a pedigree too.

One grandfather was Walter Braunfels, the composer. Another grandfather, I believe — or was it great-grandfather? — was Adolf von Hildebrand, the sculptor. His father was Wolfgang Braunfels, the art historian, and urban-design authority. A highly, highly cultivated family.

Braunfels tells a story about his grandfather, the composer — who was half Jewish, and whose music would be in disfavor, come the Nazis. In 1923, Hitler came to him and asked whether he would compose a party hymn: a hymn for the Nazis. He must not have had the goods on Braunfels. The composer said, “Um, no thanks.”

Stephan Braunfels’s birthday party is a marathon affair, beginning at 6 in the evening, I believe, and going till about 3 in the morning. I attend from about 10 to 1. I know the party started with a performance of The Eight Seasons — which combines Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. After midnight, a jazz ensemble comes on, complete with singer: for songs by Gershwin and Porter. And the food, let me tell you — a seated, late meal for a well-attired multitude — is unbelievable.

Braunfels presents a slide show — kind of a “This Is Your Life.” He talks about milestones for him, important figures and events. He went to Florence, and fell in love with everything Florentine: especially the buildings. It decided him on being an architect, I believe. At seven, he discovered Elvis — loved him. He loved Callas too. And Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, conducted by Furtwängler. He was thirteen when Kennedy was assassinated — affected him greatly.

At 14, he discovered the Beatles — loved them. He grew his hair to be like theirs. His teachers in Germany, not very understanding, said, “Are you a girl?” He went to Greece, saw the Parthenon — was held in its spell. Wanted more than ever to be an architect (as I remember).

Speed ahead a few decades: Braunfels is touching when he says that 9/11 had a big impact on him. I haven’t heard that in a while, from anybody. One of his dreams is to build a skyscraper in New York. I hope he gets to do so. Like many foreigners, he has a greater appreciation of America than most of us — most of us natives.

As I mentioned, this is a very, very glamorous party, in a dreamy, swank setting, with swells and stars all about. The glamour is enhanced by a touch of scandal: the presence of Marc Rich, Clinton’s most notorious pardonee. Very pleasant fellow to meet.

‐So, I’m walking through the Mirabell Gardens, and there’s a little choir — not a professional choir, but a group of tourists, of travelers: probably American. They’re sort of ramshackle, and they appear to be pilgrims of a sort. They are singing “Amazing Grace” — and I find this wonderful, even moving. But then I see a hat out in front of them — which bothers me. Not exactly sure why. Maybe I’m wrong, to be bothered . . .

‐Want to see a snap of the Mirabell Gardens — just a portion? (Of the gardens, I mean, not the snap.) I took this early on a bright Sunday morning — here.

‐I don’t think I’ve ever been in a city where I didn’t see Che Guevara’s face, a lot. I imagine if I were in the Kalahari Desert I’d see it — he is like a stain throughout the earth. Worse, his ideology is, too. I see Guevara’s face just down the hall from me, in the establishment in which I am staying. He is on the wall. And I see him on the T-shirt of a little kid in the Linzergasse. He is with his parents, this boy. And his Che shirt says, “Hasta la victoria siempre.” Yeah, yeah — “victory” will come when apparel lauding this totalitarian killer disappears, or is at least less popular.

I can’t blame the boy, of course. Blame the parents? And what about their parents? Blame the media, the schools — the “culture”? I have written pretty steadily about Guevara for about ten years. I think I deserve a break. I won’t write about him until, say, Tuesday . . .

‐I’ve mentioned Stephen Costello, just in passing, twice now — he is a tenor from Philadelphia. Played the trumpet for many years. But, with a voice like his, you can’t help singing. He is married to a singer, Ailyn Perez, a soprano. They have done Romeo and Juliet together, and La bohème — perhaps other operas, too, not sure. “What’s it like working with your wife?” I ask. Well, for one thing, you can do love scenes with ease. “You don’t have to worry about where you can touch, about what you can do, about crossing a line.” You live across the line.

Great stuff.

‐I meet an Italian couple who live in Bologna. One of them gives me her card, which indicates that they live on, or that she works on — I can’t remember — Via Ragazzi del ’99. In other words, Boys of ’99 Street. What does that mean? Those were the last conscripts of World War I — 18-year-olds, born in 1899. A great many of them were slaughtered on the battlefield, in the last year or so. The very name sort of makes me shudder.

‐I’m not going to put this in my music criticism, so I thought I’d tell you here, in this journal — or whatever these scribbles are. In the program for Romeo and Juliet is a nudie: a nude photo of a young girl, seemingly about Juliet’s age — 15? Just in case you were worried that the Salzburg Festival had gone square or something. For a while, the opera productions were going through a kiddie-porn phase. A famous singer teased me about a certain production — not of this type — assuming I didn’t like it because it was “progressive” and “imaginative.” I said, wearily, “Look, I’m grateful for any production where the kids get to keep their clothes on.” That shut him up.

Hard to shut me up though, right? I could go on, but I’m going to save the remaining items for a final installment, on Monday (I think) (hairy weekend ahead). See you then? Thanks for Salzburg-ing with me.



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