There is no shortage of concerts happening in Vienna. Let's see, if I do a quick search online for tonight's events I could provide you with a list of about twenty performances by many of the worlds greatest musicians all happening here in Vienna to sold out audiences. A few days ago however, we ventured out and headed west to Linz where they have been celebrating the opening of their new opera house with a colorful and rowdy production of "Spuren der Verirrten” a new opera by Phillip Glass and directed by the wild Englishman David Pountney.
First off, the new opera house is awesome! My first thoughts upon entering were A. "am I at Lincoln Center?" and B., "... it smells like a new car!" I mean that in the most positive of senses, clearly! Sleek, bright and modern, the Linz Opera House (“Linzer Musiktheater”) has been masterfully crafted and conceived by the London firm of Terry Pawson. The house is seated near the Bahnhofsviertel, an unlikely but gutsy placement. Hopes are that it will bring new life to this rough, by Austrian standards, part of town. As you walk through the automatic sliding doors, you are welcomed by a beautiful staircase and a sweeping view of the floors above. The second floor lobby, my favorite space in the entire structure, is spacious without feeling empty or imposing and overlooks the "Volksgarten". The seats in the main performance area are airplane tricked out with touch screens that display the cast, plot summary, running time and during the performance show subtitles in English, German and Czech, fancy!! The stage is massive, with all the bells and whistles that one would expect of a new opera hall, including a multi-functional rotating stage that is 32 meters wide. Wow!! After the performance we ventured upstairs to the restaurant for what we thought would be a mad post performance dash. Much to our surprise the food was fantastic and we enjoyed some of the fastest and most impressive service that we have had in a long time. Even the bathrooms were hailed by a member of our company as being the "best women's loo in Europe!"
Music also happened! Pulsating with rhythmic vitality and going from one harmonic inevitability to the next, it never let go of my attention. Glass was doing that thing he does so well. There were even a few deviations from what I would consider 'typical' that left me giggling with delight. Lets just say, piccolo onstage jazz breakdown, Swoon!! I was very impressed too by the Bruckner Orchester Linz conducted with great élan by their long time music director Dennis Russell Davies. It's rare to hear a European Orchestra play Glass' music well and it is obvious that his works have been one of the cornerstones of their repertoire for many years.
I thoroughly enjoy myself, and the best part, oddly, is that I totally didn't care what the opera was about. I was totally entertained. Drag queens, rabbits, alpine horns, children’s choirs, random symbolic references, moving pictures, explosions, it was a sensory overload and a brilliant celebration of the new opera house and all the people that make it work. Everyone had their moment.
So Linz has a new opera house and now all await something to happen. Many have expressed concern about keeping the fire going and people coming to fill the seats, but I was left feeling quite optimistic. The space is brimming with potential and is poised to do something really special in the region, strategically placed between Vienna and Salzburg it's an easy drive from Germany and the Czech Republic. I see it as being a welcomed alternative to the glorious Vienna State Opera and Salzburger Festspiele. If it will become a destination for the wild and crazy in opera, theater and dance much depends on the leadership and programming. If this production is any indication of what's to come, sign me up.