I hate flying so I always prepare mentally for death as the potential outcome. It is very dramatic and it especially suits the purpose of this trip. My opera mentor and good friend came along with me, and off we went to Switzerland and Germany. Only two hours after we touched down in Basel it was time to find our seats for Phillip Glass`Satyagraha. Satyagraha is an opera based on Gandhi`s early years in South Africa where his response to discrimination and injustice was to develop the concept of non-violent resistance under the name “Satyagraha” (“the power of truth”). Our flights went smooth (and we avoided death). We arrived at the theater 30 minutes before curtain up, leaving us feeling very accomplished and put together as human beings.
Theater Basel generously provided us with very good seats, and our first day in Switzerland we were in awe at the end of the day. Satyagraha, which is a coproduction with Komische Oper Berlin and Vlaamse Opera Antwerpen, combines opera and modern dance. This is a concept that looks great on paper but can be challenging to complete with balance and flow. But in this production everything turned out brilliantly. The character of Gandhi sang passages from the Bhagvad Gita and selected phrases from the Gita are projected on to the stage – usually spiritual or moral wisdom. The dance company «Eastman» is led by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and they are truly amazing. The singers are mainly company members of Theater Basel and in my opinion close to perfection. It is a challenging and physical choreography but everyone and everything is very on-point . I found myself getting goosebumps all the time, and looking back, I see it as an overwhelming experience that stuck with me. #grattitude
Day 2. Roaming the streets of Basel
Basel is located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet. Its beautifully arranged with romanesque and gothic styled architecture alongside the river Rhine. We are visiting in late June and it is 34 degrees celcius. I am melting. Luckily my opera-partner-in-crime has done this before and teaches me how to be a clever tourist in the heat. We relish our performance free day and join a historical walking-tour of the city. There is a lot of walking. But everything is so pretty, therefore my bloating legs and chafing thighs do not bother me too much. I am woman ,hear me roar. Or something like that. We walk, we listen, we look, we hydrate, we eat.
Day 3: Freiburg bound
It`s our third day and we arrive in Freiburg, Germany only 40 minutes after leaving Basel. My virgin-voyage with the Deutsche Bahn contained a cozy diningcart, crappy coffee, great company and a gorgeous waitress.
Freiburg looks like the set of Sound of Music. Our plan is to see the cathedral, the city, the scenery, Cendrillon and Theater Freiburg. We have roughly 9 hours to complete the agenda. I´m not gonna write much about this city – written words wont do it justice. Freiburg is mesmerizingly surreal. But one thing to mention is the Freiburg Bächle. They are small water-filled runnels or formalized rills in the Black Forest city of Freiburg. First documented in the 13th century, the Bächle once served as a water supply and were used to help fight fires. It is local superstition that if you accidentally step in the Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger. My fellow operanerd did. Looking forward to the Von Trapp themed wedding!
Theater Freiburg is located on the edge of Freiburg’s historic city centre and unites four venues under one roof: The Große Haus (main stage), the Kleine Haus (small stage), the Kammerbühne (chamber stage) and the Werkraum (workshop). The theater opened in October 1910. We have two tickets for Massenets version of the fairytale Cinderella and it will be my very first time seeing it live, as with every opera on this trip. Life is good.
Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet most famous compositions are Werther and Manon. Even if he is not a household name such as Verdi, Puccini and Wagner, his operas are now widely accepted as well-crafted and intelligent products of the La Belle Époque. Cendrillon premiered in Paris May 24th 1899 and he succeeded in transforming the magic of this dreamy fairytale into music, so one immediately believes that fairytales do come true. Barbara Mundel`s (director) Cendrillon was beautiful and dreamy, she placed the story in the middle of an exotic circus as a place of longing and refuge. A surrealistic world where dream and reality often gets tangled. Conclusion; Jules Massenet was a musical genious and it seems like all mezzosopranos are brunettes.
Tired and fulfilled we headed back to Basel with help from the Deutsche Bahn, but sadly I never saw the waitress again. It was difficult separating from Freiburg but going back to Basel meant we had the holy grail and the initial purpose of the trip in front of us, Alcina.
Our last day was spent sitting by the rhein with a cold beer, music inear and accompanied by a couple of swiss ducks. Vacaymode was definately on. The reason we chose Basel in the first place was because I really wanted to experience Alcina live and luckily Theater Basel and Lydia Steier made my opera dream possible. Handel was a great composer and dramatic genious and I enjoy his music tremendously. He started out as a violinist, composed about 30 oratories and nearly 50 operas. Most famously is ‘The Messiah». Alcina has become one of my favorite pieces so far and especially Morgana`s Ama Sospira where the violins alone, almost always makes me cry.
«You can`t Handel the truth»
We arrive early enough to catch the introduction in the foyer and a glass of prosecco. I understand one third of what she is saying but still a great part of our evening. Alcina was composed for Handel’s first season at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in London. It premiered on 16 April 1735. Handel used the libretto of L’isola di Alcina, an opera that was set in 1728 in Rome by Riccardo Broschi, the brother of famous castrato ,Carlo Broschi (Farinelli).
We loved the playfulness in the direction and the musical timing. It went from Carmen Miranda to powersuite. I liked how the director Lydia Steier chose to emphasize destruction and streamlining through grey powersuits and western way of life. Vocally, a complete and strong cast where you could lean back, relax and just savour the moments of pure musical joy. There were also alot of bananas.
I would see it again and again and again if I could, and La Cetra Barock Orchester Basel would blow my mind everytime. Utter #barockgasme.
A special thank you to Theater Basel, Theater Freiburg, Erland, Katarina Bradić, Bryony Dwyer, and Carina Schmieger for seats, blood, sweat, goosebumps, laughter and tears.