Händel as an opera composer
Though Händel is best remembered in England as a composer of oratorios, such as The Messiah, Samson, Joseph, Belshazzar, Hercules, Judas Maccabeus, Joshua, Solomon and many others, there has also been a huge revival of interest in his operas in recent decades, especially in Germany.
The Händel House has an interesting exhibit on "Händel, composer of opera" where visitors can sit and watch Händel as a sort of Monty Python style figure come in, sit down at the cembalo and explain some of his operas.
The spectators themselves can push buttons to choose which opera he should talk about, and whether he should speak English or German.
Of Händel's forty (or so) operas I have only seen six so far, but all six were totally marvelous:
Agrippina had its world premiere in Venice in 1709 when the composer was 24 years old. In Frankfurt I saw it a number of times in 2006 and 2008 in a brilliant production by David McVicar that he originally did for the opera in Brussels.
Rinaldo was the first opera that Händel composed especially for London, where it debuted in 1711 when he was 26 years old. I saw it at the State Opera House in Berlin in a hilarious production that was voted Production of the Year by the critics of Opernwelt Magazine in 2003. In the second act there is a scene where Miah Persson as Almirena has been transformed into a mermaid by an evil magician. She slithers out from under the curtain, sits on the edge of the stage with her fishtail dangling into the orchestra pit and sings the hauntingly beautiful Lascia ch'io pianga. As I write this I am listening to the cast recording of this production, which was voted CD of the Year for 2003.
Teseo was first performed at the Queen’s Theatre, London, in 1713. Three hundred years later I attended the first Frankfurt performance at the Bockenheimer Depot. It was conducted by Baroque expert Felice Venanzoni of the Frankfurt Opera staff. Three of the six singers were Frankfurt ensemble members: Jenny Carlstedt, Juanita Lascarro and Anna Ryberg. The other three were guests: the mezzo-soprano Gaëlle Arquez and the counter-tenors William Towers and Matthias Rexroth.
Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Julius Caesar in Egypt) dates from 1724. The story takes place in the year 48 B.C. and deals with Caesar's Egyptian war and his love affair with Cleopatra. I have seen it in two fantastic productions, once at the Opéra Garnier in Paris and several times in Frankfurt with the American soprano Brenda Rae as Cleopatra.
Rodelinda was first performed in 1725. I saw it in Darmstadt in 2004. The stage director was Rosamund Gilmore. To see one of her other productions I even went to Gelsenkirchen, which turned out to be fine even though it was a city I had never considered visiting before that.
Ariodante, from the year 1735, was staged in Frankfurt by Achim Freyer and Friederike Rinne-Wolf in a highly unusual way. Instead of trying to twist the stylized medieval plot to make it seem realistic, they stylized it even more by dressing the singers up like playing cards (my interpretation) and making them stand motionless for long periods of time. The singers hated this, but for us in the audience it was a fascinating solution that helped us get settled in to the rhythm of this long and unhurried baroque opera. I saw this production several times in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
1. Händel, composer of opera
2. Händel explaining his operas
3. Teseo program booklet, Frankfurt Opera
- Theater Travel
- Historical Travel
The Opera House
The Opera House in Halle was originally built as the city theater in 1886. It was destroyed by bombs at the end of the Second World War, on March 31, 1945, but was rebuilt and reopened six years later.
Since Halle was the birthplace of the great baroque composer Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759), the Halle Opera makes a point of presenting at least one of Händel's forty operas each year. In June 2010, for instance, they will perform his 25th opera Orlando, which had its world premiere at the King's Theatre in London (Haymarket) in 1733.
When I was in Halle in May 2001 they were performing something completely different, namely (as I mentioned on my Halle intro page) L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848).
This is a lively comic opera, and one thing I particularly remember about the staging in Halle was the way the quack doctor Dulcamara made his entrance into the village in the first act. He arrived not in a golden carriage but on a huge Rube Goldberg machine with dozens of valves, whistles, gears, transmission belts, pistons and other moving parts, most of which had no function besides impressing the astounded villagers.
Somebody at the opera house must have had a very good time constructing this huge machine.
1. Cyclist at the Opera House
2. The Opera House from the park
3. Joliot-Curie Square and the Opera House
4. The Opera Café
5. Stage entrance, Universitätsring 24
- Theater Travel
Leipziger Street and Tower
Although parts of Halle have been seriously mauled by ugly motorways cutting straight through the city, there is also a long pedestrian zone leading from the main railroad station (passing under one of the motorways) to the Market Square and a bit beyond, a distance of about 1.4 kilometers.
The only serious interruption is when you have to cross a very wide street by the Leipziger Tower, as shown in the third, fourth and fifth photos.
1. Leipziger Street and Tower
2. Leipzigerstraße pedestrian zone
3. Street crossing by the Leipziger Tower
4. Crossing the street at Leipziger Tower
5. Crossing the street at Leipziger Tower
Sculpture of Zither-Reinhold by Wolfgang Dreysse
In the pedestrian zone at the corner of Leipziger Straße and Große Brauhausstraße there is a statue of a man named Reinhold Lohse (1878-1964), better known as "Zither-Reinhold".
Because of a childhood illness his mental development was impaired, so he remained simple minded for most of his long adult life. He earned his living by making music on the streets of Halle, first by cranking a barrel organ. After the barrel organ got worn out he got a zither which he played on the streets for small change, until he was killed in a so-called traffic accident at age 86 in November 1964.
The sculpture consists of two figures: a small one playing the zither, meant to represent the real "Zither-Reinhold", and a large one looking proud and expansive, which is meant to be a fantasy version of the same person.
The sculptor, Wolfgang Dreysse, is a professor at the University of Art and Design in Halle.
There is a book about the life of "Zither-Reinhold" by a local author named Erhard Wenzel, who ironically was also killed in a so-called traffic accident in May 2006.
1. Looking at the statue of Zither-Reinhold
2. Zither-Reinhold by Wolfgang Dreysse
- Arts and Culture
Statue of a muscular couple by Bernd Göbel
Also in the pedestrian zone, between the station and the Leipziger Tower, is this statue of a muscular couple by Bernd Göbel, born in 1942, who was also a professor at the University of Art and Design in Halle until he retired in March 2008.
1. Statue by Bernd Göbel
2. From another angle
3. Child exploring the statue
- Arts and Culture
Sternstraße (Star Street)
This is a street with restaurants or pubs in just about every building.
I was told in Halle that the Sternstraße is where the "over thirty set" gathers in the evenings, as opposed to students and artists who tend to hang out in the Old Town near the university.
1. Outdoor restaurants in the Sternstraße
2. Street signs
3. Artist transporting a painting on her bicycle
Probably the world's most famous drama quotation, from Act 3 scene 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, is painted on the outer wall of the New Theater both in the original English (To be or not to be, that is the question) and in German translation (Sein oder Nichtsein, das ist die Frage).
As of 2009 the New Theater doesn't seem have Hamlet on its playbill, but it does offer a play called Heute weder Hamlet (= Today neither Hamlet) by Rainer Lewandowski, about a failed actor who used to play Hamlet but is now reduced to opening and closing the stage curtain at the theater. I haven't seen this, but the description reminds me of one of my favorite World War II films, To Be or Not to Be with Jack Benny.
1. New Theater
2. Hamlet quotation with German translation
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Martin Luther University (MLU)
A couple years ago there were big posters all over Frankfurt am Main advertising MLU with photos of attractive young co-eds, to encourage young people from the western parts of Germany to come and study in Halle.
I don't know if it is because of this advertising campaign or not, but there are now some four thousand students from West Germany (the so-called "old federal states") at MLU, plus 1,500 students from foreign countries, out of 17,500 students altogether.
Georg Friedrich Händel was enrolled here as a student for one year, in 1702, when he was also working as an organist at Halle Cathedral. He left Halle a year later, when he was eighteen, and moved to Hamburg where he got a job playing in the orchestra at the opera house.
There was no opera house in Halle at that time, but the current one is located just across the street from the university.
1. The Lion Building = main building of the university
2. University Campus
3. Cycling near the University
4. Cycling near the University
5. Cycling towards the University
Memorabilia at the Beatles Museum
Aside from all the stuff on display, the Beatles Museum also has a shop on the ground floor where you can buy their magazine (called "THINGS") as well as Beatles Singles, EPs, LPs, MCs, CDs, Mini-Discs, DVDs, Videos, Video-CDs, books, post cards, posters, T-shirts, socks, souvenirs, calendars, etc.
Somewhere on one of the upper floors there is a small display on Klaus Voormann (fourth photo), a German musician and graphic artist who was born in Berlin in 1938. Voormann made friends with the Beatles when they were just getting started in Hamburg. He later designed some of their album covers and also stayed in contact while he was playing with other bands. Paul and Ringo (the two Beatles who are still alive as of this writing) both appeared on Voormann's audio CD A Sideman's Journey in 2009.
1. Photo of the Fab Four
2. Yellow Submarine
3. Beatles memorabilia
4. Klaus Voormann
5. Advertisement for the Beatles Museum
- Museum Visits
Even if you're more of a Händel than a Beatles fan, don't miss the Beatles Museum in Halle!
This is not a selective museum. For years they have been collecting anything and everything related to the Beatles and have stuffed it all into 500 square meters of exhibition space on four floors of this very nice old building.
The lower floors are devoted to "The Beatles until 1970" and the upper floors have exhibits on "The Solo Beatles" from the time after John, Paul, George and Ringo split up and all went their separate ways with independent solo careers.
On the top floor there is a projection room where you can see masses of films and videos. If you have lots of time on your hands you could theoretically sit there from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (they don't mind) and probably not see the same film twice.
Entrance to the full museum costs five Euros per person, except that children who are less than 150 centimeters tall only pay three Euros.
But if you just want to see "The Beatles until 1970" and not the rest, you can take the "small program" which only costs three Euros for adults and two for children.
My recommendation is not to be stingy and have a look at the whole museum, because I find their solo careers at least as interesting as their time together as a band.
Once when I went to the Music Museum in Paris they had a large but temporary exhibition on John Lennon entitled Unfinished Music, dealing with his life and work in the 1970s after the breakup of the Beatles. Admittedly the display in Halle is not as polished and professional as the one in Paris, but the one in Halle has the advantage of being there permanently so you can see it whenever you happen to be in town. (Except Mondays, when the museum is closed.)
1. Beatles Museum
2. The Beatles on a 1960s television
3. Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
4. Live at the Star Club in Hamburg, 1962
5. Headline when John Lennon was shot
- Museum Visits
Tourist information on the Market Square
You can't miss the Tourist Information office, in this newly renovated red building at the west end of the Market Square.
They have a large selection of maps and folders about Halle, and they also organize guided walking tours and boat trips on the Saale River.
And they can help you find a hotel room if you don't already have one.
Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6: 00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Additional photos: Cycling near the tourist information building
Händel statue on the Market Square
In the Market Square (Marktplatz) there is a statue of Georg Friedrich Händel which was erected in 1859 on the one hundredth anniversary of the composer's death.
Queen Victoria of England was in attendance when the statue was unveiled.
Additional photos: Cyclists at the Market Square near the Händel statue
- Historical Travel
Cyclists at the Händel House
The corner house where Händel was born has been there since at least 1558, when it was first mentioned in a document, so the house was already well over a hundred years old when he was born there.
The Old Town of Halle was fortunately not seriously damaged in the Second World War, but some of the houses were allowed to deteriorate under the GDR regime and were then torn down in the 1980s to make room for new pre-fab buildings.
Parts of the Old Town still exist, however, and the Händel House is not the only building that has been restored in recent years.
Some of the streets of the Old Town are carfree and there are always lots of people riding past the Händel House on bicycles.
Photos: People on bicycles riding past the Händel House.
- Museum Visits
Every year in June there is a Händel Festival in Halle, featuring concerts, lectures, recitals, guided city walks -- plus a major oratorio and a new opera production each year.
Since 1922 they have produced all forty of Händel's operas at least once.
Two other German cities also have Händel Festivals each year, namely Gottingen and Karlsruhe.
There is also a Händel Festival in London each year, and one in Maryland every year or two.
1. Banners advertising the Händel Festival
2. Festival poster on the back wall of the Händel House
3. Händel House from Große Nikolaistraße
Another highlight of the Music Museum is this historic organ, which has been carefully restored and set up in a new part of the building which was specially built so you can go upstairs and look down into the inner workings of the organ.
And from downstairs you can of course see it from the front.
1. Looking down at the inside of the organ
2. Front of the historic organ
- Historical Travel
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