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
The Hallmarkt is located behin the Marienkirche (Marktkirche). The meaning of the word Hallmarkt is "salt market", as "Hall" is an old word for salt. You can observe this in many places around German speaking countries, for example also in Hallstatt. So this place was where in the past, salt was extracted and treated. The river Saale flows nearby and there were several fountains at this place which were needed for the work.
Today, it is a nice little place with green trees and a great view on the church. In front of the church, there is a transformer station built in a somewhat Roman optic. But what is especially interesting is the big fountain. My dad and I spent about half an hour here, just looking at the different works and sculptures that featured it. Work on this fountain started in 1974 (first by the artist Gerhard Lichtenfeld, then by Bernd Göbel), but only in 1998 was it finally finished and placed at the Hallmarkt.
One of the reasons why this was so long were of course the political changes in 1989/1990, but also some details of the fountain. The fountain is closely connected to the history of Halle and some details were much discussed and disputed. The artist was criticised a lot for some things and had to alter some of the sculptures several times.
To explain my pictures:
1. The Hallmarkt with the church in the background
2. The famous monkeys: Don't see, don't listen, don't speak!
3.: This picture shows the salt workes who founded the town of Halle and worked hard for it. You see an old man holding the coat of arms and a young man helping him with the construction. The coat of arms shows the moon and the stars because the workers were only allowed to work at night. But then, behold the authority person! He's just watching and not crooking one finger!
4 and 5: Probably the most controversal scultpure. It is depicting Cardinal Albrecht who lived during Martin Luther's time and was (probably typical for that period) thirsty for power, for wealth, and for women. He constructed the Marienkirche, the Cathedral, and Moritzburg residence. Or, as the statue shows: He HAD them constructed (as every king or archbishop has always done). You see poor people working at the construction of the church, under the whip of a master, and you see a person raping a woman on top of the church. The person does not where a cardinal's hat, but hair closely resembling that... The artist had to reshape the original hat into hair!
This museum was the reason why my dad planned this trip in the first place - or rather something located in this museum :-)
The Museum of Prehistory (Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte) is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and was founded in 1819. The impressive building where it is now located was constructed in the beginning of the 20th century.
The exhibitions show many things connected to the stone age. There are several skeletons of prehistoric animals, a lot of stone tools and excavations like small goddess figures, pottery etc. Very impressive is the collection of tombs: You can see how the bodies were buried and read what we know about them and why they were buried like that.
The highlight of the museum is the Sky Disc of Nebra . This is one of the most important archaeological findings of the last fifty years. It is so important because it is the first specific depiction of the sky in the history of humankind, as far as we know. It is about 3600 years old.
The disc is more than 30cm in diameter and I was very impressed by its size. My dad had talked about it for a long time and I was never much interested, but when I saw it, it was a very special moment and I was very moved by its beauty and atmosphere.
The Sky Disc was found by repacious diggers in 1999 and sold on the black market, until somebody recognized its extraordinary importance. It was found in the small town in Nebra where now there is a museum and the exact place of the finding is marked. You can read about it on my Nebra page.
You can see a picture of the Sky Disc in this tip, I have taken it from Wikipedia because it is of course not allowed to take a picture of it in the museum.
Depicted are the full moon and the half-moon, and between them the pleiades. Many stars surround them. Left and right are two golden archs and underneath the sky is another, asymmetric arch that is believed to be a rowing boat, maybe a mythologic boat connected to the afterlife.
It is not sure how this disc was really used. What is clear though is that the usage must have changed during the course of time, because several alterations were made on the disc. The left arch is missing. It has been supposed that the disc was used for cultural and ritual purposes, but also as an astrological instrument to calculate special dates.
I think this is really fascinating and gives so much food for thought and imagination...
Back to the museum itself: There is also a very nice shop with interesting books. Of course you can buy the sky disc in all manifestations imaginable (magnet, t-shirt, necklace, scarf, paperweight... or how about a copy for about 900€?). The café is also quite nice.
Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday 09.00 to 17.00, Sundays and Holidays 10.00 to 18.00, closed on Mondays
Fee: 5€ for adults, 3€ for students, 2,50€ for children, 10€ for a family
The marketplace (Marktplatz) is the central square of Halle. It is very wide, though not very beautiful. This is mainly due to heavy bombardement during World War Two, because of which the town centre lost many of its historical buildings. These days, it is still a meeting place for a lot of people, with shops and cafés and a busy tram station.
Some of Halle's main attractions gather around the marketplace, so that this is a good place to start when you want to explore the city! The sights listed underneath can all conveniently be explored on food.
In the centre of the square is the famous Händel Memorial.
A few metres away, there is the Red Tower with the Statue of Roland
The wonderful Marienkirche is located in the west of the marketplace. The square is surrounded by some interesting buildigs such as the town house and the Marktschlösschen, where you find the tourist information.
Right behind the Marienkirche, there is the Hallmarkt with its interesting fountain.
Near to the marketplace are also the cathedral, the birthplace of Händel and the Moritzkirche
I was very astonished when I saw the Marienkirche because I had never seen a church with four towers (at least not consciously)! I thought it looked so quaint and interesting.
How did this come to happen? I think it is crazy: This church was simply built of two older churches! These older churches (St Gertruden from the 11th century and Marienkirche from the 12th century) were torn down, only their towers were left. Now the four towers were connected by a larger, encompassing nave.
The man responsible for this was Albrecht von Brandenburg, a famous - or rather infamous - cardinal. You will encounter him several times when you read this page because he was important in the history of Halle.
Albrecht hoped to stop the reformation by building such a great church, but it was in vain. Before the church was finished, he had to flee Halle. Martin Luther preached in the church three times and also his funeral procession stopped here, so that he was layed out in the church.
As said in the intro, because of this church and the Red Tower, Halle is called the "city of five towers". As it is located at the marketplace, it is also called "Marktkirche" (market church).
When we saw the bridge between the two towers of Marienkirche, we immediately hoped that it would be possible to climb them. And we were lucky!
I was a bit afraid because I am not a lover of heights, but it was not so bad. The climbing was bit strenuous, though, mainly, because the steps are not convenient. But I think it was worth it, because the view was great and it was very interesting and funny to walk from one tower to the other on that small bridge!
I must say that my knees were very shaky because the small balcony around the towers upon which you walk was indeed VERY small and also crooked *yikes!!!*
You can climb the towers at 15.30 on Mondays to Saturdays and on 11.30 on Sundays. The fee is 6€ and you have to buy the tickets at the Tourist Information (see my Things To Do tip).
You can see some pictures of this little adventure in this tip, but you can also see my dad's pictures (that are, in my opinion, much better) in this travelogue
I liked the interior of Marienkirche very much. Somehow, the atmosphere felt a bit oriental to me, due to the wide archs with blue and gold patterns. Still, it is very Gothic. Look at the Gothic ceiling in picture 2!
What impressed me most was the big organ (picture 5). It looks so beautiful! It was inaugurated in 1716 and the first who played it was Johann Sebastian Bach. Later, his son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was the organist here for eighteen years.
There is another, small organ above the altar. This one was built in the 1660s and it is where Georg Friedrich Händel (George Frideric Handel) learned to play the organ!
Well, I don't know so much about organs, but my dad is an organist, so there is some interest due to family. You can see him being happy under the big organ in the picture :-)
You can see the altar and the small organ in picture 3. It is a winged altar which was constructed by a Simon Frank, an apprentice of the famous Lucas Cranach. It has four wings and the main picture shows the Virgin Mary and her baby, worshipped by Kardinal Albrecht. I also loved the pulpit (picture 4) that features two stars as the abat-voix (pulpit ceiling).
It is also possible to see the deathmask of Martin Luther for a fee of 2€, but we were not keen on seing that one.
The opening times of the church are as follows:
January and February: 11.30 to 16.00 Monday to Saturday, 15.00 to 16.00 Sundays
March to December: 10.00 to 17.00 Monday to Saturday, 15.00 to 17.00 Sundays
There is no fee!
The town house was built in the end of the 19th century at the southside of the marketplace. It was constructed as a house serving the town, as an assembly and festival hall. Today, it also houses a restaurant.
The building looks very beautiful and I think that it gives the marketplace a more elegant atmosphere.
The Red Tower stands in the very middle of the marketplace. It cannot be missed when you visit the town centre. The tower is free standing and was built in the 15th century, the statue of Roland is situated right attached to it.
Featured in the tower is Germany's biggest carillion, and the world's second biggest. We heard it while we had a break in a café and it sounded quite nice, playing a traditional tune of Halle. The usual clock sound is the same tune as Big Ben!
The tower itself is of Gothic style and was originally built as a campanile for the Marienkirche. The name developed because of its bright red copper roof. Although this of course became green, the name sticked to it.
In front of the Red Tower, there is a statue of Roland.
The first Roland in Halle was erected in the 13th century, when the city flourished and was growing rapidly. In 1719, it was replaced by a copy of stone which changed place several times and was put in front of the Red Tower in 1885.
The statue is about 4m high and resembles the ones in other cities such as Bremen or Halberstadt. It symbolizes the freedom and sovereignty of the city. The wreath of roses on his head stands for the own jurisdiction of the city that is not to be influenced by emperors or the church.
The baroque composer Georg Friedrich Händel is one of the most important sons of the city of Halle. The Händel Memorial is quite famous.
It is located opposite of Marienkirche, where he was baptized, and the statue is looking into the direction of London where he made his career. The figure is leaning on a music stand upon which a score of the Messiah is situated. There are also small depictions of the most famous wordly singer and the most famous heavenly singer (Orpheus and King David).
The memorial was inaugurated in 1859.
We arrived at the cathedral while the preparations for a concert were going on, and we were very lucky that we were allowed to slip in for a short time. From the outside, the cathedral is hard to perceive. We almost missed it when we were passing by, and there is no spot where you can see it properly, because during GDR times houses were built all around it.
The main picture of this tip was taken from the towers of Marienkirche and only when I saw this did I really understand the architecture of the cathedral. You can see the round arch gables surrounding the roof of the building. There are no towers!
The church was originally built by Dominican monks in the 13th century.
The famous cardinal Albrecht decided to make this church the centre of a university and thus made it a cathedral. Yet, during the reformation he had to leave Halle, so the university was not founded.
In 1702 and 1703, my favourite composer Georg Friedrich Händel was the organist here!
In contrast to the exterior, the interior of the cathedral is very beautiful. I liked it very much and spent a lot of time here looking at everything. My favourite thing was the pulpit that you see on the picture. The whole church was very light, but still elegant. I also liked the beautiful Renaissance sculptures. There are also works by famous artists such as Albrecht Dürer or Lukas Cranach.
When Cardinal Albrecht (you can read more about him in the tip on Hallmarkt) had to leave Halle during the reformation, he took a lot of artwork with him. New things were added mainly in the 17th century, when the cathedral flourished again.
The cathedral is only open for visitors from June to October, from 14.00 to 18.00. It is closed on Sundays. If you want to visit outside of these times, call this number: 0345 202 1329 or send an email at www.dom-halle.de
The famous composer Georg Friedrich Händel (George Frideric Handel) was born in Halle and you can see his birthplace. It is a small framework house near to the marketplace. There is a museum inside about the life of Händel (called "Händel the European"), as well as a collection of historical instruments, but we did not visit. My dad is a musician and said he already knew all about it *yeah, right!*
I would love to see the instruments and to see the house because Händel is one of favourite composers, I hope I will come back again to visit!
There are also concerts that you can attend (dates on the website).
First documentary evidence of this house is from 1558. The Händel family bought the house in 1666 for the reported price of 1310 guilders. Georg Friedrich Händel was born here on the 23rd of November 1685 and lived here until 1703.
A relatives of Händel already wanted to make a museum of this house in 1771, but it did not work out because the man died before he could achieve it. Thus, this was only done in 1937, at first with a museum of historical instruments.
April to October: 10.00 to 18.00 daily, closed on mondays
November to March: 10.00 to 17.00 daily, closed on mondays
The fee is 4€ for adults and 2,50€ for students. 9€ for a family, children younger than six years are free.
We stumbled upon the Opera House by accident and I thought that it was a very impressive building. The building was constructed in 1886, but almost completely destroyed during World War II, so that it needed to be fully rebuilt and reconstructed.
The building was mainly used as a theatre, but since 1992 it is solely used as an Opera House.