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
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
Around the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century numerous ingenious musical instruments were invented, like the keyboard harp in the first photo. The rationale for this is that a keyboard is a lot easier to play than a harp, so this was intended to alleviate the shortage of harpists.
Like most of the newly invented instruments of this period, the keyboard harp never really caught on. Today if you want to make a harp sound you have to learn to play one, or get an electronic instrument that will imitate any sound you want.
The reed organs in the third photo were powered by compressed air.
The machine in the second photo is a mechanical device that reproduces music stored on a large disk with numerous holes. This is the same principle of data storage that was used in player pianos and in the punch cards that were used to store data for mainframe computers until well into the 1970s.
Most music museums have a machine like this, but the one in Halle is the only one I know of that really works. You just insert a one Euro piece (up from 5 Pfennigs a century ago) and turn the crank, and it plays an elaborate recording of the Slaves' Dance from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute.
1. Keyboard harp
2. Schrankpolyphon (still works)
3. Druckluft-Harmonium (2x)
4. Instruments in a symphony orchestra
I've done some tips on other music museums in Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin, Stuttgart and Nürnberg. And there is a brilliant new one in Brussels, Belgium.
When we were children we used to make musical tones with drinking glasses, but rubbing a moist finger around the top of the glass. Different sized glasses made different tones. but we never seemed to have all the sizes we wanted.
The drinking glasses in the second photo were made in different sizes, one for each note, for the specific purpose of making music.
The first photo shows a glass armonica like the one invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1762.
When Gaetano Donizetti first composed his opera Lucia di Lammermoor in 1836, he originally scored Lucia's mad scene for a glass armonica, hoping to give it a haunting unearthly quality. But he later rewrote it for flute because some of the orchestra musicians at the opera house in Naples went out on strike, including their only glass armonica player.
Nearly all productions of Lucia di Lammermoor since then have used the flute version (and generations of flutists have regarded this scene as a high point of their careers), but the current production at the Frankfurt Opera uses the original glass armonica version, played by a man named Sascha Reckert, who makes his own glass instruments and performs them all over the world either alone or with his ensemble Sinfonia di verto.
1. A glass armonica like Benjamin Franklin's
2. Drinking glasses for making music
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
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
Händel's birth house and several adjacent buildings have been joined together and renovated to serve as the Händel House and Music Museum.
In the nineteenth century there was some disagreement about which of these houses was actually the composer's birth house, but the consensus now is that it was the house on the corner, then known as "The House of the Yellow Stag".
Upstairs there is even a room which is labeled as the room where he was probably born, though no one knows for sure.
In any case, there are attractive and informative exhibits on Händel's ancestry, on his boyhood and education in Halle, on the year he spent as a young man as the organist at Halle Cathedral and on the rest of his life in Hamburg, Italy, Hannover and especially London, where he settled permanently in 1712 and lived for forty-seven years until his death in 1759, when he was buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
1. Entrance to the Händel House
2. Portrait of Georg Friedrich Händel
3. In the museum
4. Restored room with organ
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
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
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!
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
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.
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
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
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!