Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It means "Hall of Splendor", or if you are translating in haste for someone in the Kantine, "fancy room". I played a gig there last night, in the room of splendor of the Austrian National Library. The Nationalbibliothek is part of the Hofberg complex, the spectacular lodgings of emperors past, and it turns out that in addition to the great furniture and tracts of land, the Habsburgs also collected the occasional Buch.

80 meters long and 30 meters high, cathedral-like in dimension and jaw-droppingly beautiful, this is the former great hall of the Imperial library. Marble floors and pillars support the frescoed dome and the walls lined with centuries of thought written down in all languages. The first display case I saw upon entering the hall contained a 5th century parchment illustrating the mail routes of the Roman empire. It's like a pretend fantasy library from some great yet-unmade movie, Harry Potter meets the DaVinci Code.

See old Karl VI in the center there? Last night he was surrounded by life-size images of some very beloved Alfred Roller designs:

My colleagues and I were the entertainment for "100 years of Rosenkavalier". That wonderful piece is having a big anniversary in 2011, and a small, fascinating group of supporters had a preview of the installation last night. The Roller designs were just a taste. I stared for many minutes at some of von Hofmannsthal's original notes for the first scene between the Marschallin and Oktavian. He brought them to Strauss for an initial meeting, and as they talked together (no doubt over coffee), Strauss came up with a few melodic ideas. There they were, the opera's initial ascending horn call and the sighing violin answer, born as doodles in the margins of some hastily sketched dialogue. 

We performed in the unheated hall and then repaired to the comfort of a reception. I talked to a former Austrian Supreme Court justice, a diplomat, a professor of literature, opera lovers all. I was moved by the connection of this audience to this piece, and by their grateful connection to the performers. I walked back to the streetcar with the mezzo, a woman experienced in this opera but buzzing with anticipation over her first Oktavian at the Staatsoper, coming in just a few weeks (especially after talking to our audience members about who they've heard in that house!). 

And then at home, the messages were waiting for me. I found my brother-in-law on Skype. He was drying the big pot for the mashed potatoes that may or may not get made, waiting to hear if he should take my nephew on to choir practice or to the hospital where my mom and siblings had already gathered. My grandmother was admitted about a week ago, and Mom's gut feeling was that she wasn't coming home. Still, she had rallied in the last 48 hours, enough so that my uncle was planning to bring her home for the holiday. Yesterday things changed quickly, and now it seems that the liver cancer she's been fighting since the summer will take her soon, most likely during this holiday weekend. 

Some of the people who read this have met Alice. I wish you all knew her. She has lived a great life, an epic life. It started with immigrant parents, a mother who couldn't ever communicate well in English, two siblings who died young, the wish for education squelched by her father, a marriage ended after just five years with her beloved young husband's death, and the decision to leave her baby daughter behind in New Ulm and travel to Minneapolis for work. She was a single mother during the war, was terrifyingly poor, tough, and resourceful. She had a disastrous second marriage and a troubled third to a sad and loyal WWII veteran. She was a working woman until retirement, she took care of her grandchildren; she completed her GED at the age of 70 and nursed her husband through a long, relentless illness. She traveled the world and learned line dancing, she chopped her own ice out of her gutters, she was a terrible driver and has always been an avid card player. She came to Houston to visit me a few years ago, refused the airline's wheelchair and walked through Intercontinental, and insisted on going to Lakewood Chapel to see Joel Osteen. She's Rosenkavalier's younger sister by five years. She hasn't ever heard the piece, but I imagine she'd enjoy the music while recognizing exactly none of its privileged characters. 

It's Thanksgiving Day. My family's in a splendid room in Minnesota.

Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding
Wenn man so hinlebt, ist sie rein gar nichts,
Aber dann auf einmal, man spürt doch nichts als sie.
Sie ist in uns herum, sie ist auch in uns drinnen.
In den Gesichtern rieselt sie. Im Spiegel da rieselt sie,
In meinen Schläfern fliesst sie,
Und zwischen mir und dir da fliesst sie wieder, lautlos...
Allein, man muss sich auch vor ihr nicht fürchten.
Auch sie ist ein Geschöpf des Vaters, 
Der uns alle erschaffen hat.

Time, that's a strange thing.
When you're absorbed in your life, it's nothing,
But then, all at once, you're aware of nothing else.
It's all around us, it's inside us too,
It's flowing through our faces, in the mirror,
In my veins, and silently between the two of us...
Only, we shouldn't be afraid of it.
It's another creation of the Father who created us all. 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good morning from America... I never saw this piece - for some reason, it didn't show up in my blog feed.

I remember Alice's visit to HTX, though I didn't meet her. She was a force of nature, and I know she is honored by your memories of her.

I'm sorry, sweetheart. xoxo CCV