Gute Reisen

my fist Valkyrie

One important mission has finally and truly begun, and it feels good. I have seen more Wagner, and I want to see more Wagner. I was genuinely a little worried, my enjoyment of music has some how been muffled during my time here. I think it’s the fact that there is a gnawing feeling at the back of my mind that I have no really put roots down here yet. I want to, but there hasn’t been enough time, and so, when it comes down to it I think I am really starting to feel the absence of my family and my friends.

Fortunately I think I have made a first friend that doesn’t feel built on the pretense of my strandedness here, or the flimsy connection of a share home country. Sam is from Chicago by way of New York, and, now Munich. He is working in acoustical engineering, he’s a graduate student, and he reminds me of one of my best friends in Austin in that he never quite seems comfortable. 

Sam and I met at the main train station at 9:30 for what we had both read online would be a 9:52 train to Füssen. We arrived just in time to see an inexplicable 9:32 train to Füssen pull away into the distance. I’ve never had trouble with German trains unless they’re going to Füssen. We pivoted to the alternate route which is a bus that leaves from the main station. However, we quickly found that the entire bus station part of the train station has been turned into the refugee arrival area. It’s the first time it’s really impacted me in a day to day level. As I understand it they’re being processed and moved to places to stay as quickly as possible. I’ve seen a number of refugees being escorted through the train station by police, but everything has been very civil and very reasonable.

We had to take the street car to the edge of town to grab the bus that had been delayed to the train that was waiting for us. Luckily the train ride into Füssen is gorgeous. Sam fell asleep, I put my headphones on, and was scoping out the roads and bike paths. My bike arrives this week, and there’s still good weather in the coming weeks, I’m going to get some real shit done. As well as getting REAL shit done.

We arrived in Füssen, which is an idyllic little town, and we had plenty of time before the 5 pm opera, except that our Hostel desk wouldn’t open until 4 leaving us not enough time to dress and walk the 30 minutes to the Festspielhaus. We wandered around Füssen. I didn’t get my camera out then, though I should have. The next morning was rainy and yielded only dreary photos. We had a large late lunch to ready ourselves. Then we each had a snowball, which is a ball of fried dough the size of a baseball. I would pay for this extravagance in act two of The Valkyrie. 

The dreary next morning in Füssen.

The dreary next morning in Füssen.

At 4 we donned our drama duds, and grabbed a cab. Something very satisfying about hopping in a cab and saying “Zum Festspielhaus.” Something I’ll have to do again. So we arrived with plenty of time, and scoped out some of the grey- and blue-hairs we’d be sharing the evening with. I spotted some contemporaries, but they were in jeans, t-shirts, and huge beards. I would have loved to know their story, but didn’t want to talk to them. There was an old man in a red suit with an eye patch. A woman pretty well along in years in a 50s style pale pink sci-fi cocktail dress. A few folks were in traditional bavarian dress. It was a good scene.

So the curtain rose on act one. I think I will always have to adjust the volume in the opera house setting. When I listen to Wagner at home I invariably crank that shit. The Valkyrie opens with a storm, and my understanding in the original stage directions the curtain is to stay down during this prologue, but not so for this version. Siegmund is being chased through the forest by angry hunters. In this version the hunters wore silver armor and had large silver circular shields with holes cut in them. Every time they came on stage all I could think is that it appeared they were going to protect them selves with large silver space cookies.

The music was played well, and the singers were amazing. To me. I honestly don’t have enough knowledge of this art form to be really critical. Though certainly I had some questions and problems with the staging, but sonically it was lovely, and to sit and really parse the text makes me re-appreciate the story and the logic of it all.

We also lucked out, because there were German and English super-titles. I’ve read the text many times, I’ve heard the music many more, but to really sit there and tie it all together is a special experience. And betweens Sam’s and my German knowledge it was fun to reconvene in the intermissions and compare what words we thought were interesting, and what translation parts we didn’t really agree with. 

So we made it to the first intermission, and I wanted to try a “Russ’n” which is a beer concoction, but when I asked for the woman didn’t know what I was asking for, and it all quickly devolved into her pointing at the menu and never pointing at what I wanted. I settled for a Radler, lemon soda and beer, more or less. Something in it did not agree with me, and so, for the second, longest, and least action packed of The Valkyrie’s three acts I felt like someone was dropping stones in my stomach. I still enjoyed it, but Brunnhilde’s horse was a silly thing, a large white cone on a manually operated scissor lift. 

2nd intermission - sweet relief, there were Landjaeger for sale! Sweet, magical, German meat treats to get me back on track. All was well for act three which opens with Wagner’s hit single “Ride (of the Valkyries)” b/w “Who got that ring?” Sung gorgeously, but at one point there are 8 Valkyries on stage with their horses, each horse is a 9 foot long cone on wheels with a stage hand dressed in black that is raised by a crank on the back of the cone. I’ll try and find a picture. But as the 8 valkyries rally to make their war cries the choreography is that they will all be raised to the full height of their scissor lifts, and, well, you had 8 men in black furiously cranking, and 8 divas being raised not just slowly and awkwardly but with a jumping stuttering motion. Majestic it was not.


However, all was saved by the magic ring of fire that Wotan surrounds Brunnhilde with when he puts her to sleep. It was simple, but beautiful, and Wotan was pretty great. I imagine it’s frustrating to direct Wagner since it’s all there in the original staging, and one could feel like it’s hard to put one’s personal stamp on a performance. There’s a version of Valkyrie coming to Munich soon where I believe Brunnhilde rides on stage on a giant golden Euro symbol. I shit you not.

I promise not to go off on a tangent here, but Sam said that he’d read that the only Gesamkunstwerk (total art work) since The Ring cycle was Star Wars. I said that was non-sense, it’s Disneyland, or the Disney parks as a whole. And even more so because you can’t get the Disneyland experience without going to one of the parks, and so to with Wagner, but to a less extent, this work has defied being parceled out in to anything other than a real live theatrical experience. I’ve watched a few video performances of Wagner, but it doesn’t hit the same, you don’t force yourself into that weird meditative state.

So we left the Festspielhaus at 11 and chose to walk the half hour back to Füssen’s altstadt. It was nice, there was plenty to chew on, and Sam has seen a number of complete Rings, so it was very interesting to talk about what he’s seen and what I have.

I was surprised at how action packed The Valkyrie felt. Certainly compared to the other Wagner opera’s I’ve seen that had no intermissions. When we come out of the opera house we could see Neu Schwanstein castle across the lake looking over at us. And Mad King Ludwig was featured heavily in much of the opera house’s decoration. What an interesting character. 

Seeing the opera felt like a start. Just like trying to come to grip with the works of Wagner, coming to grips with opera viewing as a recreational activity, for me, takes a lot of thinking and considering, study and preparation. It’s not quite like learning another language, and thank god for that. I’ve already got my hands full.

I spent the morning in Füssen, but the rain was heavy enough to spoil any notions of going to see the castle or enjoy the alps. I was dressed for the theatre, not for the mountains. Should have gone to the opera in my Bavarian dress, those guys are ready to herd some sheep, see some music drama, and sing drinking songs from a mountain hut.

Füssen means feet, and this is their town crest. 

Füssen means feet, and this is their town crest. 

I think I’m going to take my first run at the Visa office this week, I have everything that I think I need. I fully expect to get it wrong, but I feel like I should do it before Oktoberfest arrives. From what I understand it takes over just about everything when it’s in full swing.