A night at the opera in Prague

I am in Prague briefly. With no expecatations, as it’s a Sunday night, I call by the ticket office at the National Theatre. I am in luck, there are still tickets left for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tonight, even if they are stories up in the balconies.

I ransack my bag back at my room, for something suitable to wear. The grandeur of the building is impressive when I return. I spend time on the roof deck taking pictures of the twin horse and chariot statues which dominate the skyline of the building.

The orchestra is already warming up when I arrive at my seat. Some of the chorus, in character, are enacting scenes from the Japanese geisha life, as the audience is still filing in.

From the giddy heights of the balcony, there is a great vantage point to appreciate the sophisticated staging. There is a real water filled bath-pool covering a quarter of the stage, which is lit from underneath. It is used several ways throughout the evening, even the principal cast wade through it.

And so the tragedy unravels. Cio Cio-San (Butterfly)  is exquisitely performed by Christina Vasileva and the cad, Pinkerton, is played suitably callously by Peter Berger.

The cast are all standout and the choreography interesting ranging from huge fan dances to the stark stillness of silent witnesses on the stage.

The Czech Republic has a proud history of opera. I would encourage anyone visiting Prague to sample an opera. Mozart premiered his work at the Estates Theatre to appreciative audiences that he lacked in his home city.

A French man next to me strikes up a conversation as I am solo. We riff on the opera and also mention our own century-old connections to this country. He, with Brno, myself with Plzen.

I could linger longer but I have been up since 5 AM today for my London flight to Prague. I cut it short to be able to take my early train to my home village where people are waiting for me, to help me find out more on my family’s past.

Sunken cities – Egypt’s lost worlds at The British Museum

If you are an archeology fan then get to this exhibition on at the British Museum.

Outside its chaos in the main part of the museum, but in this beautifully staged exhibition, its soft lights with a gurgly under water sound track and murmured voices.

A video begins the exhibition with a background on the extraordinary discovery made beneath the sea in Abukir Bay, at the edge of Egypt’s northwestern Nike Delta. The lost cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus known in ancient writings, were only discovered recently.

They were set on a fragile aquatic landscape of lakes and marshes that slowly sank into the sea. 1000 years later these cities are being recovered piece by extraordinary piece.

The monumental statue of Hapy, was a major find and is on display in the ante-room before we dive into a treasure trove of antiquities recovered.

A large part of the exhibition is on the interplay of Greek and Egyptian ideas that merged in the port cities. In particular how the cultures merged their dieties, borrowing back and forth, to suit the population.

We track various dynasties of rulers including Alexander the great, who encouraged the Eygtian belief in kings being divine beings. His general, Ptolemy, ascended to the throne post his death and this dynasty lasted 300 years. Fast forward to Cleopatra’s ill-fated reign as the last descendant of the Greek Ptolemies, and the region is lost to Roman rule.

We also see likenesses of Hadrian who visited Eygpt in AD130 where his Greek lover, Antinous, was to drown in the Nile.

Allow yourself a couple of hours to really savour all the treasure. It will be the best exhibition you will see in London this autumn.

Run Susan Run

In my last days in Berlin, I am reminded of the Franka Potenta movie, in English it was called Run Lola Run, auf Deutsch, Lola rennt. I am often running now, trying to fit everything in. There is so much left to see and do. And of course there are my daily German language classes at the Goethe Institut, my primary objective.

I have absolutely loved the course. The teacher, Dieter, has a tireless, animated way of getting through to all of us. The context of the lessons are always set within interesting subjects, such as German arts, culture, film. And we are encouraged to work together in groups to problem solve our exercises.

Sometimes I don’t know where he gets his patience from. I am still grappling with the akkusativ, dativ cases etc. I have spent far more time in museums and been out late to concerts and performances, than staying in, working on my grammar.

I have been totally seduced by Berlin. Its a shame there is not a GI exam for Berlin arts and culture, as I have taken every opportunity to experience the richness of this utterly amazing city. And there is so much more I will just have to leave for a return visit, which I am already planning. Hopefully at a pace more relaxed than this has been.

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Berlin under construction

Almost everywhere you go in central Berlin there is construction. The sky is spiked with crains, huge trucks rumble by with chalky rubble from excavations, and the air is often full of fine dust.

Unter den Linden is ripped up at the Friedrich Strasse intersection, the closed up Staats Oper theatre is covered in hoardings although artfully painted to show what the end result will look like. Even crossing the bridge to the Museum Insel you can only admire the vista of the Berlin Dom through head height temporary security fencing.

Visitors to Berlin might also mistake the huge blue or pink pipe works above their head that lattice parts of the city as art installations but really they are there to drain away excess ground water from building projects.

In all, Berlin feels like a city that is still regenerating. In the narrative I read to most old museum or theatre buildings that I have visited, what surprises me most is how long its taken to repair such national treasures, either from war damage or DDR indifference. I think of Christchurch back home, flattened by a catastrophic earthquake just over two years ago, and what an enormous amount of patience it will require to recreate a city.

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A night at the opera in Berlin

Berlin normally has three opera houses, but two are under renovation, so Komische Oper tickets are like hens teeth. I did my best dramatic performance ever at the ticket office last week, in a mix of bad German and massive miming of my disappointment at not being able to secure tickets when I have come from so far. It paid off and here we are in the amazingly opulent Baroque style theatre, just off the Unter den Linden.

We are seeing Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, the magic flute, set to a new set design theme of 1920s silent movies, created in conjunction with a UK group called ‘1927.’ Its completely captivating and gorgeously quirky. It totally delivers for me, although an older German couple next to me are not in agreement, she liked the new take, but he wanted a more traditional approach.

The Komische Oper Mozart season continues all May with different productions and I already plan a return to the ticket office with my same sad story to secure a ticket, hopefully it will work again.

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