This weekend was another free weekend for us to roam about Vienna and see the sites and attractions and experience the culture of the city on our own. This weekend I chose to see the imperial summer palace, Schönbrunn and also participated in a guided tour of the opera house, the Staatsoper.
Saturday began bright and early when we met Ulrike, our personal tour guide for the trip, at the Staatsoper at 8:45 am. We had the opportunity, if we so desired, to pay a minimal fee to see the opera house in more detail than when we were there for Salome on Friday evening. We were able to see the room that the Emperor used every time he came to the opera, which is usually closed off and not accessible to the public. When the opera building was bombed in World War II, 90% of the building was destroyed; however, this room was spared and is exactly the same as it was during the time of the Emperor. The opera house is a very important place for the Viennese and for that reason, it was one of the very first things rebuilt following the end of the war. The other building that was an immediate priority was St. Stephen's Cathedral, which is really the heart of Vienna. No matter where you are, you can see the spire of St. Stephen's and it is always full of visitors.
Anyway, back to the Staatsoper. There is a room across from the Emperor's room made almost entirely of marble, which is now used as a smoking room and a place for people to gather and have drinks before the show and during intermission. It is really impressive, especially the marble mosaics on the wall that depict musicians and other things associated with opera. In another room, we saw Gustavo Mahler's travel piano set against the tapestried wall panels each depicting a different part of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). And of course, we saw the opera hall itself. It is comprised of a main floor, two balconies, and wings on each side that contain boxes that people can sit in. The seats are all red velvet, a rich color against the white of everything else. Overall, the experience was incredible and something that I will carry with me for a long time. There are few theaters in the U.S. or anywhere as majestic and splendid as the Staatsoper in Vienna.
Later that afternoon, I went to Schönbrunn. The palace is huge--over 1000 rooms-- and is yellow on the outside. It served as the summer palace for the Habsburg imperial family and was built under the direction of Maria Theresa. She was a very powerful ruler and got a lot accomplished for Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. The reason the exterior of Schönbrunn is yellow is because it was Maria Theresa's favorite color. She had this palace built in the style of Versailles, the royal palace in Paris, though Schönbrunn is only about a quarter of the size of Versailles.
I chose to do the grand tour of the palace, which included an audioguided tour of 40 rooms of the imperial apartments. Some of the most impressive and memorable rooms were the grand hall (which is similar to the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles), Maria Theresa's bedroom with the original bed and wallpaper from the time of her reign, and the so-called "Millions Room" which had walls made of rare rosewood with Persian drawings laid into cutouts. Every room on the tour through the palace was incredible in its own way and the tour was definitely worth every penny. The grounds of the castle are equally impressive, though they don't look quite as pretty in January as they do in the summer. I have actually been to the palace before in the summer and the flowers that they plant all around the palace grounds are beautiful. However, the sheer size of the gardens is impressive enough.
To finish off the day, the entire orchestra went to the Volksoper to see a production of Carmen, an opera by Georges Bizet. This is one of my favorite operas, as it was the first opera I was ever in and that I had ever seen. As soon as the music began, I was brought back to my time in Carmen. It is amazing how powerful music is and how each individual person experiences and reacts to the same music. The opera is written in French, but was performed in German. Unlike the Staatsoper, there are no subtitles at the Volksoper so it was important to read the summary before watching the opera. The soprano who sang the part of Michaela was phenomenal and definitely a joy to hear. After having been in Carmen before, it was wonderful to hear the music again and see a different interpretation.
It was a long day, but a wonderful one! I am trying to squeeze everything in as our time in this splendid city begins to wind down and our departure approaches. We have three concerts to look forward to this upcoming week, including one in the Vienna Konzerthaus on Thursday evening!