The evening of Sept. 24 was joyous at The Metropolitan Opera as maestro James Levine – who had been incapacitated for two years with back problems, undergoing surgery and rehabilitation – finally returned to the podium. It was actually more like a rotating platform with an elevator mechanism named the “maestro lift,” which can accommodate the motorized wheelchair he uses.
Levine conducted a glowing and buoyant account of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte.” Writing in The New York Times, music critic Anthony Tommasini said, “Over many years I have heard Mr. Levine give some remarkable accounts of Mozart operas, and I don’t think I have ever heard a more vibrant, masterly and natural performance than this ‘Così fan tutte.’
That evening brought me back to my mid-20s when I visited Austria. Music abounds everywhere there from the Salzburg Festival to “The Sound of Music.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born there in Salzburg on Jan. 27, 1756, and died in the capital Vienna Dec. 5, 1791 at only 35 years of age.
If “Salzburg is the heart of the heart of Europe,” as the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal noted, the Salzburg Festival is the steady beat. Since 1920, the celebrated event has filled this lovely Alpine city with some of the finest opera, drama and concerts on the continent. In 2014, the festival will run from July 18 to Aug. 31. From Mozart to modern, classic interpretations to daring experimentation, only the best are invited to Salzburg each year. A visit to the festival combines high culture with the sheer pleasure of vacationing in one of the most scenic places on the globe – and scrumptious. In Salzburg, I dined at the oldest restaurant in Europe, St. Peter Stiftskeller, enjoying a delicious three-course candlelit meal, prepared as it would have been in the 17th and 18th centuries, while local musicians and opera singers in period costumes performed Mozart.
Music is, of course, one of Vienna’s delights. Besides Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Schoenberg and the Strausses (Johanns I and II) all made a mark there. The New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic – one of the world’s greatest orchestras – is broadcast around the world to 50 million music lovers in 73 countries, including the United States, where it is heard on PBS stations.
The Vienna Boys’ Choir is one of the best-known boys’ choirs in the world. The boys are selected mainly from Austria, but also from many other countries. The nonprofit has approximately 100 choristers between the ages of 10 and 14. The boys are divided into four touring choirs, named for Bruckner, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, that perform about 300 concerts yearly. Each group tours for about nine to 11 weeks.
The Vienna Opera Ball is an annual event that takes place at the Vienna State Opera on the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday. Next year it will be held Feb. 27. The Opera Ball is one of the highlights of the Viennese carnival season. The dress code is strictly formal – white tie and tails for men and floor-length gowns for women. Dancers and opera singers from the Wiener Staatsoper often perform at the openings of balls such as this.
A Vienna ball is an all-night cultural attraction. Major Viennese balls generally begin at 9 p.m. and last until 5 a.m., although I was told that many guests carry on the celebrations into the next day. The only ball officially associated with the Vienna Opera Ball is the Dubai Opera Ball. A similar ball takes place in New York City and another in Budapest, but they are not affiliated with the Vienna Opera Ball.
My blissful, musical memories of Austria even include the Lipizzaner horses, who are put through the elegant paces of dressage – a kind of horse ballet – at the Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg Palace.
In Austria, even the horses are musical.
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