Saturday, 8 September 2012

Merkel in the Haus

I believe she’s saying ‘no, I wouldn’t swap jobs with you’. Having been greeted with hostility in Spain, Angela Merkel dropped into a much friendlier town today to talk about how Europe is still going down the toilet and flatter the Austrians into thinking they can do something to help (we actually can a little bit, though if Merkel could get Maria Fekter to shut her cakehole that would probably go much further to solving the continent’s problems). It hasn’t been the smoothest of weeks for M. le Directeur either: a laryngitis-stricken Alagna pulled out of Don Carlo only for replacement Fabio Sartori also to fall ill. At the last minute Giuseppe Gipali was recruited, but for the first two performances only; cue Bobby announcing he would be fit enough to manage the last two before cancelling again 24 hours later. Now Gipali not only sees out the rest of the run but also performed this evening in front of the German and Austrian chancellors.

The Wiener Staatsoper has long been the place for the Austrian government to parade visiting dignitaries, but as much as historian Oliver Rathkolb talks up the house as a ‘memory site’ of Austrian unity, its use as a glittering backdrop for politicians and corporate interests is less notable nowadays for cultural resonances than unintended ironies. In 2002, European dependence on Russian gas led to talks in Vienna and an agreement to construct a new transcontinental pipeline, a deal sealed with a visit to the Staatsoper, and as Peter Sain of the EU Observer reported at the time: ‘When all was signed the promoters went to the Viennese state opera, which that night was performing Verdi’s Nabucco. And thus the anonymous pipeline acquired a fancy name, though as Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar in English) is hit by a thunderbolt it doesn’t seem the most propitious name for a gas pipeline in these unfortunate days of rampant terrorism.’

Over the last four years there has been a noticeable drop in Staatsoper attendance from the current crop of Austrian leaders, and the ruling Faymann cabinet is deemed to be the most culturally disinterested in the history of the Second Republic. A rare reaffirmation of the tradition in this case has doubtless more to do with the Austrians observing Merkel’s fondness for opera than following what was once the protocol of an obligatory Staatsoper visit. Uncultured chancellor Werner Faymann will have sat through Don Carlo tonight fighting the urge to yawn, but as much contempt as he deserves politically (there is not a single principle he won’t compromise to cling on to office), I can only sympathize. For one thing, this production sucks so badly there are very few loathable public figures you’d wish it on. More seriously, not everyone has to be interested in opera, and it is high time the founding Kulturnation myths of the Second Republic, through which opera has become merely an excuse to preen, were laid to rest. If only Faymann could find it in himself once in a while to follow the example of President Heinz Fischer, who is seen at cultural events none of his predecessors would have considered going to, but genuinely seems to balance duty with what works for him – if you visit enough Klangforum events you will see him eventually, and he is familiar enough with figures like Friedrich Cerha to greet them like old friends. Unfortunately he is the only honourable person left in Austrian politics, but that’s a post for a different blog.  

More photos of the Merkel visit after the jump.

Oh dear. What, in the name of all that is Rot-Weiß-Rot, is Werner doing?

The return of what Intermezzo once dubbed the megapants, if I remember correctly:

Looks like Dominique Meyer offered up his box for the chancellors:


  1. On Ash Wednesday 2009 (if I remember the date correctly), I was surprised to find myself in a Theater an der Wien performance of Händel's Partenope with Mr. Faymann and his wife and state guest Mr. Barroso attending. I have no idea whether it was Mr. Barroso's wish to see "an opera" or this opera in particular, but I remember that Mrs. Faymann obviously found it hard to sit through almost four hours of the loveliest baroque. Anyway, as it was a beautiful performance with Christine Schäfer, David Daniels, Kurt Streit, Patricia Bardon and Florian Boesch on stage and Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques in the pit, I didn't pay too much attention to what was going on in the VIP box.

    I went to see the said production three times...


  2. The Staatsoper's online archive reveals that the alternative for that date would have been Kasarova doing her thing in the Zeffirelli Carmen, so at least Barroso has taste.

    I also remember picking up somewhere that he saw Giulio Cesare in Salzburg this summer, so maybe he has a thing for Handel. I think again with Werner actually, which makes a lot of baroque im Dienst Österreichs. Perhaps the wife got out of that one and went instead partying with Laura Rudas or whatever she does in her free time.