Singing at the Stephansdom – Rehearsal

Our first day in Vienna was very full.  Rehearsal was at 8:45 AM, which meant, be on the bus by 7:45 AM, and off to the cathedral.  Since we had a different orchestra in each location (all arranged by the tour company), we had to have an orchestra rehearsal in every location.

Since I was singing, I didn’t carry a camera around.  All the photos in this post come from a gallery on my husband’s photo site entitled Singing Vienna.  The link will bring up a slide show.  I’ve posted a minimum of videos here but there are numerous videos in the gallery if you want to listen.

Here’s an external view of the Stephansdom, from across the front plaza.

A side view.

When we got inside, we were all relieved to see choral risers.  This meant we could actually sit during the solo movements, a great relief.  This was the only performance venue which had risers.  You can see the risers behind the orchestra.  You can also see the organ behind the risers, we did use it.

The chorus will be on those seats behind.  Tiffany is lining people up.

The organ console was very photogenic.

It's a wonderful organ console.

Here’s a general look at the inside of the cathedral, in the morning before rehearsal.  If you think, “This place is huge,” you’re perfectly right.  It is huge.  Wikipedia has a good article on the Stephansdom, which began construction before the middle of the 12th century.  It is a landmark in Vienna, and a cultural icon in Austria.  The current configuration dates to the 14th century (allowing for reconstruction after World War II).

Farther forward, it's not *quite* as visually cluttered.

We rehearsed the Mozart, The Water is Wide, and the Songs of Strength and Hope first, with the orchestra, then went over to the Curhaus, next door, and worked the Haydn a cappella pieces.  By the time we finished the orchestra rehearsal, just before 10 AM, we had accumulated a pretty fair audience, farther down the nave.

There were lots of cathedral visitors by the end of the rehearsal ... some watching us, some not.

Here’s our rehearsal room in the Curhaus, which is roughly what the English church would call the parish hall and vicarage.

After finishing with the orchestra, we moved to the adjacent Curhaus, essentially the parish hall and vicarage.  It's a modern building -- 18th century -- with an obviously very modern (and well-lit!) interior.

We worked here until about 11:30, then were free for the afternoon.  By this time the action in the plaza was heating up, the tourists were arriving, and the horse-drawn carriages were ready for business, right across from the cathedral (that’s the cathedral on the right):

Lots of energy on the plaza when we emerged from our rehearsals ... including carriage rides.

Some people stayed after rehearsal and toured the cathedral.  There was a walking tour at 2 PM.  A number of people, including Lynne, went over to the Mozarthaus, Domgasse 5, where he lived from 1784 to 1787.  Mozart lived in several other Vienna apartments in the 10 years he spent in Vienna, but only this one survives.

Jim and I didn’t get to the Mozarthaus, though; we wanted lunch.  We tried to find a “great restaurant” someone had recommended, which was much farther away than they – or we – realized.  We eventually turned back.  Jim forgot to take a water bottle to the rehearsal (if you look at his photo site – click on any of the photos above – you’ll see he spent the whole morning photographing), and he was tired and dehydrated.  I finally picked an outdoor restaurant at random and said, we’re eating here.  After lunch, and a liter and a half of apple juice and soda, we caught the bus back to the hotel and took naps.  I’ll cover the rest of the day in another post.

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On to Vienna

The day after our successful concert in Budapest, we packed up, loaded the bus, and set off for Vienna.  This is how a performance tour works.  We had no agenda except to stop in Györ, a small town along the way, for lunch.  I remember a sunny, pleasant day.  The bus dropped us in the center of town, just across from the impressive town hall:

Town hall, Györ, Hungary

Town hall, Györ, Hungary

I’m not sure Györ was ready for 70 people who all wanted lunch at once.  Jim and I chose the restaurant in a hotel next to the bus stop.  We and I think one other couple were the only people in there.  The service was fast and pleasant, the food was good.  When we finished, we strolled down the plaza and found several tables of our friends at an indoor/outdoor restaurant, all complaining that they hadn’t been served yet.

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I Wasn’t Expecting This

Getting dressed this morning, I picked up my glasses to wash the lenses, and discovered there was only one lens. The right lens had fallen out, somewhere. My husband and I between us have been all over the house, but we couldn’t find the stupid lens. I wore the glasses last night and they had both lenses then. It’s somewhere in the house but we can’t find it.

So, you take the glasses down to the glasses shop and they fix them, right? Not exactly.

First, these are my driving glasses – progressive bifocals. Without them, I can’t legally drive a car – and really, I don’t want to.

Second, I don’t have a spare pair. I’ve never had more than one main pair of glasses, although I currently have two pair of “computer/reading” line bifocals.

Third, I have plane tickets for Las Vegas on January 7, to visit my sister – 10 days away. I planned this carefully, it’s in a space in my schedule where I won’t miss anything here. But I have to be able to drive a car.  Las Vegas has no options for people who can’t drive.  They say Uber is now there, but (a) I don’t trust Uber, and (b) they’ve only been there since September and I have no idea how available they actually are.

I’m flying to Las Vegas in 10 days and I have no glasses.  I do have all my glasses prescriptions, so we took them down to Oakland Kaiser optical shop and were told that any repairs would take a minimum of 3 weeks, because holidays.  I’ve noticed before that Kaiser personnel don’t like to work on holidays – I once spent an unnecessary day in the hospital after a knee replacement because it was the day after Thanksgiving and there were no physical therapists on duty to check me out to confirm that I could walk.  Sorry, Kaiser, this is true.

I do not want to have to reschedule that trip.  I’m already hoping I will throw off the cold I’ve caught, in time to spend an hour and a half on a plane.  So we took my prescriptions over to the Site for Sore Eyes on Piedmont Avenue.  They, thank God, can do the job in 3-5 business days, which will get my glasses back just in time to leave.  I think my next pair of glasses may come from them, and right after New Year’s, too.

Meanwhile, I have no glasses, except for the 2 pair of line bifocals, and I can’t drive a car.  I’ve worn glasses my entire life, since approximately the age of seven, and I keep looking for them, and remembering that they’re in the shop.  Since my cataract surgery, I can do close work without glasses – I’m typing this without glasses.  But anything farther away than about 3 feet starts to get fuzzy.  And I’ve never considered that a spare pair was worth the considerable expense.  I’ve changed my mind on that one, for sure.

And I’m absolutely gobsmacked by how weird and limiting it is, not to have my glasses available.

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Performing in Budapest

On our second full day in Budapest, we had the morning off, then an afternoon rehearsal with orchestra, then 2 hours off for dinner, and then a performance.  The rehearsal and the performance were all in Matthias Church, on Buda Castle Hill, where the bus can’t go, so when we set out, we had to have our performance clothing with us, and carry it up the hill from where the bus dropped us off.  I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the bus was too big to fit in the medieval streets on Buda Castle Hill.  This also meant that we had to eat dinner on the hill.

Photos for this post are in the gallery More BudapestIf you’d like to enlarge any of the photos please go look at them there.

But about that morning off:  the Lion’s Garden Hotel was about a mile from Heroes’ Gate, and in the same area there’s Budapest City Park (with lake), the Vajdahunyad Castle (in the park), a huge mineral water bath (which we didn’t visit, sigh), and the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden.  We bought transit passes from the hotel and walked over to the main tram line to pick up a car. As we walked, I got the idea that the Lion’s Garden Hotel isn’t in the best neighborhood; the buildings were shabby, with some graffiti.  I remember passing one dingy little door with an inscription in Hungarian of which I only understood the English word “striptease”!

Here’s a view of the park and its lake.  We didn’t really explore the park much, as we wanted to see the Castle.

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Touring Budapest

The tour company (ACFEA, which specializes in tours for performing groups) kindly scheduled us nothing but an optional morning tour of Budapest on June 24, our first full day in Europe after 17 hours in transit.  Naturally, we all piled into the bus and went. The photos for this day’s tour are in the Budapest 2015 folder in the photo gallery.

There must be a rule about tours of Budapest – they all seem to start with a bus trip to Heroes’ Square.  Our trip in 2012 did, and so did this one, although the Lion’s Gate Hotel is only about a mile away.  Because I took large scale photos of Heroes’ Square in 2012, and because I was using a different camera, I confined myself this time to closeups of the big statues.  From my previous trip, here’s the big view of Heroes’ Square:

Heroes' Square, Budapest, from 2012 (it hasn't changed)

Heroes’ Square, Budapest, from 2012 (it hasn’t changed)

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Nights at the Opera

With the director of the San Francisco Opera retiring, Jim wanted to see a few of the productions in his last season, so we bought a “4 pack.”  Trust me, if you want to see opera in San Francisco, a “short” subscription of at least 4 productions will make the per-opera cost much more reasonable.  Last year we only wanted to see 2 productions, so we couldn’t get a subscription; this year our 4 opera subscription cost us less than the 2 sets of 2 tickets.

Last week we saw Die Zauberflöte, aka the Magic Flute.  Now, I like Mozart, and I like the Magic Flute, silly as it is.  But I thought SF Opera’s production was odd.  In an opera talking about the worship of Isis and Osiris, they chose to costume all the temple priests like characters in a Japanese Noh play, including whiteface makeup and very odd headdresses.  The hero and heroine, and the Queen of the Night and her court, wore more or less normal stylized costumes; but the “3 boys” who guide the hero through his mystical trials floated in inverted cones suspended on visible wires, and were dressed like Indian servants in a movie about the British Raj, including turbans.

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Back to Budapest

When I left Budapest in 2012, I didn’t expect to return again a few years later, and certainly not to sing there.  But the Oakland Symphony Chorus, in which I’ve sung since January 2000, decided as a group to do an international performance tour in central Europe – beginning in Budapest.  It took us most of a year to organize it, and we ended up with about 70 people on the tour – 45 singers, and the balance were staff, friends, family members and other unspecified supporters. Here we are waiting at the gate:

Waiting in SFO for our plane

Waiting in SFO for our plane

All the photos I took on this trip are in the gallery Oakland Symphony Chorus 2015 Tour, which has 4 folders.  I spent a lot of time rehearsing and performing, during which I couldn’t take photos.  My husband Jim was the unofficial “trip photographer,” and his photos are in a gallery called Oakland Symphony Chorus European Tour June/July 2015. In addition to photos, he took videos of rehearsals and performances.  He took the photo above; obviously, since that’s me in the bottom right corner!

We left San Francisco International Airport on Monday, June 22, 2015, except for a few people who had flown ahead to do a little sightseeing.  The plane left around 3 PM, 50 minutes after its original takeoff time.  We’d been at the airport since 10:30 AM.

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The Blue Angels, 2014

Fleet Week 2015 just came and went.  Oops – that means I never posted my photos from Fleet Week last year, when on October 12, 2014 I saw the Blue Angels perform from the Golden Gate Yacht Club, courtesy of our host, retired Air Force Colonel Conway Jones.  It was quite a day.  The weather was perfect although, as the photos show, the air quality kind of varied depending on how many jets had flown by.  This photo is before any of the jets arrived.

Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay, Fleet Week, 2014

Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay, Fleet Week, 2014

All the photos for this day are in my gallery Blue Angels 2014on my SmugMug site, including more shots of all the planes, plus some pictures of the bay.  If you want to see any of these photos blown up, you should go look at them in the gallery.  The links I post here won’t enlarge if you click them.

As you can see, we were right at water level, looking across to Alcatraz.

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About Locks

Locks are how boats go around waterfalls and rapids, and dams.  Locks are probably the oldest technology we dealt with on our Viking River Cruise.  They still work the way they did in the 14th century (in China, in the 11th century).

You have a chamber with a heavy gate at each end.  The water height at the 2 ends can differ by a couple of feet, or several tens of feet.  Your boat enters the gate at its water level; the gate closes; the lock keeper opens valves that let water pour in, or out, depending.  You sit there while the lock chamber fills, or empties.  When it matches the new water level, the other gate opens and you move on.  The water is entirely moved by gravity; there are no pumps.

Some locks can take several boats at once; some locks are so small they can only take one; and they all handle traffic going both upstream and downstream.  We had at least one major delay where the Embla was in a line behind several other boats at a small lock, and another where a boat got stuck in a lock.  There’s a lot of boat traffic on the Rhine-Main-Danube route, including cargo haulers, and it all goes through those locks. The Embla barely fit in some small locks – I can remember standing on the side balcony and reaching out to touch the lock wall with my hand.

There was some confusion over how many locks we went through.  My original notes say 68, and I’m not sure where I got that.  I Googled the question “how many locks are between Amsterdam and Budapest” and came up with an estimate, from a site on river cruises:

  • From Amsterdam to the Rhine, 1
  • On the Rhine itself, 12
  • On the Main, 34
  • On the Rhine-Main-Donau canal, 16
  • On the Danube, 16 that we went through (there are more downstream from Budapest)

That comes to 79 locks!

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Thoughts on the River Cruise

After 3 years (sigh) I finally finished writing up the Viking River Cruise we took in 2012, from Amsterdam to Budapest.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I have some comments on the experience that I’d like to share.

Walking:  Don’t do one of these cruises unless you can handle walking several miles a day over unpredictably rough ground, or if you have trouble walking distances in heat.  Some cities are well paved, some have cobblestones, and some places aren’t paved at all.  I wore a pedometer, and my records show I walked 3-4 miles most days, a few times more than 4.  One day in Amsterdam I walked almost 8 miles.  If this kind of walking daunts you, you should not take the walking tours – they’re optional, but if you don’t take them, you basically just sit on the boat.  If you do take the walking tours, don’t count on having a lot of free time to explore on your own.  On several occasions we had time to explore a place only because the boat was stuck in line at a lock and was late picking us up.

Weather:  Be prepared for hot, muggy weather.  The farther into the European continent you get, the hotter it gets in summer; the rivers we were on carry enough water to make the weather very humid but not enough to make it cool.  The interior cities can get into the 90s.  Of course, it could also be cool and rainy.  You never know.

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