Vienna, All Dressed Up For Christmas

This week, I decided to splurge on a little pre-Christmas gift for myself: Vienna.

Every now and then, it’s nice to visit a beautiful city even if I’m not performing there that weekend. So I decided to head to the capital, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Imperial City is all ready for the holiday season, with the most elegant display of Christmas lights along its fashionable boulevards.

Sunday evening, I had the pleasure of seeing Verdi’s Nabucco at the Staatsoper.  The Ukrainian-Russian soprano Maria Guleghina was battling a cold that evening, but she still delivered an impressive performance in the role of Abigaille. When I last heard her sing it in Los Angeles, Ms. Guleghina gave an electrifying rendition, pinning people to their seats with a wall of sound. It was pretty exciting.  But this time, she sang with less wildness and more nuance, letting her voice blossom slowly into creamy high notes and chesty low tones.

The next day, I extended my mini-vacation to include the Naturhistorisches Museum.  If you read my posts about Florence, you know that I am a museum lover; in fact, I “visit” certain works of art whenever I’m in Paris (Winged Nike at the Louvre) or London (the Parthenon Frieze at the British Museum) or Rome (Michelangelo’s Pietà in St Peter’s Basilica). I consider these artworks to be my friends.  Since I was in Vienna, I had to drop by and say hello to the famous Venus of Willendorf, an ancient statue in the shape of a fertility goddess.  Some experts believe that this little 5-inch statue is 24,000 years old! So I checked in with Venus, not because I’m interested in fertility this year, but just because she’s that cool. In fact, the Naturhistorisches Museum is full of cool stuff, including amethyst geodes and dinosaur bones. There are a number of fun exhibits for kids, like a “time machine” that documents continental drift.

All in all, I had a marvelous time in Vienna.  It is a glorious city, steeped in culture and art. The Economist recently hailed Vienna as the city with the highest quality of life in the whole world! No one can deny that it is a great place to be. And yet, when I actually lived in Vienna in 2004, I noticed that the city also has a peculiar kind of heaviness to it.  There are so many old traditions that they can actually weigh you down.  All over the city, there are fantastic neo-classical statues in niches and fountains and columns and archways.  Very often, you will find statues of young men and women (and serpents and griffins and mermaids…) supporting the buildings of Vienna on their backs and shoulders and heads.

But if you’re strong enough to carry the weight of an Empire between your shoulder blades, then Vienna makes an unforgettable Christmas present.  🙂

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2 thoughts on “Vienna, All Dressed Up For Christmas

  1. I spent 8 weeks in Vienna with an Oberlin study group in 1963. Many wonderful memories, especially of the Kunsthistorisches Museum with its wonder room full of paintings by Brueghel. I also saw Rosenkavalier and Siegfried in the gorgeous Oper.
    Marvelous! Thank you for sharing your Christmas experience with us all.

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