A Stone Marker on the West Bank of the Ammersee

Sometimes the act of looking up one thing takes me to another things, and then something else altogether. This post, for example.

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This is a path on the west bank of the Ammersee between Utting and Schondorf. The stone column seen on the left bears information about a Roman-era bath house with living quarters, which stood here between the 2nd and 4th centuries C.E.
The building was made from volcanic tuff, brick, wooden posts and mosaic, and its walls were painted with frescoes. It had living quarters and bathing facilities, including a changing room (apodyterion), and baths with hot (caldarium), warm (tepidarium), and cold water (frigidarium), achieved with an underfloor heating system (hypokauste).

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This home-spa belonged to a very nice villa and farm (villa rustica) which once stood a little further up the hill. Situated conveniently near both the east-west Via Julia (Augsburg – Salzburg) and the north-south Via Claudia*, the villa had access roads leading to connecting roads on high ground west of the lake and to the Lech valley further west. It would have provided impressive views of the lake and the mountain range beyond.

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According to the plaque, the foundations were excavated in 1924 by one Dr. Blendinger along with his students. Dr. Heinrich Blendinger was director of the nearby boarding school Landheim Schondorf. In 1934 he took over the über-elite Schule Schloss Salem (Salem Castle School) in Baden-Württemberg, just north of Lake Constance. That school has kind and grateful words about Blendinger on their website, giving him credit for the school’s survival through the Third Reich years. A scholarship is given in his name.
According to other sources, Blendinger was not so much “keeping Nazi influence at bay” as he would have one believe from his published memoirs, but an excellent educator who also had impeccable Nazi credentials, and who took over direction of the school after Hahn’s very Nazi successor made a mess of things. All in all one gets the impression he was, if not quite Oskar Schindler, something like that. Former students remembered that under Blendinger’s administration, the school had no racial-idealogy studies, no mandatory wearing of the swastika, and they greeted each other with “Guten Tag” and not “Heil Hitler”. That alone says much about the climate in the school, constantly under threat of being dissolved and turned into a military school.

Somewhat related to the topic: Christoph Probst, member of the resistance group White Rose, attended Landheim Schondorf at age 17 in 1936. As did (around 12 years earlier) Helmuth Graf von Moltke, who had assisted the White Rose in getting flyers to the Allies for distribution over Germany. Another White Rose sympathizer, Jürgen Wittenstein, attended Salem Castle School during Blendinger’s tenure there. He is living in the United States.

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*The plaque mentions the Via Claudia as being the road “to Brenner”, which is not clear. The actual Via Claudia ran further west of here along the Lech River and over the Alps at the Reschen Pass. The road now called Via Raetia, which is much closer to this place, does go over the Brenner Pass but was built around 100 years later, and seems to have had no name at the time. It is possible that the new road then took over the official route name, much like highways do today, but I haven’t seen that before in connection to these two roads.

The Odd (and Beautiful) Nikolauskirche in Hall // Die seltsame (und schöne) Nikolauskirche in Hall

Dear Reader, I did this little trip to Hall in Tirol more for me than for you, as I knew I needed to get out of the house. Three straight months of rehearsals for three different productions, plus teaching private lessons, left very little time for blog-related excursions (and I was off to Germany any time I had two consecutive days free). Now that I have a little more time, I’ve got to make myself get back outside.
I have been to the St. Nikolaus Parish Church before, once just to look inside, once to sing a mass. But Paschberg recently brought to my attention the existence of its Waldauf Chapel, which we’ll get to in a bit…
Liebe Leser, ich habe diesen kleinen Ausflug nach Hall in Tirol mehr für mich als für sie gemacht, da ich merkte, ich brauche was um rauszukommen.
Drei harte Monate des Probens für drei verschiedene Produktionen sowie das Halten von Privatunterricht, ließ sehr wenig Zeit für blogbezogene Ausflüge übrig (und ich war jedes Mal, an dem ich zwei aufeinanderfolgenden Tagen frei hatte, in Deutschland). Jetzt, wo ich wieder ein wenig mehr Zeit, habe ich mir diese auch genommen um ins Freie zu kommen.
Ich bin schon früher in der Pfarrkirche St. Nikolaus gewesen, einmal einen Blick ins Innere zu werfen, einmal um eine Messe singen. Aber Paschberg hat mich vor kurzem auf die Existenz seiner Waldauf Kapelle aufmerksam gemacht, die wir uns nun ansehen werden…

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From the entrance the visitor can see that the chancel is not aligned with the rest of the building. The chancel is actually part of the earlier incarnation of the building, which by the early 15th century was too small for the growing local population. A wider, longer nave was built but could not be extended out directly in line with the chancel, and so the church has this odd “kink” in its interior.
Vom Eingang kann der Besucher sehen, dass der Chor nicht mit dem Rest des Gebäudes ausgerichtet ist. Der Chor ist eigentlich ein älterer Teil des Gebäudes, das Anfang des 15. Jahrhunderts für die wachsende Bevölkerung zu klein wurde. Ein breiteres, längeres Langhaus wurde gebaut, aber nicht in direkter Übereinstimmung mit der Flucht des Altarraums, so dass die Kirche diesen seltsame “Knick” in ihrem Inneren bekam.

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On the north wall, an apparently complete skeleton, dressed in Baroque finery, over an alter to St. Catherine (Katharinenaltar), but I don’t who this would be behind the glass. S/he is flanked by alleged relics of Ss. Constantine and Agapitus, ensconced in their own wall niches.
An der Nordwand, findet man ein scheinbar vollständiges Skelett, im Barockornat gekleidet, auf einem Altar der Hl. Katharina (Katharinenaltar), aber ich weiß nicht, wir hinter dem Glas ist. Er / sie wird von angeblichen Reliquien der Hln. Konstantin und Agapitus flankiert, in eigene Wandnischen eingesetzt.

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Further along in the north transept one enters the Waldaufkapelle, named after one Florian von Waldauf, the 15th-century knight who had the chapel built and who donated his massive collection of holy relics, picked up here and there during his extensive travels.
Im weiteren Verlauf in des nördlichen Querschiffs betritt man die Waldaufkapelle, nach einem Herrn Florian von Waldauf benannt, Ritter aus dem 15. Jahrhundert, der die Kapelle gebaut hatte und der seine riesige Sammlung von heiligen Reliquien gespendet hatte, die er hie und da während seiner zahlreichen Reisen erstand.

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Among the dozens of adult skulls (and some long bones) sits a very small child’s skull with the word  S Innocentibus* embroidered on its pillow. Who all these saints really were, I don’t know. The Niklauskirche is being renovated but its doors are open to visitors.
Unter den Dutzenden von Erwachsenenschädeln (und einigen langen Knochen) sitzt ein sehr kleiner Kinderschädel mit dem Wort S Innocentibus * auf sein Kissen gestickt. Wer all diese Heiligen wirklich waren, weiß ich nicht. Die Niklauskirche wird renoviert, aber ihre Pforten für Besucher geöffnet sind.

* Reader Joe informs me that this name signifies one of the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod shortly after the birth of Jesus. The church’s official guide booklet states that the relics come predominantly from the Roman catacombs.// Reader Joe teilt mir mit, dass dieser Name für eines der unschuldigen Kinder steht, die Herodes kurz nach der Geburt Jesu töten ließ. Im offiziellen Faltblatt der Kirche steht, dass die Reliquien vorwiegend aus den römischen Katakomben kommen.

Notburga of Rattenberg

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First, a bit of background on Notburga (pronounced Note-boor-ga). She was born in Rattenberg, a small town east of Innsbruck, around 1265 to a couple of hatmakers, and proved to be an extraordinarily intelligent and competent woman. She hired herself out as a serving maid to King Heinrich I up on “Rottenburg” Castle, and beyond her duties she looked out for the poor in the area, bringing them leftovers from the castle meals. When Heinrich II took the throne, his wife was not so keen on Notburga’s presence. The official line is that Ottilia didn’t like the poor being fed, but I suspect it had more to do with her feeling that her power was somehow threatened. Notburga was let go from her job, and found a new one on a farm in nearby Eben, on Lake Achensee (which is redundant, but I’ve seen it often written this way for English readers), where her one condition was that she be allowed to stop working at the first peals of the evening church bell.
One miracle attributed to Notburga involves an occurrence during the harvest. A storm was approaching, and the farmer demanded that his laborers stay at work until all the grain was brought in. When the church bell rang, Notburga stopped, and when confronted by her employer, she threw her sickle into the air, where it hung on a sunbeam.
At some point after the death of Ottilie, Heinrich II, suffering from general disarray and a feud with his brother, asked Notburga to return to the castle (of course he did), where she brought everything back into order. Later, close to death, she expressed the wish that her body be put into an unmanned wagon pulled by two oxen, and that where the oxen stop, she should be buried. This being done, the oxen took her across the Inn River, up the mountain and back to Eben, where they finally stopped in front of the village church.
Notburga’s remains quickly became such a popular pilgrimage destination that the church had to rebuild twice in the next 200 years to accommodate the increased visitor count. She has never been canonised, but the Vatican officially made allowance for her to be revered, which makes her a de facto saint.

Now, there are few different things going on here at once. Old legends around the Rofan Mountains and Lake Achensee tell of the “white ladies”, and Notburga von Rattenberg is in a way one of these, although an historical Christian figure as well. Or, put another way, she was given some other-worldly attributes after her death.

The oxen ride predates Notburga by at least 1500 years — in Greek mythology, the Phoenician prince Cadmus was instructed by the Oracle at Delphi to follow a certain cow and build the town of Thebes on the spot where she lay down.

In “Philosophie, Religion und Alterthum” by Georg Friedrich Daumer, Campe Verlag, 1833, in a chapter discussing Count Hubert of Calw (available via google books, translation by the blogauthor):

This last journey appears in many other legends,  for example in those of St. Gundhildis and of Notburga of Rattenberg… the river crossing is important in mythology and appears also in the following Swiss legend: ‘The building tools were carried by a pair of yoked oxen and where the animals stopped would determine the place where the church would be built. They crossed the river and came to a stop at the place where  St. Stephen’s Church was erected’ … This holy ritual is also found in India. When one wishes to build a pagoda, the place will be determined through the sacred cow; where she lies down at night is the place decided upon by the deity.

The “sickle miracle” might be borrowing from the sickle’s pre-Christian symbolisation of fertility and harvest, the crescent moon. It may be a leap in logic to say this but I suspect that Notburga, being an intelligent and resourceful woman, helped not only the poor of Rattenberg but possibly women as well — pregnancy killed a lot of women back then, and anyone with some good midwife skills (including surgery) could go a long way. It would have been very easy for the Church to turn her into the Patron Saint of Agriculture, with that sharp blade in her hand. But she also sounds like an early champion of farmworkers’ rights, with her insistence that work stop with the sound of the bell. I can well imagine a woman told to get back to work and throwing her sickle into the air — and the shock of hearing about it keeping the story alive, in one form or another, for a while. She may have been the talk of the region, standing up to The Man like that, as well as the one that people sought for help when none was to be found elsewhere. Her insistence on sharing food — hers and the court’s — with the local poor in defiance of authority points to a kind of Christian socialism (was she a late-mediaeval version of “community organizer”?)

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And it may be another leap in logic to connect her reverence with the Germanic deity Frau Perchta (or Hertha), whose responsibilities included ushering the souls of dead children to the otherworld. Hertha in turn is a variation on the Germanic Frau Hölle (or Holda), who is the protectress of children while having none of her own. What I think we have here is a strong and able woman, revered long after her death for great works among the people (the nature of which the Catholic Church at the time could not recognise), being elevated in a way that conveniently took a little of the life out of the old beliefs which were still floating around.

110318_notburga600Bonus trivia: Notburga’s skeletal remains can still be seen in the church at Eben, upright and dressed above the altar.

Images from here and here.

Two Roads in Utting

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On a small, wooden sign posted along a dirt road outside of Utting am Ammersee, not far from the Celtic Schanze in Achselschwang:

Nach der Eroberung des südbayerischen Raumes 15 v. Chr. enstand zunächst dessen neue Hauptstadt: Augusta Vindelicorum, das heutige Augsburg. Sie wurde Mitte des ersten Jahrhunderts n. Chr. durch die Via Claudia mit Rom verbunden, die über den Reschenpaß führt und am Lech entlanglief.
Die Trasse über den Brenner, den Zirler Berg, Mittenwald, Partenkirchen, Weilheim wurde erst zu Beginn des dritten Jahrhunderts ausgebaut und führt hier durch (den) Flur.
Da sie direktere Verbindung darstellte, wuchs ihre Bedeutung rasch.
Später wurde sie von den Germanen genutzt, die von Norden einfielen und sich unter anderem im Bereich der Straßen, auch hier in Utting, niederließen. Auch im Mittelalter wirde die Trasse noch für die nach Italien ziehenden kaiserlichen Heere benutzt, die sich in Augsburg sammelten.

It tells of the Roman Roads from Italy to Augsburg, and that second of the two (the Via Raetia) passed by here. After the fall of the empire it was used by the Germanic tribes who came down from the north to settle here, and then by imperial armies traveling to Italy in the Middle Ages.

IMG_1302Da die Straße sehr einfach gebaut war — sie war lediglich ein ungepflasterer Kiesweg — verwischten sich ihre Spuren nach und nach wieder in der Landschaft, so daß heute nur noch wenig zu sehen ist. Die Spuren und der angenommene Verlauf auf Uttinger Flur sehen Sie auf der obenstehenden Karte.

Well, the Romans put a lot of engineering and resources into their roads, but perhaps not so much here, probably because the landscape didn’t require it. Here they’d made a gravel road and left it at that, apparently. The sign is not clear as to whether the road did come through right here, or whether it’s assumed to have come through here.

photo 2The second road is not really much of a road at all, but rather a short paved way that connects two other streets over a stream. This, as the sign reads, is Bert Brecht Way, and it is so named because Brecht once lived, briefly,  around the corner.

Sieben Wochen meines Lebens war ich reich.
Vom Ertrag eines Stückes erwarb ich
Ein Haus in einem großen Garten. Ich hatte es
Mehr Wochen betrachtet, als ich es bewohnte. Zu
verschiedenen Tageszeiten
Und auch des Nachts ging ich erst vorbei, zu sehen
Wie die alten Bäume über den Wiesen stünden in der
Frühdämmerung
Oder der Teich mit den moosigen Karpfen lag, vormittags,
bei Regen
Die Hecken zu sehen in der vollen Sonne des Mittags
Die weißen Rhododendrenbüsche am Abend, nach dem
Vesperläuten.

photoBrecht wrote that for seven weeks of his life he was a rich man. He’d bought a house with a large garden, not far from the banks of the Ammersee. He’d observed the house for far longer than he’d actually lived there, passing by to gaze upon the house, the pond, the trees, the rhododendrons. In late 1932 he moved in, but by the following February he was forced to flee Nazi Germany. The house remained in the family until 1953.

Jackson Memorial

In Munich today, we found ourselves in front of this:

IMG_1051A perfectly respectable monument of the composer Orlando di Lasso (who died in Munich in 1594) has been re-purposed into a memorial to Michael Jackson, who did not die here, but who did stay in the hotel just beyond, the luxurious Hotel Bayerischer Hof.  No, it’s not the German hotel where he recklessly dangled a baby from the balcony; that happened at the more famous Hotel Adlon, in Berlin. 

Innsbruck, Dürer and “Ern Malley”

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Liebe Leserinnen und Leser, hier findet ihr Information über diese Geschichte.

This is a postcard that was found in an old book, having been used as a bookmark by a previous reader. It’s Albrecht Dürer’s Hof der Burg zu Innsbruck (Innsbruck Castle Courtyard), and in the mild hopes of finding out exactly where this spot is and what it looks like now, I began by googling the words ‘Dürer’ and ‘Innsbruck’, which led me to this image —

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Innsbruck mit dem Blick auf den Patscherkofel (View of Innsbruck with Patscherkofel)

— as well as to a strange poem with an amusing story attached. It was part of a “collection” by one late, great unknown poet named Ern Malley – which was actually all a hoax cooked up by two Modernist poets in Australia serving in war duty in the 1940s, meant to trip up the very young editor and founder of a successful modernist poetry magazine. They threw together a parody of late modernist poems, invented a fictional author who died young and a sister who “found” the works, and submitted them to the magazine. The hoax was a success – the young editor received them excitement, sure that he had made a great discovery. Well.

The first poem, by the way, was called “Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495”:

I had often cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters –
Not knowing then that Durer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

Das erste Gedicht wurde übrigens “Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495” genannt.
[Paschberg macht einen Versuch, das Gedicht zu übersetzten. Fast zu gut..!]

Oft umfing mich die schläfrig schwere Luft
Meine leblosen Lider schließend, wirklich zu finden
wie um die Erscheinung der farbigen Türme wusste
und dier bemalten Dächer vor dem Hintergrund das hohen Schnees
alles gestürzt in den stillen spiegelnden Wassern
damals nicht wissend, dass auch Dürer das wahrgenommen
Jetzt erkenne ich mich wieder, geschrumpft
zu einem Eindringling, einem Räuber, eines toten Mannes Traum
In Bücher hab ich gelesen, dass Kunst nicht einfach ist,
doch niemand warnte vor dem Wiederholen der Gedanken
in der Unwissenheit der Visionen . Ich bleibe
der schwarze Schwan des Friedensbruchs in fremden Gewässern

The authors claim they pulled words out of reference dictionaries at random and from what came to mind. This first poem, however, had come from an earlier serious attempt which was then edited to make it somehow more “late modernist”, a style the authors did not like at all. I’m guessing “I had read in books that art is not easy” is one of the “improvements”…Die Autoren behaupten, sie hätten die Wörter zufällig aus Wörterbüchern und in freier Assoziation genommen. Das erste Gedicht ist jedenfalls ein früherer ernsthafter Versuch, bearbeitet um es irgendwie Spätmodern klingen zu lassen, ein Stil, der den Autoren überhaupt nicht gefiel. Ich nehme an das „In Bücher hab ich gelesen, dass Kunst nicht einfach ist“ eine der „Verbesserungen“

Over the years, the fictional poet Ern Malley has taken on a kind of minor cult fame in Australia. He’s got his own website, and the story and poems have become the inspiration for other works over the years. Im Lauf der Jahre wurde der fiktive Dichter Ern Malley in Australien zu einer Art Kultobjekt. Er hat nun seine eigene Website und seine Geschichte und seine Gedichte wurden im Laufe der Zeit Inspiration für andere Arbeiten.

1st image from the author; 2nd image found here

Remembering the Pogrom 1938

Deutschsprachige Leser kann mehr hier lesen.

In light of reports like here and here, one might start to think that Europe is going under any day. Reading beyond the headlines, one learns

[t]he trend in Europe does not signal the return of fascist demons from the 1930s, except in Greece, where the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has promoted openly racist beliefs, and perhaps in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party backs a brand of ethnic nationalism suffused with anti-Semitism.

But the soaring fortunes of groups like the Danish People’s Party, which some popularity polls now rank ahead of the Social Democrats, point to a fundamental political shift toward nativist forces fed by a curious mix of right-wing identity politics and left-wing anxieties about the future of the welfare state.

Yes, the far-right groups are worrisome. No, we are not being taken over or sliding back into the 1930s.

That said, it is still supremely important to remember what happened, and today marks the 75th anniversary of the November pogroms in Germany, known as Kristallnacht. Efforts have been made in the last decades to stop using this latter name and call it what it was, a pogrom, and most formal reference to it uses Novemberpogrome. The old name is still around, though.
Innsbruck has a group of citizens dedicated to keeping the memory of the horrors in the Anschluss years from fading into obscurity. They have toiled for years publishing about many aspects of those years — the schools, the psychiatric system, the ethnic cleansing, the local resistance, and a lot more I can’t even think of right now — if you are looking for literature, this author has been especially prolific (I have read some of his books, and am impressed enough to recommend anything written by him.)
The commemorations this year include a concert featuring the work Concerto funebre by the late Innsbruck composer Bert Breit, dedicated to the Innsbruck victims of Kristallnacht; walking tours of the Altstadt with emphasis on its former Jewish residents; research projects for high school students at the City Archives; commemorative speeches at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery, followed by a silent march to the Pogromnacht memorial menorah near the State Govermnent Building (Landhaus), where a Kaddish will be recited.

I assume that other cities across Austria and Germany will be having similar events tonight.

Yesterday evening I attended a small reading and slide-show presentation of letters to one Erna Krieser, a young woman who left Innsbruck in the late 1930s to take a job with a rich family in Tuscany, from her immediate family. Her mother and twin sister write in ever increasing urgency about their situation — being forced to sell the family business, being told they must leave Innsbruck, eventually settling in the Jewish ghetto in Vienna, all the while hoping to find a way out and being too afraid to make any rash decisions — a reunion in South Tyrol becomes out of the question as the family learns they would not be able to return home. This is difficult for many younger listeners to understand, but without proper travel and residency papers, virtually nothing was possible, especially for a middle-aged couple and their daughter. On the other hand, if they had known what was in store for them (the parents perished in Auschwitz, Erna’s sister Käthe in the Lodz ghetto), would they have risked it? (A good novel on the kafkaesque labyrinth of bureaucracy one faced is “Transit”, by Anna Seghers). Their last letters, right up to the outbreak of the war, and the closing of all the borders, were filled with hoping against hope that someone would come through for them, and with enormous gratitude that their daughter Erna had got out (she was able to emigrate to Palestine.)

The readings were interspersed with selections from an old photo album, many “last photos” of Jewish Innsbruck families in their homes, on holiday, on the way out of Europe. The evening was titled Abschiedsbilder, farewell pictures, and presented by local author and filmmaker Niko Hofinger.

A Special Grave in the Jewish Cemetery

IMG_0811While I was at the Westfriedhof, scouting out an appropriate bench to photograph and include with the story below, I visited the grave of Yury Shklyar, which I do every once in a while. (I know, it’s weird. I like cemeteries.) Yury was a colleague in the theater for a few years. He had the most tremendous voice I had ever heard in that space, it was just so incredibly big. He sang beautifully, and he was a consummate actor as well. But he tended to distance himself from the ensemble and all their dramas, having been 1) a little older, 2) a lot more experienced, having sung in big theaters all over the world, 3) not a good German speaker, and 4) suffering from stomach cancer. This last item was surely the reason he was in Innsbruck at all, because he was way too good for us. We assume that our Intendantin knew full well that he was ill, and brought him here for the health care and so that his family would have some security in the West. He and his wife had two sons, Russia was sending troops to Chechnya, and the older one was nearing conscription age. What I mean to say is, he needed a secure, full-time engagement in a western European opera house, for the benefits and for his family’s sake.

Während ich im Westfriedhof war, eine geeignete Bank zum Photographieren suchte und mich mit der folgenden Geschichte befasste, besuchte ich das Grab von Yuri Shklyar, was ich immer wieder tue (Ich weiß es ist komisch. Ich mag Friedhöfe). Yuri war vor wenigen Jahren ein Kollege im Theater. Er hatte die gewaltigste Stimme, die ich je in diesem Raum erlebt habe, sie war einfach so unbeschreiblich groß. Er sang wunderschön und er war ein ebenso vollendeter Schauspieler. Aber er blieb auf Distanz zum Ensemble und seinen Geschichten, da er 1) etwas älter war, 2) wesentlich mehr Erfahrung hatte, da er weltweit in großen Theatern aufgetreten ist, 3) nicht gut deutsch sprach und 4) an Magenkrebs litt. Letzteres war sicher der Grund, warum er überhaupt in Innsbruck war, denn er war wohl etwas zu gut für uns. Wir nehmen an, das unsere Intendantin wohl wusste, dass er krank war und sie ihn hierher wegen der medizinischen Versorgung brachte und um seinen Familie in den sicheren Westen zu bringen. Er hatte seinen Frau und zwei Söhne, Russland entsandte gerade Truppen nach Tschetschenien und sein älterer Sohn war im Einziehungssalter. Was ich damit sagen möchte: Er brauchte ein sicheres Vollzeitengagement in einem westeuropäischen Opernhaus für das Wohl seiner Familie.

In his last months at work, before the illness kept him away, we shared the stage in a few roles. The very last roles I can remember him singing were Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, and Uncle Bonzo in Madama Butterfly, the latter of which I think he may have viewed as a waste of precious little time. He was even more withdrawn than usual that season. He may very well have known his fate. He used to sit backstage and say nothing between scenes. During one performance I approached his chair and told him how much I loved his acting, because to me it really was a treat to watch his face slide through different emotions and reactions, even when he was not singing. He scowled at this, and said “Acting” while practically rolling his eyes, which implied that acting didn’t mean nearly as much to him as singing did. I explained myself (maybe a little too forcefully) that, to me, the opera stage was full of decent singers who did not act, and that I appreciated much more a singer who did. He paused, sighed, and said “Thank you.”  I am sure, in hindsight, that he said that simply to get me to leave him alone.

In den letzten Monaten seiner Arbeit, bevor seine Krankheit ihn daran hinderte, standen wir in einigen wenigen Rollen gemeinsam auf der Bühne. Die letzten Rollen an die ich mich erinnere, waren, als er den Bartolo in „Figaros Hochzeit“ und Onkel Bonzo in Madama Butterfly sang, letztere, denke ich,  dürfte er als Verschwendung seiner wertvollen noch verbleibenden Zeit betrachtet haben. Er hatte sich in jener Saison noch mehr zurückgezogen. Ich glaube, er ahnte wohl sein Schicksal. Üblicherweise saß er zwischen den Szenen schweigsam hinter der Bühne. Während einer Aufführung ging ich zu seinem Stuhl, und sagte ihm, wie sehr ich sein Schauspiel liebte, da es ein Genuss war, seinen Gesichtsausdruck im Wechsel verschiedenster Emotionen und Reaktionen zu beobachten – auch wenn er nicht sang. Er verfinsterte sich, sagte, „Schauspielen“ und rollte dabei verächtlich mit den Augen, was sagte, dass Schauspiel ihm nicht annähernd soviel bedeutete, wie Gesang. Ich erklärte (möglicherweise etwas zu eindringlich), dass aus meiner Sicht die Opernbühne voll anständiger Sänger ist, die allerdings nicht Schauspielen und dass ich Sänger, die das auch können, bevorzuge. Er hielt inne, seufzte und sagte „Dankeschön“. Ich bin mir rückblickend sicher, er hat das nur gesagt, um wieder seine Ruhe zu haben.

But I’m glad I’d told him, because it was the last interaction to speak of that I had with him, and shortly thereafter he went on sick leave. Two or three months later, he was dead. The death announcement was the first time many of us heard that he was Jewish.

Aber ich bin froh, dass ich ihm das gesagt habe,  denn das war unsere letzte Begegnung bei der wir miteinander sprachen. Kurz darauf ging er in Krankenstand. Zwei oder drei Monate später war er tot. Viele von uns erfuhren erst durch die Todesnachricht, dass er Jude war.

Here is a taping of a full live performance of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia in the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, with a white-wigged Yury as Bartolo and a very young Anna Netrebko as Rosina. Skip ahead to 1:40:20, the end of Rosina’s “voice lesson” scene for a little of his comic genius.

Hier ist ein Mitschnitt einer vollständigen Aufführung von Rossinis „Der Barbier von Sevilla“ im Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg mit Yuri als Bartolo und der blutjungen Anna Netrebko als Rosina. Ab 1:40:20, das Ende von Rosinas “Gesangsstunde”, kann man Yuris komisches Talent sehen.

We were lucky to have him. May he rest in peace. Maybe he’s premiering Rossini’s latest opera in the Afterlife.

Wir waren froh, dass wir ihn hatten. Er ruhe in Frieden. Vielleicht singt er Rossinis neueste Oper im Jenseits.

You Have To Hear Yourself With The Ears Of Your Enemies.

Moser1 ∏ Christian Steiner, EMI Classics(Photo from EddaMoser.com )

Even if you have never heard of the German soprano Edda Moser (and that’s OK;  I don’t really keep track of sopranos myself, and I’m in the business), if you are a singer you really should read this interview she gave to Lars von der Gönna recently for the Westdeutche Allgemeine Zeitung. I don’t know if I am allowed to post this in translation but I found it so good that it deserves to be read by English-speaking singers as well. So, for now, here it is. Pass it on as you see fit. Die deutsche sopranistin Edda Moser hat neulich ein Interview gegeben, die sehr informativ und lesenswert ist. Ich empfehle, daß jeder Sänger diesen Artikel lese. Deutschsprachige Leser können gleich zum WAZ Link für die Originalfassung.

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This is a lovely garden.

EM: I think so too. We see deer down there in the morning, when I go out onto the balcony after my gymnastics.

You do gymnastics?

EM: Of course! Every morning. I can show you afterward.

Many of your records are currently being reissued. You’re very present in the media. That’s not a given these days.

EM: True. I think that I’m enjoying more attention than I did during my time on the stage.

Because you were not a diva?

EM: Well, I was never sick, I was married, I was never involved in any scandals. Some become legends because they cancel so many times. I went my own way, without making problems. By the way, that’s also the reason I left my husband. He said, “You have to be in the newspapers every day.” But I was only interested in the work. The grace, to be allowed to sing those wonderful roles.

Many of your performances are legendary — above all your Queen of the Night, which contained more than sparkle and coloratura.

EM: Coloratura? I opened my mouth and it was there. But a role like that is so much more. I always prepared myself physically for roles. One has to do that. It doesn’t even occur to most, unfortunately. If I say to my students, “You have to be able to touch your palms to the floor while standing”, they say “For God’s sake, I can’t even reach down to my knees!”. At some point I gave up. (offering candy) YOu have to try this, it’s absolutely sinful. From Italy!

Almond cookies? Terrific!

EM: Yes! Aren’t they marvelous?

You’ve said, “One has to remain at the bottom.” What does that mean?

EM: You have to ground yourself. We live here on Earth, I’ve always sung “grounded”. I try to pass that on to young singers, but it shocked them too much. They don’t understand that one first begins to learn this profession while standing on the stage. I’ve said to them, “Heed my warnings, at least a couple of them. Humility! Discipline! Keep quiet!” You can forget it, no one listens. Some, after they were miserably stranded, came to me later and said, “You were right.” Too late.

To keep quiet — for many years you only wrote what you wanted to say, avoided the telephone — all to keep your voice healthy.

EM: Yes, it was like that. When one sings as a profession, it demands a certain exclusivity. One gets lonely, and it stays that way. There isn’t anything else. On the other hand, I think: it should be that way for many things that one does seriously and dedication.

Did you make sacrifices willingly?

EM: Oh, sometimes I would have gladly participated. Laughing and gossiping. It was simply taboo to really celebrate. I never went to parties. Although I was pretty fetching, as a young singer I was good looking.

You speak directly about the dark side of the opera business.

EM: It could make you cry. Christmas is some hotel in America. Much acclaim at a New Years Eve performance in Vienna, a great pleasure, a lot of fun onstage. Then one minute in (Cafe) Sacher: a good-luck pig, a good-luck penny, a glass of water and then back to the hotel. Over. Done. But it only worked through this kind of discipline. I had some of the most beautiful experiences of my life through singing. For me, it really was a holy art.

So holy and serious, that you wanted to take your life, when a role was taken away from you.

EM: Fidelio in Salzburg! Gewandhausorchester, Kurt Masur. A dream. It was all planned. And then I happened to find out that I was out. Masur deceived me. It was awful. Only the thought of my mother kept me from killing myself.

When you ended your career with a grand “Salome” in Vienna, what was it like for you afterwards?

EM: First it was like death. You are simply gone. The telephone doesn’t ring anymore, no one calls. You are nobody. The sadness is indescribable. And then some idiots come along and say, “But now you’re a professor of singing.” They have nothing to do with one another. It’s the opposite. As a singer you have to be the most egotistic person, and not give a damn about anything but yourself. And when you’re the teacher, you stand completely in the background.

In your career, what did you see as a gift, and what did you see as work?

EM: The work was a gift! Sure, I had the talent. But 98% is work; genius is industry.Don’t think now that I consider myself a total genius. But when I look back, I think: there was genius to my fearlessness. My faith in God was there too.

Why are German singers underrepresented in the world’s opera houses?

EM: Much too much theory. They have to practice a lot more. Vocal training! Sometimes I miss this “I want!”. A singer needs that. When one shows up at the theater sloppily dressed, one doesn’t get past the doorman. I once sang for an agent who started reading his mail while I was singing. I stopped and said, “I’ll wait. Finish reading your mail, and then I’ll continue.” I thought, he damned well ought to listen to me. No one dares (speak up) today.

Is that your advice? : Have courage!

EM: Absolutely. But that only works when one sings well. You have to hear yourself with the ears of your enemies. And I want to give my enemies as little pleasure as possible.

Was there a perfect performance for you?


EM: Yes, there was. Beethoven “Missa Solemnis” with Giulini. Or the St. Matthew Passion with Karl Richter. One knew then, the sky’s the limit!

Was it on the stage that you felt the greatest feeling?

EM: For me, absolutely yes! My eroticism, my believe in true love, that all happened on the stage. We were all in love with each other onstage, Gedda, Pavarotti, Domingo. Oh, Domingo, what a voice, this dark gold! And how he comforted me, when I argued with stage directors. We dined together just recently, when he was here to sing at the Loreley [an open-air arena in Germany].

Speaking of food: you’ve cooked here at your house for Helmut Kohl.

EM: Yes, an underrated man, because he was a great subject for caricature. But what instinct! Very cultured, very humourous. Actually quite modest. Completely insecure with women.

The Queen of the Night, and a politician whose favorite singer was Hans Albers. How did that work?

EM: Kohl knew relatively little about music, he went gamely to festival concerts, found them very nice. But Brahms was a closed book for him, he didn’t even know Schubert’s “Erl King”. I played it for him — and he listened. He was always curious, that was one of his great strengths.

Why are tenors so much more admired than sopranos?

EM: At the Vienna State Opera, tenors are even addressed as “maestro”. It is, if you will, the most unnatural form of singing. Tenors get the highest salaries, I am alright with that. As their partner onstage, even I was intoxicated by these voices.

Anna Netrebko is celebrated all over the world as a soprano star. What’s your view on your colleague from St. Petersburg?

EM: A really wonderful voice. But she’s simply not a lady, that’s her failing. She lacks a certain distance to the public — she brings the art across but not the femininity. If she had this “grandezza”, she would be one of the greatest. This pop-star allure is simply a shame.

And opera stage direction these days?

EM: I can only condemn it. Above all Katharine Wagner. What possibilities she has in Bayreuth — and makes such filth! Meistersinger as  painters, I can only laugh at that. I get the impression that she has no fire in her, she is only mocking. She is arrogant. And the result is boring. Please write that!

Frau Moser, one last, rather indiscreet question; what does one sing, when one forgets the text?

EM: Lalala. Simple. No one notices — you just have to do it expressively!