Encountering art in Vienna is like trying to find sand at the beach -- there is no scarcity of it.
Unfortunately, most people view art experiences beyond a museum visit as quite intimidating, and far from exhilarating. But on a recent trip to Vienna at Christmastime, I found myself thoroughly enraptured by some classical performance art in Vienna.
Vienna is an exquisitely chic city, long-regarded as the music capital of Europe, and rightly so. Its plethora of opera houses, concert halls, and music academies would let even the most ignorant of travelers know that a powerful empire does indeed still exist on the banks of the Danube: and the empress herself is Music. There is no shortage of performances, so one just needs to decide what, when, where, and how much. Here's where I hit a snag -- how can I really choose just a few of these precious gems?
I once read a heart-wrenching series of historical novels detailing the struggles of a Jewish violinist in Vienna during the Anschluss called The Zion Covenant, and knew I just had to see the locations from the books. The musician was part of the orchestra at the Musikverein, so I checked online and found their schedule of events. I was incredulous at my good fortune: I would be in town for a lovely matinee performance of Handel's Messiah. For those who don't remember, Handel was a German composer who wrote Messiah when he was residing in London, and therefore it is in English -- which means it was much easier to convince my husband and friends to attend.
I was terrified of being late for the performance, so I hurried my little group south toward the Ringstraße along Kärntnerstraße from Stephensdom, desperately trying not to slip on the snow and ice in my heeled boots and long dress. Once we reached the Ringstraße, we crossed over past the Opera House, and went left (east) on KarntnerRing for a few blocks and turned right on Dumbastraße. Dusk was fast fading and I was winded from the brisk walk, but as I approached the pale pink palace that was the Musikverein, I found myself even more breathless at the sight of it. We entered the building on the side of Dumbastraße and proceeded back and to the left towards the will-call ticket window, and then made our way towards the entrance again to check our coats. The show was about to commence, so Nick and I bounded up the stairs and made our way to our seats on the second level.
Upon entering the Goldene Saal (Golden Hall), I felt as if transported back to a royal function for Emperor Franz Joseph himself. It is gilded to the hilt with gold and finery, and every surface seems to sparkle with the anticipation of the musical masterpiece about to be conveyed. I had to pinch myself several times to be sure I wasn't dreaming. What could be more perfect? Handel's Messiah performed at Christmas, in a beautiful hall renowned for its world-class acoustics, in the Musikverein no less, in Vienna, the music capital of Europe. The words and music moved me to tears that flowed for nearly 3 hours; I could not believe I could feel so deeply the majesty of Christ's birth and the beautiful delivery through the vocalists and orchestra. I had not expected to have a full-on worship experience at the Musikverein, but alas it was so, and there I was with goosebumps upon goosebumps that had nothing to do with temperature. STUNNING. Certainly a moment for the ages. I was so happy to be sharing this night with my dear husband, sister, cousin, and friends. Hallelujah indeed.
Seating Tips: There were several tiers of seating areas and price ranges to choose from, but for those on a tight budget, it is best to buy a standing room ticket which is about 6€ and gives you a great view from the lower back center (but alas, you are standing for several hours). For those on a tight budget but desperate for an actual seat, gamble on getting a ticket with no view, beside the organ on the 2nd floor, for about 13€ . At least you have a guaranteed seat and can hear the famous acoustics, and if you're lucky, the show won't be sold out and you can move to a great seat anyway. I was afraid to make that gamble and purchased a partial view seat for 35€, but my friends got the 13€ seat and were able to move and get an even better seat than me. It's a choice in which you have to weigh the pros and cons.
Wardrobe Tips: I was surprised at how casually the Wieners were dressed, but I could never wear anything more casual than a cocktail dress or evening gown to the Musikverein. Ladies, be sure to bring a pashmina or wrap to account for varied temperatures in the concert hall. Guys, a sport coat is a must, and a tie is not. But I think the tie is a nice touch as a sign of respect for the musicians and performers alike. Ultimately, it's lovely to go for drinks and a fancy dinner after the show, so getting dressed up is just part of the whole experience. Afterward, we went to the lovely Hotel Sacher -- keep an eye out for my article detailing that in the future.
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