Tailor-made Holidays for lovers of Opera, Operetta and Classical Music
Musical Heaven in Baden bei Wien
A personal account by John and Jenny Partington
Our operetta holiday last July really started at the beginning of the year when we treated ourselves to a New Year break in Vienna, which was a wonderful experience in itself. One of the events included was a visit to a performance of “The Merry Widow” at the famous Volksoper. We arrived to find a change in the programme and that we were to see “Grafin Mariza” by Emmerich Kalman. What a magical evening!
The whole performance was so alive with wonderful singing and dancing not to mention the sets and costumes in such an historic theatre. Afterwards the music would just not go away, the tunes going round and round in my head, some of them seemed vaguely familiar, and where had I heard them before? Then I remembered my father had had a large collection of Viennese music on vinyl LP records, some of which I had fortunately kept. On returning home a search through the loft located some of the records, and there amongst them was “Grafin Mariza” together with “Der Zigeunerbaron” and other operetta excerpts. We were soon playing them and reliving our visit to the Volksoper, but how could we hear more of this wonderful music? It seems that in the UK most operetta repertoires are limited to “Die Fledermaus” and “Die Lustige Witwe”. I managed to find an excellent CD set “Operetten Festival” with Strauss, Kalman and Lehar operetta excerpts but this only increased the desire to see and hear more of this music, but where?
A search through the Johann Strauss Society’s newsletter found mention of “Operetta Heaven Holidays”, Tailor-Made Holidays for Music Lovers from C and H Travel. We soon discovered that C and H were Carl and Helen Smith who could not have been more helpful and seemed to offer just what we were looking for. Their brochure and free DVD gave a real insight into what they could arrange, and we soon narrowed this down to either Bad Ischl for the Lehar Operetta Festival, or Baden bei Wien for their Summer Operetta Festival combined with a visit to the Lakeside Operetta Festival at Morbisch. We eventually decided on the latter, taking in a concert in Vienna, as Helen had informed us that it was an easy 12 mile tram journey from Baden to the centre of Vienna.
Living in Anglesey and with family living near Manchester our chosen route was Manchester to Vienna, which we had flown with BA at the New Year. We were disappointed to discover that BA no longer flew this route. Helen was quickly in contact with Lindsay Garner of Travel Counsellors, who handle C and H’s flight arrangements, and they very quickly came back with an alternative to fly Sky Europe Manchester to Bratislava, which is virtually the same distance from Baden as Vienna and they could still meet us with transport. With everything arranged and with no hitches we duly arrived at Bratislava Airport where we were met personally by Carl and Helen and taken to our hotel on the edge of the Kurpark in Baden. The weather was wonderfully sunny and the hotel a traditional Austrian building, family run by the owner Crystal and her brother. An added bonus was a garden swimming pool which we made much use of during a very sunny week.
So to a week of music and operetta. Carl and Helen went through our programme for the week followed by an informative stroll around Baden, showing us places of interest, where to eat and where the trams to Vienna went from. Our first operetta was to be at The Lakeside Festival at Morbisch. It was their 50th anniversary with a performance of “Wiener Blut”. One of the items we found most helpful was our informal pre-performance meetings and drinks with Carl and Helen where they went through the synopsis and plots (often very complex!) for each of the performances we were going to. We suspected that this was also Carl’s test to see if we had read the excellent synopses included in our welcome packs! Once at Morbisch we took our seats in the 6500 seat tiered arena which looks out over the lake as a backdrop to the open-air stage and set. It was just going dusk on a beautiful summers evening and we were treated to a spectacular performance of music, singing and dancing which can only be described as “out of this world”, all rounded off with a magnificent firework display.
Our next two operettas were at the “Sommerarena” in Baden. This is a one hundred year old theatre on the edge of the Kurpark with a glass-sliding roof, which was open to the evening sky. We enjoyed performances of “Sissy” by Fritz Kreisler and “Paganini” by Franz Lehar. Both performances sparkled with beautiful melodies and lively dancing. An added bonus was champagne on the terrace, under the stars, with Carl and Helen during the interval of Paganini. Their knowledge of the music and performances gave us a lot of additional insight and pleasure as they are both keen operatic performers themselves.
One of the delights of the Kurpark was the open-air bandstand where we were able to sit and relax during two afternoons to Viennese concerts played by members of the “Sommerarena Orchestra”, all free. Our other concert was pre-booked for us from a choice given by C and H Travel and we had chosen one at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. An easy tram ride into Vienna, a visit to a coffee house and then to the concert. Despite the heat outside the concert hall in the Hofburg was cool, mainly due to its massive structure. Music played by the Hofburg Orchestra with five soloists was by Strauss and Mozart - lyrical, romantic and lively as only the Viennese can play it. Back out into the still hot night air, tram back to Baden and our hotel in the Kurpark, we resisted the temptation of a midnight swim!
One of the additional excursions offered, that we enjoyed very much, was to Modling and Laxenburg. Set in the middle of a lake, on the Laxenburg Estate is a fairy-tale castle where it is reputed that Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth (Sissy) had their honeymoon. This added interest to the operetta “Sissy” that we had enjoyed earlier in the week.
So to the end of a magical holiday. Carl and Helen transported us back to Bratislava, where we bade goodbye with thanks for organising a memorable musical holiday with, by now, two newfound friends. We landed back in Manchester in pouring rain, as we had left it, but memories of our summer in Baden bei Wien could never be washed away. Would we go again with C and H Travel? Definitely! Their organisation was first class and we enjoyed their friendly company. Where to next? Opera, operetta or music not yet decided, but we shall certainly use their expertise to organise what we want.
John & Jenny Partington
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