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Report 1988: Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

By Zig and Georgia from Kentucky, Spring 2010

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Page 21 of 30: Sunday May 30 - Mozart & Lohengrin

Up early for the Mozart’s Missa Solemnis at the Augustiner Church. Every place was taken twenty minutes before the mass began. We had prime seats. You should have seen the look of desperation on the faces of the late-comers. One woman saw people walking around the altar rail to be seated in the abbey choir. She so wanted to sit there but knew she didn’t belong. My heart hurt for her. I remember feeling excluded from something I really wanted to be part of.

The music soared above us from the organ loft. It was perfectly tuned to that space and had been for four centuries. The incense drifted up in fragrant clouds. The abbot was attended by two resplendent con-celebrating priests, a deacon who sang the gospel as well as the petitions, and church bells the size of small trucks that tolled the elevation of the host and the chalice. This was the setting Mozart had in mind for his Credo and Agnus Dei. The Missa Solemnis, or “Solemn Mass,” is a glorious piece of music, but when it is detached from the communion of faith it is at best a beautiful flower in a bud vase. When it’s used to hawk hamburgers or automobiles it’s an opulent peony stuck in a coke bottle.

You see, the Missa Solemnis is another treasure of the church. But, like the marble cherubs, its lasting value comes from its relation to a practicing community of faith. And the center of that community is the miracle of the Word becoming Flesh becoming simple un-leavened bread, that humble daily bread that sustains us on our pilgrim way.

And this was Trinity Sunday. As members gathered together as the body of Christ we were invited to join our individual concerns - joys and sorrows - with the offerings brought up and handed to the abbot. Like the humble bread and wine we believe that our private offerings will also be transformed on the altar, to something more beautiful and more precious than we could have ever imagined. And then we receive all these transformed treasures as we shuffle forward in communion with the other believers.

After the service it was poring outside and we didn’t have our collapsible rain capes. Tried to stop at our neighborhood grocery to buy supper fixings, but it was closed. So we had to eat at one of the nearby restaurants in the alley across the street. Durn :) Shared a meal of Paprika chicken and Spaetzle washed down with an amazing dark bier but without dessert. No room.

After dinner we took a quick trip out to Shoenbrunn palace for a look around. Only had time for one picture in the rose garden. We could see that you’d need to spend a lot of time there to see things, and we still had to get to the concert hall for Lohengrin.

A deformed beggar got on our car at one stop and got off at the next so she could shuttle back and forth along the line. I honestly cannot imagine how her leg could have been broken that badly on accident. She “walked” with her knee bending almost completely backwards. It reminded me of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” which introduced me to the fact that in some cultures children are horribly deformed intentionally so that they can be more pathetic and therefore lucrative beggars. Can beings with human hearts really do such things? Will selling another cherub fix this? Is the problem a lack of money?

The trip through Karlsplatz was just as upsetting as always. They don’t accost the pedestrians or anything like that but it’s just so sad. People buying and selling drugs, a greasy young man tying off his arm in a phone booth so he could find a vein. Shrill arguments over “turf” among these denizens of the deep. Depressing. All the self-inflicted wounds. Maybe the bicyclists are right. Maybe money would solve the problems. But then, maybe humanity needs something more. Paraphrasing Wittgenstein: “Any value that is of real value must come from outside.”

What a night to be seeing an opera like Lohengrin. Wow! The chandelier must have three tons of crystal. And the proscenium had the strangest curtain painting I’ve ever seen. Three nudes: one of them standing on his head. Must mean something. Those crazy Austrians. The Opera was Lohengrin, Wagner’s masterpiece, that most Teutonic of Teutonic operas. The bridal hymn, “Here comes the Bride,” is the most famous set piece in it. But it’s not an easy story to encapsulate. Else is the heroine who has been falsely accused of murder. She begs for a champion to fight for her honor. A mysterious knight sails up on the back of a giant swan. (Is that mysterious enough for you?) After proving her innocence with his sword he proposes marriage but requires that she not ask his name. You know how that is going to work out. The bad guy, Telramund, who accused her in the first place, and his really wicked wife, the red-haired witch Ortrud, who put him up to it plant suspicions in her mind. Why would this new husband put such conditions on her? He must have something really bad to hide. She can’t see that she’s being manipulated.

In this particular production Else is not just metaphorically blind, she is really blind. She can’t live on “faith.” She has to “know,” and asking the forbidden question brings catastrophe. It turns out that her husband’s name is Lohengrin, one of the knights of the Holy Grail, the chalice that caught the blood and water from Jesus’ side. Else dies of grief thinking she precipitated the catastrophe, but it was really Ortrud who tempted both Else and Telramund. Ortrud is evil and Wagner sees evil and darkness as powerful forces that must be powerfully opposed. Else and her Lohengrin represent what might be called Christian good, and tellingly, Lohengrin did not even kill Telramund when he had the opportunity. Christianity is weak. Loving your enemies and doing good to those who harm you is a morality for slaves. The old German Gods dealt with evil in a much more satisfying way: Kick butt and take names. Rambo, Dirty Harry, and Dick Chaney all would understand this morality.

It’s a hard call for me. But St Augustine would say that such a view ascribes to evil a strength it does not have. Evil is the absence of good like a shadow is the absence of sunlight. You oppose and “destroy” shadows with light, not with kicking butt and taking names.

We’d hoped to return to the Shoenbrunn Gardens after the opera but it didn’t end until 10:30pm, five hours of Teutonic opera! Gott in Himmel! Luckily there were three intermissions. Some champagne and strolls around the roof of the Opera House made it all bearable. The Viennese skyline at dusk has to be seen to be believed. And sipping champagne helps one believe.

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