HALLE – arrived 19:01 Sunday by train from Dresden accommodation in Lessingstrasse 8, City-Hotel Am Wasserturm GmbH
This accommodation needs its own chapter!!!
Monday was Handel Day in our itinerary. We mapped out our route to Venue #1 and with plenty of time to find it, and have a coffee, stepped outside to an already warm day. We were the only people in Halle at 9am. Had Monday ceased to exist? Even as we passed the University there was not a soul and the little corner coffee hangouts of students were lifeless. Not until much later did we realise it was Whit Monday…
Satisfied that we’d found the Neues Theater, plastered with posters for the on-going Handel Festival, we walked further to the Marktplatz. Again, deserted. Handel was alone on his pedestal. The church and a separate tower with bells grabbed our attention as did a reluctant hospitality worker who sold us (an awful) coffee. Rushing now (of course) we realised that the Neues Theater was not our first concert venue. Surprisingly Google sent us directly to the Löwengebäude, Aula der Martin-Luther-Universität; the lion-guarding University building.
Canadian diva, Karina Gauvin, with the French ensemble, Le Concert de la Loge. An 11am concert for a singer – astounding; over 120 minutes of virtuosic Handel and his contemporaries – super astounding; the ensemble – brilliant; performance critique rating 12 out of 10 for those works she knew… Yes, she read some of them and one doesn’t travel across the world to watch someone reading, but for those arias she knew backwards , they were dramatic with appropriate staging elements, like entering in the intros and eye-balling the audience, or confronting the musicians, or storming the stage with fury. This was an outstanding concert in a superb acoustic.
Concert #2 in the Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche at 15:00. Enough time for lunch in Marktplatz which was now a calm sea of mostly tourists, then Handel’s Agrippina – a 3 act opera performed in concert (not staged) with Christopher Rousset’s acclaimed ensemble, Les Talens lyriques, and a line-up of 8 soloists, the soprano Ann Hallenberg (Agrippina) being the only recognisable name. Immediately chalk and cheese. Two harpsichords both facing upstage with Rousset occasionally playing but mostly pseudo conducting standing up. The orchestra was most definitely led by the female concert leader, who was a knock-out! Initially her cheeks revealed her tongue cleaning the recesses of her mouth from a lunch, and throughout, her eyes flirted with members of the orchestra, or she was dozing and on occasion almost missed entries, or she was mouthing a conversation across the platform. The ensemble was untidy and most players looked disinterested; they certainly didn’t play the drama. Even the continuo cellist played his music, not that required to support the action.
The singers were capable most notably Agrippina, Ann Hallenberg, and Eve-Maud Hubeaux as Nerone. Tonnes of arias, tonnes of recit: really boring to watch; really hard to stay awake; really hard seats; really hot. At interval, had Gary mentioned leaving I wouldn’t have said ‘no’, but we agreed to move from our central visible 4th row to an anonymous back row position in order to wriggle freely. It meant parting with a lovely German woman who was passionate about Handel and seemingly very knowledgeable about all 45 operas (but not his oratorios) and the three German festivals celebrating the composer, and who was emotional in her expression of love for Dresden and the significance to all Germans of the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche.
It finished (with us in our booked seats) three and a half hours later. We left. The door handles were beautiful.
Concert #3 19:30 St. Georgen-Kirche. This looked a little tricky to find and still feeling the anxiety of earlier in the day we promptly headed off – hungry, and with an ominous sky.
The steeple and colour of the church distinguished it and we arrived in good time.
Thankfully this venue had freshly prepared salty pretzels with melted cheese, and we devoured several with a couple of semi cold beers. Interesting venue – a shell of once a large church – currently used as a youth venue. The stage was illuminated with magenta lighting and out came the Clara Ponty Quartet; Clara on (mostly) piano and vocals, and the three others in the group covering bass guitar, drums, percussion, and wind instruments including saxophones and flutes of different sizes. Billed as ‘Handel in MInd’ it was seriously lacking Handel and was more about her current and next albums. It was OK.
The excitement of rain and thunder and lightning enlivened us and made for a quick two kilometre walk home.