• December 28, 2010 /  Commentary, Stuff

    The title translates to program (or programme) booklets and refers to the programs you get at an opera, theater, or other performance.
    (Click on any of the images for larger versions.)

    Programmhefte

    Sitting comfortably at home and listening to opera, such as one of the many fine audio recordings of Die Zauberflöte, is a great pleasure. Of course, opera is also a visual medium and there are a number of fine video recordings making it possible to listen to, and view, a performance at home. But neither compares to the experience of a live performance. A live performance involves you in ways that a recording cannot.
    Over the years, my partner blackcat and I have seen many live performances, open-air, in the opera house, and even once in a convention center. Most were good, some not so good, and a few were extraordinary (the productions of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf and the Semperoper in Dresden come to mind). But all generated the excitement that comes from being there for that truly unique experience, that unique performance.
    Another plus about going to a live performance is being able get a program. Now, the quality of these programs varies greatly. Some are not much more than a list of the performers. Others are really just glossy brochures of ideal performances past (the touring company at the convention center, for example). The most interesting are the programs produced by the standing opera houses to showcase their current productions. The best are rich with photographes and artwork and have background information about the opera, the composer and librettist, the production, and history and commentary. This is a page from a very informative program article in the form of a glossary.

    Zauberflöte A bis Z

    Sometimes, however, the programs have relatively little to do with the opera but rather say more about the personality of the opera house, or the producers. These are attempts to make the program itself a statement. A favorite example, from a local opera house, was a collection of poetry and artwork with little or no connection to the Magic Flute outside of the authors imagination. Were the poets and artists friends of the author? Was she forced to read these poems in school? I have no idea. But it is so over the top with self importance that it is a treasure of my collection.
    Here is an example. The following shows some sketches by Achim Freyer that may, or may not, be drafts for the set design for the opera.

    Achim Freyer Sketches

    Having seen the production I am inclined to believe that they are, indeed, preliminary sketches for the set design. Here are some of the set design models. They are also by Achim Freyer, the designer of the opera sets and costumes.

    Achim Freyer Set Designs

    Whether the program is good or a something of a joke, I do enjoy occasionally thumbing through the collection and remembering the excitement I felt when the conductor raised his hands and then the familiar chords that begin the adventure sound out. Magic moments, those.