Munching Music in Munchen

I’m back from a slightly surreal holiday in the Salzkammergut and Bavaria which at times resembled a boot camp and at others extended to a ghost story (honest, guv, I saw something weird in our room, and I don’t believe in such things…). Still, we also found ourselves outside Mozart’s mother’s birthplace in St Gilgen on the exquisite Wolfgangsee, and soon afterwards staring at the menu on the original White Horse Inn in St Wolfgang.

A detour to Berchtesgaden provided more surreality (btw, it costs an absolute bomb to take the bus up the mountain to the posh restaurant they’ve installed in Hitler’s old house and I can’t say we minded giving it a miss).

The trip finished in a blaze of autumnal splendour with 24 hours in Munich, where we managed to squeeze in an unexpected visit to the opening weekend of the Oktoberfest – which was perhaps the most surreal thing of all, an immense sprawl of terrifyingly well-organised beer tents, carousels, funfair stalls, endless Meistersinger-style processions in local costume, marching bands and the metro heaving with festivalgoers wearing lederhosen and dirndles…It’s the Ring Cycle of beerfests; and I can’t imagine anything similar ever taking place successfully on such a phenomenal scale here in Blighty.

Yet we also squeezed in my first-ever visit to the utterly marvellous Bayerische Staatsoper: Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos on the opening night of the season. What a superb theatre it is: 2,800 seats, light, bright, spacious and boasting a resonant and radiant acoustic. Robert Carsen’s production was a delight from start to finish, even though Anja Kampe was having voice trouble and decided only to mime her role; an American soprano whose name I couldn’t catch in the announcement sang gloriously from the orchestra pit – I think she was Meagan Miller. Daniela Sindram was outstanding as the Composer and (I think) Jane Archibald a stunning Zerbinetta, morphing in act I from hard-nosed vamp to vulnerable blonde in seconds and tackling her great act II aria with a succession of physical contortions, supported by many men in underwear, that had to be seen to be believed.

As for Munich – lederhosen aside, it’s amazing to find yourself at places named Arabellaplatz, Cosimapark, the Richard-Strauss Ring,Rosenkavalierplatz and a quiet suburban Elektrastrasse. Unfortunately, for reasons far beyond my control, I don’t find it easy to like Munich or much of Bavaria; Berchtesgaden struck me as a dump, Konigsee a tourist trap in a dark and oppressive landscape, and I would be quite happy never to see another sausage. Through the musical connection, I’m nevertheless doing the best I can – and we had some stupendous pumpkin soup and spent precious time with truly wonderful friends.

Now that I’m home I am trying frantically to squeeze into something else: Jonas Kaufmann, JDCMB’s Top Tenor of The Whole Lot, is in London singing in Don Carlo at the ROH. I’m happy to say he has a new CD of Die schoene Muellerin coming out on 16 October. And he is Munich’s current great musical son. Here he is, recorded live in Paris, singing two of Strauss’s greatest Lieder. Enjoy.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"