May 4th, 2018

This Friday started bright and early!  We meet in the hotel lobby at 8:30 a.m. and exchanged stories about our night explorations before heading to Belvedere Palace, a museum and grounds complex about 4 train stops away from our hotel. 

We were lucky enough to be matched with an enthusiastic tour guide named Markus, who eagerly told us the history behind many of the art pieces we saw.  One aspect he emphasized about the grounds was the symmetry favored during the 18th century.  This was definitely shown in the precision of the plants and mazes seen in front of the museum.  He also talked to us about Prince Eugene de Savoy, an influential military commander of the Holy Roman Empire. 

One of the most iconic pieces available in this museum was The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Markus
told us about Klimt’s talent being discovered at a young age. The painting was surrounded by many tourists eager to get a picture of it.  Many of us purchased souvenirs featuring this work, whether it be postcards, bookmarks, or eye contact cases.

We had a great time exploring the grounds and some of us got had lunch at Huber’s, located minutes from the museum. 

This afternoon was filled with a lot of fun and interesting experiences. After leaving the museum a group of us decided to go to L’Osteria Braunerstraße, recommended by Dr. Pasquale, where we enjoyed authentic Italian pizza and bread. We tried a pizza with salami and mushrooms and it was very tasty. However, we were originally seated outside when it decided to start raining we had to make a quick dash inside of the restaurant.

Luckily, we only had our drinks and no food yet when it started to rain. We appreciated that, instead of an after meal mint, the restaurant provided little bags of Haribo Gummy Bears.

After lunch we were lucky enough to have a meeting with Kevin Rhodes, who is the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Ballet—concert we will be attending tomorrow.  This is a very unique experience and we enjoyed the learning about his career and artistry. For example, he conducts the Traverse Symphony Orchestra in Traverse City! Through the afternoon he spoke to us about the individual movements of the Ballet and the composers. We also learned a lot about Oper and Ballet in general. He also spoke about the basics of conducting and what it means to be a conductor which was demonstrated through the entire group singing Happy Birthday in order to show three different styles of conducting. We are all very grateful for the opportunity to speak with him and cannot wait to witness it all in action tomorrow. 

Later in the evening a group of us decided to go to the grocery store in order to stock our fridge. It was interesting navigating the store where most of the labels were in German. We are all very excited to try the fresh meat, cheese and bread we purchased. We also bought ingredients to have a group pasta dinner in hopes of a successful first time cooking in our hotel rooms. Upon checking out we found out it was a little difficult because you must bag your own groceries and they scan the items very quickly.  Also, as soon as the cashier is done scanning the items, it is expected that you pay immediately, quickly, and are annoyed when you pay with a card because this is not common in Vienna.

Overall we had a very fun and interesting day learning about art at the museum and music from maestro Kevin Rhodes. We are excited to see where tomorrow will take us and the experiences it will hold. Thank you for reading our blog post!

May 16th, 2018

During lecture we started out the day discussing the main components of opera as a short recap of our previous opera lesson, in order to prepare us for Don Pasquale this evening.  The body of our lecture taught us how opera has progressed throughout time. We learned that its history can be compared to a pendulum, meaning in opera’s case that it has swung back and forth between an emphasis on the singing or an emphasis on the drama. We also talked about different Nationalistic styles and how it can affect the style of the piece. After our general discussion of opera, we delved into the specifics of Don Pasquale. Don Pasquale can be considered a bel canto opera, literally meaning “beautiful singing.” Therefore, this opera placed much emphasis on the vocal skills of the singers, allowing us to enjoy the amazing range and abilities of their voices. We also discussed that Don Pasquale is an opera buffa—the plot was intended to be comic rather than opera seria which is meant to be serious.

To fill in the time between the lecture and the performance, the majority of us decided to spend a relaxing afternoon together by the Danube river. After taking the subway, we stumbled upon a small bank where we could sit and dip our toes in the water. We bonded and took in the beautiful views of the river as well as came close to some ducks and extremely large fish. Leaving the Danube, a few of us decided to dine at a local restaurant which had a cute indoor patio. It was nice to continue bonding as a group over some delicious local cuisine.

The show itself was a terrific spectacle. Not only was the singing amazing but also the comical acting of the singers truly fantastic. For most of us this was our first experience at a live opera so we were not quite sure what to expect. We really enjoyed the use of contrast and complementation between the orchestra and the singers in order to make the pieces flow and sound complete. It was also interesting that the production had chosen to perform a modern adaptation of Don Pasquale. We could tell it was modern through the lighting and the set display—e.g.: the use of a disco ball, the use of a blender. Overall, it was a great first opera for those of us who had never experienced it because the plot was simple and easy to follow. The humor also helped us stay engaged while still focusing on the talent and characteristics of the vocal pieces. 

Tonight, we said goodbye to Dr. Swenson, who was an amazing contribution to this program. We will miss her a lot as we wrap up our final days in Vienna, and we wish her a safe journey back and are very grateful for the time she has spent with us. To end the night, we are off to get gelato as a sweet end to the day.

May 21st, 2018

For our final day here, we did a number of different activities. One group went on a last-minute trip to Budapest for the day, but the majority of us stayed in Vienna for some rest and relaxation before the trip home.  Some of us began our day at a café for one more breakfast, one last coffee or one last apple strudel. After weeks of concerts and museum tours, it was nice to sit outside and enjoy our final morning with no structure, just enjoying each other’s company. After our breakfast, we fit in some sight-seeing in a variety of locations.

A group of us decided to go and explore the Vienna Zentralfriedhof, or Central Cemetery. This cemetery holds many famous Viennese, including a section just for Austrian composers. Here were the graves of Brahms, Schubert, and Beethoven, whose music we have studied intensely with respect to the development of music. To see the resting places of these figures that we’ve been studying for weeks was very impactful for all present. This tied together a story that we’ve learned over these few weeks: that on these same streets that we walk today, once walked these greats. After what we have heard and learned so much about, to walk where they did was an unforgettable experience.

A group of us also enjoyed a trip up St. Stephen’s Cathedral since we didn’t have the chance to go earlier on the trip.  Though we had to climb 343 steps to the top, the view was breathtaking.  We enjoyed the many visible city landmarks and reflected on our three weeks exploring them.  Afterwards, we did some souvenir shopping before going to the Albertina, a museum currently hosting a large Keith Haring exhibit.  Haring’s background, growing up in the time of Vietnam War and Woodstock, caused him to question many aspects of society, such as capitalism or the AIDS epidemic, and reflect on them through his work.  The Albertina also had
works of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, among other Austrian artists such as Gustav Klimt and the photographer Trude Fleischmann.  Finally, we stopped at Café Demel, the famous café Sisi was known to have enjoyed desserts and coffee.  The iced coffee and cake we got was as
amazing as the atmosphere.

Lastly, one of our group members took the opportunity to celebrate a Jewish holiday, Shavuot (Pentecost), walking across the town to the historic Stadttempel (City Temple). This structure was built between 1824 and 1826, and was the only synagogue to survive the Second World War and the Holocaust. Interestingly, the service was a great connection to our curriculum, as the cantor sung accompanied by a choir singing a static bass line, just like the plainchant and original polyphony in church plainchant. The service was also a profound cultural experience, demonstrating the similarity and difference in how people experience faith in different cultures.