When people find out that my daughter’s middle name is Vienna, the first question is inevitably some variation of, “Oooh, you didn’t name her after that mean chick from the Bachelor, did you??”
So, no. I've never watched the Bachelor. I don’t think the Bachelor is the hottest thing since those big sunflares last month. I couldn’t pick the man out of a nicely dressed, rose-holding man line-up. I’m not saying I think I’m above reality TV – that would clearly be a lie, since I’m streaming half of the Real Housewives. I just don’t like the brand of reality that the Bachelor brings.
My daughter is named after two things: 1) the Billy Joel song "Vienna" (We grew up in N.Y., what do you want?) and 2) the city. But mainly the city, because this is bigger than Billy.
I love Vienna, Austria.
My husband – let’s call him Mark (because that’s his name) – and I saw the Opera Werther in Vienna in 2007. In case you haven’t heard of Werther, and not many people have since 1892, it’s an operatic drama, and that should tell you all you need to know. Someone gets stabbed – Werther, in this case. He spends the next hour and a half singing to his new fiance about how he is going to die. He dies. His fiance is sad but she will prevail against this evil. She sings about this for about a half an hour. Curtains up, applause, and then everyone goes for ice cream. Love it or hate it, there is no denying the ridiculousness of opera.
But ridiculousness is not necessarily bad. Mark and I had the chance to see a Mexican singer we’d never heard of before – Rolando Villazon. He was, rightly, one of the world’s most reknowned operatic tenors alive and performing. It was his comeback night after months off-stage with an injury. I later discovered articles about his triumphant return to Vienna all over the internet.
We arrived at the Opera House (left) during a walk around town about two hours early. We found a group of women with portable chairs hanging out around the building, talking excitedly about something in German and eating sausage.
And that's when it hit me: these are opera tailgaters. I'm from Buffalo. I know tailgating when I see it.
We asked around and discovered through a mix of bungled English and French that there was a great show to be seen and sausage would be shared. So we joined the tailgate line. Two hours and 6 Euro later we had two tickets to one of the most sought-after performances in Austria.
Let me repeat that - 6 Euro. $10 at the time. I've since been to the opera in San Diego and you can't get to the ticket booth for that much money.
It's true we were standing the entire time, and it's possible my boots came off – I was not the only one – as I dressed for comfortable, fashionable walking and not comfortable, fashionable standing for hours on end. But no one cared. Not even the gentleman behind me in his clearly tailored, expensive herringbone suit.
The Viennese care about appearances, but they care more about experiences. The Opera, as well as many museums and artistic sights, are government-subsidized. Because art is like air in Vienna, and everyone needs to breathe.
The Vienna Opera House looks like it belongs in the opulent backdrops of Cameron’s Titanic except that it’s real. And on land. Gold filigree, purple velvet seats, green, blue and yellow intricacies carved in the walls and perfectly dimmed lighting. Each "seat," whether sitting or standing, had its own small translator box conveniently located directly below your view of the stage so you could read, watch and hear what was said almost instantaneously.
Werther is in German, but we read every word on the little screens in front of us in perfectly translated English. There was intimacy like no other venue I’ve experienced because everyone so wanted to be there and share in the experience. And everyone was dressed to the nines – except the American tourists (Hi) who just found out about the show three hours ago and were originally planning on a brewery.
There are many stories that come with this experience, but this is about those moments at any great concert or show when the world around you begins to shrink. The circumference of activity defining your life grows gradually smaller and there is simply less room for worry or want. The music plays. Darkness settles into your skin. Sights and sounds collide in the House, saturating you with intertwined images of bodies, costume and warm, dusty air until everything runs together in a haze and then Villazon gives his soul in his voice.
The walls could be on fire and it would not matter. It was so real, this constructive connection, even flames would blend into the foreground. All that mattered was the voice in the vacuum.
For some time it was us and that voice. I’ve no idea how long. It was like being in a trance. But it was at least two hours that Vienna and Villazon gave to us. For 3 Euro. I’ve paid a lot more for a whole lot less.
Having done the equivalent of taking deep, soothing breaths for hours in a row simply by standing in place, the Viennese thanked Villazon with five standing ovations. There were tears of appreciation from both singer and audience. Villazon, for his part, loved us back. He must have to deliver that depth of performance.
And then we went for ice cream and phenomenal hot chocolate at the stylish, comfortable Hotel Sacher cafe.
That’s one reason why I love Vienna. That’s one reason why Vienna is my daughter’s middle name.
And (nod to Billy), of course, she was waiting for me that whole time.