Alban's Blog

“Tristan” for a 7-year-old

Just got back from “Tristan and Isolde” at the Staatsoper unter den Linden (in Berlin), and I wanted to write about this, because I went with my 7-year-old son Janos.

After going with him on our motorbike to watch our local soccer team Hertha BSC win at the Olympic Stadium (where the world cup finals took place) three days ago, I took him today to his first “real” opera, not counting Hänsel and Gretel or Pinocchio. And it was for real: four and a half hours of music, intense, beautifully conducted by the living legend Daniel Barenboim, and this little son of mine was sitting through the whole thing with red cheeks, even getting the orgastic climaxes throughout the opera. I was all prepared with a pillow in case he wanted to sleep on my lap, had brought his drawing papers and pens in a bag, food, water, anything he would have liked, but no, he sat there more silent than most of our neighbours and enjoyed. Oh, it made me so happy, because I think nowadays it’s even harder to get your kids off the TV hooked to something else but electronics and games, and obviously this meant something to him. He has always been somewhat fascinated by death, and this opera is full of it.

To the Magic Flute at the Komische Oper Berlin I luckily did not take him a couple of days ago, because it was one of these annoying and rather obscene productions of Hans Neuenfels who tries to be provocative and deep, but to have the flute in form of a huge phallic symbol and the bells in form of testicles is almost predictable and old news. And besides all his more or less pretty little tricks I didn’t feel at all that it served the opera or the music in the least. As always I thought: Wonderful music, bad plot. And I am sure Janos would not have enjoyed the Queen of the Night ripping off her hands, breasts and hair, nor some of Sarastro’s servants hornily caressing their nipples while Tamino meets Pamina. The most amazing thing I thought was that this production got great reviews. Yes, the orchestra and the conductor (Markus Poschner) did the most wonderful job I have heard with this piece, but our rather intellectual critics interpreted deep, meaningful things into what this self-declared artist-genius Neuenfels came up with, without trying to see beyond the surface and the tricks. It reminded me of the German class (Deutsch Leistungskurs) in my last year of school, where people just waddled about some beautiful poems, but whatever they said, it had nothing to do with which lay inside the poems, but it did sound smart.

I agree, Mozart doesn’t have to be pretty all the time, it can be about real life and that this is sometimes not easy is clear. But is it really meaningful to call Papageno a guy who masturbates five times per day (Tamino react by shouting: “Great!”) and Tamino a bed-wetter? Yes, it makes them more real, but also more banal and common. TMI – too much information, or, as the father of Hans Neuenfels said, one of Germany’s greatest producers: “Try to withstand the temptation to interpret something into a piece for which you can’t find any indication in the text”.

I love going to theatre or opera, because one can learn so much on the one hand from singers in general, but also from the way how not to do certain things in interpretations…

Plain leaves in 8 hours to Vancouver, I’d better get packed!

Good night,



  • Alban

    yes, it is a real opera, and a very beautiful one on top of it, but it’s considered an opera for children, with a fairy-tale plot and rather easy-listening music…
    but that’s why I put the “real” (as in “Tristan and Isolde is his first ‘real’ opera”) in quotation marks.


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