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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: April 2018

15 - The Berlin Opera at its height

from Contents of Volume One


When I made the decision to move to Berlin, I said to myself: I will not enter the opera house there until it presents an opera by Gluck. And what do you know? On the very first evening the ticket read “Gluck's Alceste”.

I had already seen the opera house. On the night of my arrival I had been so excited by the expectation of all that was before me that I could not immediately rest. Once again I wandered through the moon-drenched streets by the castle, past the armory, only saw now for the first time the strange but entirely magnificent construction of the University buildings, with no inkling that not long after a position for me would be founded there. From there I looked to the left; and there it was before me, the Opera House! — One might think find the comparison not entirely appropriate when I say that the slim construction, stretched out in a line, appeared to me to be one of the sphinxes that Egypt stored up thousands of years ago for our astonished eyes.

On the following evening, I wandered in with my ticket, already acquired in the early morning, and found my seat in the still almost empty parquet. Next to me a woman in her middle years sat down, naturally someone unknown to me. The house became full.

Here I must confess a weakness regarding which many of my colleagues will laugh. In fact, I enjoy listening to the instruments tune up. For most these unrelated and content-less tones are annoying; it ruins their illusion, as they say.

It has a different effect on me. The tuning of the instruments tunes me at the same time, the spirits of the tones are beautifully awoken in my inmost parts as if from fragrant slumber, my anticipation is wound up more and more, and the first chord already finds me in an elevated mood.

Never before had I had such an orchestra before me! Seven or nine contrabasses, twenty-four violins, if not more, I am not entirely sure of the numbers, had gathered; their first tremolo gripped me with frightful force.