Sunday, September 19, 2010


Well I am glad I saw that – ‘Bliss’ in its German version.  It was very interesting indeed to see a different interpretation, and I am coming to love the music very much. However, I wouldn’t give the Hamburg version the honours. The production design and direction was unattractive, IMO. Some of the singers – particularly Betty (Hellen Kwon) and Alex (Viktor Rud) were improvements on the OA cast, but I can’t say that I preferred the Harry Joy or the Honey B. Certainly we like to hear the high notes hit strongly and accurately; but it is not so good to have to trade off delicate interpretation and good acting. Also, with all due respect, Harry looked decidedly unattractive, making the storyline even more unlikely than it already is.

Simone Young’s orchestra was marvellous. It was unusual to have the singing in English and the surtitles in German (but a useful change from the singing in Russian and the surtitles in Spanish, which was the case last weekend). I couldn’t say quite what era the production was supposed to be set in. It looked like the present day, except cheap and tacky – perhaps that what the designer and director think Australia is like. But then Harry Joy wore his white suit and shoes, and Mrs Dalton looked like Maggie Thatcher. The bedlam scene was set in a rubbish dump, with which we were then stuck for the whole of the second act. Instead of the Elysium of nature, the finale was therefore set in the rubbish dump, which by then had spouted bits of greenery. Honey B turned up dressed as a....bee, and the dump transmogrified into a hive. Or possibly a honey pot. Which was somewhat more disturbing than Neil Armfield’s peat moss and plantings. OA did the beautiful ending much better. And the explosion.

If you haven’t seen the opera, all this will either make you very curious, or bore you silly.

In other news, I made a local acquaintance today, and was introduced to Hamburg. Christian, the driver/guide from the hotel drove me around for a few hours in his nice Audi. We started with the local ‘willages’, and as I surmised yesterday, we are in millionaire territory around here. Hamburg vies only with Bremen for the highest number of millionaires per square inch. They are merchants, notaries, shipowners, and vote conservative en bloc, according to Christian.

Hamburg is actually an inland port – 70 kms from the North Sea. Yet it is the largest port in Europe – 75 square kilometres – and second only to Rotterdam in the number of containers it moves: 10 million per year. In fact, it is Containerland around here. I saw containers used as billboards and containers used as art installations. They worship containers. The Queen Mary can, and does, come into the Hamburg port, but it has to wait for the flood tide. Everyone gets excited and bands play along the riverbanks.

The other ubiquitous things in Hamburg are the container loading cranes. These are silhouetted on every horizon. There are pretty riverside walks, a lake with sailing boats, a sandy man-made beach, lush green parks and up-market cafes – and in the background of every view, the cranes.

John, Paul, Ringo and George. And me.

But there was one exciting spot where there are no cranes – the seedy laneway in Reeperbahn, the red light district, where the ‘Indigo’ Club stands. This was the site of The Beatles’ first German performance in August 1960, and the launch of their career. Moreover – just so you realise the significance of finding this spot – I am the proud owner of a copy of the LP record made in Hamburg that year, entitled, appropriately enough, ‘The Beatles In Hamburg’. This precious object I have left in Sydney in the safe and appreciative hands of Dan, who at least owns a turntable.

Christian & Carl's

Christian and I toured Hamburg’s districts in his car, walked around a little at the port and in the largest cathedral, St Michel (Lutheran of course), and had lunch at a bistro in the new Haffencity redevelopment area, opposite the partially-finished new concert hall (which is going to look fabulous when it’s done). The bistro in question, ‘Carl’s, is owned by the same person as owns my hotel, a rich shipowner. I speculated over lunch as to why a rich shipowner would want to get into the hospitality business. Christian replied: ‘but they need their hobbies’.

See? Canals.

I asked how Hamburg had fared in WWII. It seems that it was badly bombed, with 40,000 lives being lost in one night in 1943. Much of the city centre is thus reconstruction, although the Louis C Jacob, being further out, escaped. The blackened steeple of the St Nikolai church has been left looming over the modern buildings as a bleak reminder. Hamburg is, though, a pretty and liveable city. It has a lake in the centre, and 2500 canals (‘more than Venice’).

Finally, for those of you following my beer-drinking career, I sampled a local brew at lunchtime: Ratsherrn Bio-Pilsener vom Fass. I don’t know what that means; I took it on faith, trusting in Christian and ‘Carl’s’. It was quite nice.


  1. Everything,but everything, you write about Bliss makes me glad I've missed it. I'm not a Peter Carey fan to begin with and Bliss put to music appeals even less. However,you are realy selling Hamburg to me - apart from the voting patterns of the locale you are in. Still, that's not fair, I live in Tony Abbott's electorate and I don't expect to be blamed for that, do I? Now, will the new system work,and will I succeed in getting this comment posted, that is the question... Jocelyn