I had the pleasure of a tour of the Viennese Opera house during the pandemic, last year. An amazing experience: the entire edifice just for us, a group of around 20 people. We used a brochure to find our way through the magnificent rooms, collecting at each step delightful memories. There were moments of awe, revealed by the warm light of the chandeliers emerging the rooms. There were moments of silence, fuelling your imagination, making you wonder: how many preparations, emotions and struggles behind the perfect show, how many frenzy applauses heard from each loggia. Questions which were filling the air, remaining on purpose unanswered, adding to the aura of the house. There was no need for words, senses were overwhelmed.
The Wiener Staatsoper was inaugurated in 1869. The building we see now was reconstructed in 1950, after WW2 damages, keeping in essence the initial architectural design. Dressed in heavy velvet curtains, golden tassels, elaborates tapestry and stuccos, the institution demands the proper clothing code to any visitor who comes. A small gesture of respect and admiration to the art performance temple you are entering in.
A representation at the Staatsoper is truly unforgettable. I can only remember my going to see Carmen de Bizet, few years ago. The director was none other than Franco Zefirelli, the great movie director (a humble recommendation: if you did not see any Zefirelli movie until now, try Romeo & Juliet). The scenography was vibrant and unreal in the same time, the voices were incredible, for few hours I travelled in an unimaginable world. Hundreds of people performing on the stage and behind the curtains, months of rehearsals, in search for the perfection, for me to see and hear a masterpiece, just sitting comfortable on a chair. Imagine my wild ovations after each act ended.
Although built 100 years later, Vienna Opera House shares a strong bond with Teatro "La Scala" di Milano. Both most prestigious opera & ballet stages of the world built by the Habsburgs (La Scala owes its existence to Maria Theresia). Works of great composers, Italian or Austrian origins, were played by both theaters. Puccini, Rosini, Verdi or Mozart have filled the auditorium with endless rounds of applauses. And as a fact the current director of La Scala - Dominique Meyer was the Vienna Opera House's manager for 10 years until 2020.
Such an exquisite visit could only be the source of inspiration for an elegant dessert: Malakoff Torte, a sweet treat often enjoyed in the Opera foyer during intermission. Russian by name, celebrating a French victory, resembling with an Italian Tiramisu and served religiously in each reputable Austrian confectionery.
"Duke of Malakoff" was a victory title awarded by Napoleon III to Aimable Pelissier (later the Marechal of France) after the conquest of the Malakoff Tower during the Crimean War (1853-1856). The Malakoff cake recipe was brought to Vienna from Northern Italy during Kaiser Franz Josef reign (maybe that explains such striking resemblance with Tiramisu). It was enjoyed by the Viennese public and remained as an authentic delicacy of the 19th century Austrian sweet culinary landscape. The French have their own Malakoff but as a charlotte ( a dessert well known left to the French public by Antonin Careme).
Quite close to the Opera House there is the Theater Museum. I enclosed few pictures above but this will be the subject of a future article, soon to come. Enjoy!