Opera Reviews
26 November 2014
Untitled Document
48 hours in Munich
by Michael Sinclair
While opera may be the main drawing card, Munich has plenty of other attractions to make a long weekend in this city a must for anyone with an interest in art and culture.

Ruhmenshalle (Photo: C.L. Schmitt) Munich skyline (Photo: C.L. Schmitt) Philharmonie im Gasteig (Photo: Robert Hertz)

Friday, 10.00am: After a hearty Bavarian breakfast I am ready to hit the road. A great introduction to any city is to take a half-day sightseeing tour, but I am attracted by the hop-on/hop-off bus operated by Grayline, which circumnavigates the city on a regular basis and takes in all the main attractions. Feeling brave I opt for the Grand Circle tour that lasts for 2.5 hours should you not get off the bus. Which of course you must! For those with less time to spare there is an Express option which takes an hour covering the inner city.

Soon I am whizzing past the very ornate Königsplatz with its imposing buildings, then onto the museum quarter (that's for tomorrow!) before heading out to Schloss Nymphenburg on the outskirts of the city, an impressive Baroque palace built as the summer residence for the Bavarian Electors. Other stops include the still very modern looking Olympiapark built for the 20th Summer Olympic Games in 1972, the recently refurbished BMW Museum focusing on the fascination of the BMW brand, and a number of impressive monuments and buildings reflecting Munich's historical past. You soon realise that Munich has a long history dating back to its roots in the 12th century and wonderful architecture to match.

1.00pm: I elect to get off the bus in the centre of the Altstadt as hunger pangs are beginning to grip me and a friend has recommended Spatenhaus, a restaurant right across from the National Theatre on Max-Joseph-Platz. Spatenhaus specialises in local Bavarian cuisine and is clearly a favourite with the locals. Soon I'm tucking into crispy roast pork, dumplings and red cabbage all washed down with the local beer. Delicious!

Der Residenz - Antiquarium (Photo: Wilfried Hösl)2.30pm: Although a snooze after lunch seems like a good idea, there is simply far too much to do for that, so I head across the square to the Residenz, the palace for the Dukes, Electors and Kings of Bavaria, and their main seat of government over the centuries. The complex is vast - over the years each of the rulers extended the rooms and furnished them to suit their own personal tastes, engaging important artists to do this. The result is a labyrinth of public and private rooms that trace the history of Bavaria until the early 20th century. Highlights include the exquisitely ornate Antiquarium (photo right) and the gold and precious jewels to be found in the Treasury. Be prepared to get lost!

Entrance to the Residenz also includes entry to the recently restored Cuvilliés Theatre, which can be accessed from the Fountain Courtyard. Built between 1751 and 1753 the theatre is a masterpiece of rococo art and is a must see for opera lovers, being the venue for the world premiere of Mozart's Idomeneo in 1781.

8.00pm: The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 60th birthday with a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and I am lucky enough to have a ticket! The orchestra has a well-deserved reputation as the leading orchestra in Munich and has enjoyed an illustrious range of Chief Conductors since its formation in 1949, including Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelik, Sir Colin Davis and Lorin Maazel.

This evening's concert is conducted by its current Chief Conductor, Mariss Jansons, and is a rapturous affirmation of the ability of music to transcend the humdrum of everyday life. Jansons, the magnificent Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the outstanding soloists (Luba Orgonasova, Lioba Braun, Christian Elsner, Gerald Finley) bring Beethoven's glorious symphony to a resounding conclusion with an uplifting rendition of the Ode to Joy. I walk out into the cool night air with my head spinning with magical musical memories.

Brandhorst Museum (Photo: Haydar Koyupinar | © Museum Brandhorst) Saturday, 10.00am: Munich is awash with museums and there is certainly something to suit every taste. I have my eye on modern art and head for the Brandhorst, Munich's newest museum having just opened in May this year. Of private provenance this collection definitely has the WOW factor! Its collection, which encourages the controversial younger trends in art, includes works by Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Georg Baselitz and Damien Hirst all presented with flair and panache over three floors. My head spinning I check out the funky café in the museum for a well-needed caffeine and sugar fix.

Adjacent to the Brandhorst Museum are the three Pinakothek museums covering art across different periods in history between the 14th and 21st centuries. Continuing my modern art theme for the morning I head for the Pinakothek der Moderne which houses four different collections of paintings, graphics, sculpture and design. The museum is enormous and its collections are wide ranging and varied - I particularly like the design section where everyday items from the 20th century, such as early PC's, have been elevated to a status of high art. If I am slightly underwhelmed by the museum it is perhaps that it lacks the wow factor of the Brandhorst and I reflect that I should have visited them the other way round.

2.00pm: As part of its 60th birthday celebrations the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is having an open day in the Herkulessaal. This concert hall is a must see in its own right with the ghosts of many famous composers treading its corridors. This is where Mozart applied for a job at the Residenz, but was turned down!

The open day turns out to be a real eye opener and it is wonderful to see so many children inspecting the different instruments, listening to mini concerts and hearing musicians talking about their craft. An open day like this is an investment in the future of classical music and the enthusiasm shown by the children confirms the importance of music in this wonderful city. And the adults are having fun too!

National Theatre (Photo: Wilfried Hösl)6.00pm: It's show time! This evening the Bavarian State Opera is presenting the premiere of a new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Premieres are always exciting events in Munich as the company is known for its controversial productions which generally divide opinion. This premiere proves to be no exception! Director Stephan Kimmig takes a very modern view of the work where sex, alcohol and debauchery are the order of the day. It all proves too much for the first night audience who vociferously boo the director and his production team. The Bavarian State Opera aims to challenge its audiences and it certainly does that!

Sunday, 10.00am: I have a precious couple of hours left in Munich before my flight home and decide to spend the time walking around the Altstadt. However I am soon diverted into St-Jakobs-Platz, which is the home of the new Jewish Museum, a cube shaped building that stands next to the new main synagogue and community centre. The museum collection illustrates the rich diversity of Jewish culture and history in Munich and also addresses current issues relating to Jewish life, art and culture. It proves to be a humbling experience.

As I wander around the Altstadt I reflect on Munich's cultural identity and its ability to build on its rich heritage and yet present itself to the world in a modern way. The Brandhorst Museum screams 'modern' as do most of the productions at the Bavarian State Opera, yet a classical music performance in the Herkulessaal provides a link to the past. It is a vibrant mix of old and new that is exceptionally appealing.

Art and culture thrive in Munich in many shapes and forms making it a city that demands to be discovered. I'll be back!

Photos (top to bottom):
Munich - Ruhmenshalle; Skyline; Philharmonie im Gasteig
Residenz - the Antiquarium
Brandhorst Museum
National Theatre

Related articles:
Opera, Bavarian style
Review of Don Giovanni
Review of Lohengrin

Useful Links:
Munich Tourist Office
Grayline
Munich Residenz
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Brandhorst Museum
Pinakothek der Moderne
Bavarian State Opera
Jewish Museum

© Michael Sinclair
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