Saturday, 20 June 2009

Magical Drottningholm

Well, as promised, some photos from our trip to Drottningholm and some impressions of the Handel opera that we saw there, Ariodante.

Firstly, one of the things that delighted us about Sweden was the extraordinary care taken to preserve ordinary things, such as the turn-of-the-century steamer, s/s Drottningholm (above), which we used to access Drottningholm Palace (below). On our way to the Vasa Museum we also used the old tram system, that was also wonderfully cared for, though that's not to say Stockholm is an old-fashioned city - quite the opposite. It's just that the Swedes appreciate beautiful design, and it was great to see so much that was charming, well cared for, and above all, still in good working order.

Our tour of the Drottningholm Court Theatre was extrordinary, and an example of the Swedish knack for preservation. As we crowded into the tiny entrance hall, it dawned on us that, though the place had been carefully conserved, it was not actually restored - the walls and floors were battered and creaking, and the paint was flaking off, but we were - thrillingly - standing in a building which had been pretty much untouched since the 1760s.

Tourism itself has actually contributed quite a bit of damage to this fragile building (south facade, above). In 1980 about 43,000 tourists tramped through the building, and 18,000 saw performances there - so now bags have to be locked away and the guides are pretty careful to prevent people from leaning on or touching anything. When you see the fragile wall-coverings, you understand why, but who ever thought that 18th-century wallpaper was sewn together and nailed up in sheets? But that's what's marvellous about this place: noticing that the reality of a historical period is subtly different from what you imagined.

It was an exciting moment when, after the changing of the guard (above), we got to take our seats inside the auditorium, which is surprisingly intimate. There are some marvellous example of trompe-l'œil paintings of curtains on the boxes (done by the carpenter, Nils Ulfitz; you can just about see them in the picture below, to the left and the right) and also some curious boxes fronted by grills, presumably for secret assignations!

The theatre now seats double the amount of people it did in the 18th century; our seats were behind a kind of proscenium arch at the back which, appropriately, was where the poor people used to sit (a curtain would be dropped, screening them from the King, until the performance began). One of the curious and really effective modern interventions are the Drottningholm lights - electric candlebulbs that shimmer in their sockets like actual wax candles.

We never got to see the wooden stage machinery back-stage (although there's a video about it on the website). Pictures of ropes and driving mechanisms make it look like a ship, and indeed, sailors were traditionally employed as stage-hands. Nevertheless, Ariodante did call for a brief burst from the thunder machine, and the movement of the wooden waves at the back, and we of course witnessed the side flats sliding into place with a big clunk.

I think this produdction of Ariodante, coupled with the DVD we watched of Giulio Cesare, really helped us to get a better understanding of Handel's music (I was wrong about the surtitles by the way - Drottningholm has them in Swedish). Although Ariodante was broadly in 18th-century dress, I wasn't too keen on the fantastical touches of tartan, to suggest the Edinburgh setting, but then, I'm a bit of a purist. There was some lively singing and playing from the period-instrument orchestra, and in spite of the endurance test presented by sitting on wooden benches, we were utterly transported into another age.

I can't recommend Drottningholm enough - we're already planning our return visit next summer...

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington, with the exception of the Drottningholms Slottsteater auditorium, by Bengt Wanselius.

 Subscribe now!


Tutta Rolf said...

How lovely to see! I haven't been out to Drottningholm that much this spring because of all the rain, i normally go at least once a week with the dog as they have two large islets in the english park where dogs can run free. I also saw Ariodante, and too was a bit disturbed by the tartans, Braveheart meets Handel sort-of. Did you notice the beautiful costumes displayed round the theatrebuilding?...from previous performances of Handel's Alcina and Tamerlano,designed by Patrick Kinmonth.
There's a dvd available on Arthaus with a lovely performance from 1988 of Mozart's "La finta giardiniera" that can't recommend enough.

I am in Berlin for a couple of days and it's just gorgeous! Tonight i'm going to see Mozart's "Abduction of the Seraglio" at the Staatsoper unter den linden wich will be fun.

Glad you had a pleasant stay!

Mrs Woffington said...

Hello Tutta Rolf - I was so impressed with Sweden and particularly Drottningholm, which has stuck in my mind ever since. I did see the costumes around the building and thought they were excellent. It was such a disappointment that we couldn't really look around the grounds properly but we intend to go back; we didn't even get to see inside the Palace or the Theatre Museum (plus, we missed the opportunity to buy Ingmar Bergman's Die Zauberflöte,on DVD which I must have first seen as a teenager; I will look out for Arthaus too). We did make a special trip to the Kina Slott, which was such good advice - we wished we could have done more but just over two days wasn't enough time to explore everything. I hope you have a fantastic time in Berlin - that opera is such great fun, we last saw it performed by English Touring Opera (