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...