Today brought an unexpected surprise, in that I spent the afternoon with my oldest and best friend. Meeting up with us in Kassel, Freddie took us around the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, just outside the city. Though the grounds were beautiful from a distance, the park itself is in fact a large exploration of Romantic “reconstruction,” shall we say. Ascending up the long hill to a ruined temple of Hercules, one passes an “aqueduct” which was in fact built to look like a ruin. On warmer days, the ruin includes a water feature which pour water down a stream into the lake behind the estate. Other perverse curiosities include a faux pyramid covered in moss, a shack meant to be “Socrates’ hermitage,” and a devil’s bridge eventually leading to “Pluto’s Grotto” (an entrance to the underworld). Part of its charm was perhaps that fact that these intentional ruins were further ruined during WWII, and then restored to their former ruined state – perhaps the architectural equivalent of putting a poem of E.E. Cummings through a shredder, and trying to put it back together again for funsies.
Less inspiring was Hildesheim. Passing rows of kebab shops and buildings covered in graffiti, R and I were grateful for the decision to stop and meet up with Freddie. The opera however was a another new experience for me: Busoni’s Doktor Faustus. Contemporary with Puccini’s Turandot, the content of the opera managed to explore Faust’s crisis of faith not just dramaturgically, but musically. As Faust signs his will over to Mephistopholes, the offstage chorus works their way through a setting of the Nicene Creed, the central movement of the mass. Quotes from Bach’s Matthew Passion comment on what it means to “follow” rather than heed one’s own conscience. In the final scene, as Faust’s eternal damnation is imminent, the men in the chorus sing Vater unser in Himmelreich, a metrical setting of the Lord’s Prayer.