Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Weekend in Helsinki

M has to go to Finland every 2 or 3 weeks for business. Until now, it's been winter (no fun for vacation) and/or his meeting has been in the middle of the week. This time his meeting was on Monday and since in Germany May 1 is a holiday and NO one works on a Friday after a Thursday holiday here, we made a LONG weekend out of it. We were there for 5 days and we hit the weather jack-pot! It was sunny and "warm" the whole time! I guess that's pretty unusual. It was between 60° and 70°, but the breeze off the sea was still pretty cool. One day I ended up carrying my jacket and my sweater around all day!

We walked our feet to bloody stumps! I didn't bring great walking shoes and we did a whole lot of it. Ouch. We had bought a brochure detailing 6 or so walking tours of the city and an island fortress and we did at least 4 of them! The brochure gave the details of the more interesting buildings, churches and statues, parks and even some historical cafes! The island with the fortress on it was beautiful, we had a fun picnic eating Finnish bread and cheese on a bastion overlooking the sea where the huge ferries come in and out. And since the weather was so fantastic there were also lots of cute sailboats on the water.

We ate fabulously all weekend, trying various typical Finnish dishes. The first night we went to a cute restaurant called Lappi that specialized in food from Lapland (the area above the arctic circle). We ate a taster platter with deer sausage, reindeer steak and moose/elk steak with root veggies. I had a cool cocktail with sort of pale pink blackberry sort of thing called cloudberry. :-) The second night, at the Seahorse M had deep fried Baltic Herring and I had Finnish meatballs. mmmmmh. The atmosphere wasn't so great though. The third night we took a boat out to an island just off the coast to a restaurant called the Boathouse and had grilled salmon. oh, was it good! Here we had the whole second floor of the restaurant (which was round with huge picture windows overlooking the sea) to ourselves. It was lovely. Not sure why business was so slow. It was only their 3 day open for the season...

We went to the movies twice! The movies in Finland all have Finnish and/or Swedish subtitles, as opposed to in Germany where everything is dubbed. So we took advantage and saw Darjeeling Limited and There Will Be Blood. Both were very good, but There Will Be Blood was a bit creepy. Mostly I think it was the soundtrack that gave me a weird feeling all the time, but the main character, one of the first oil barons in Texas, was such a violent person lacking in any moral fiber. Darjeeling Limited on the other hand was a delightful movie. You should go see it if you haven't already! It's about these 3 brothers who meet on a train to go across the Indian countryside ostensibly to go visit their mother who's become a nun after their father died. They are wacky characters and much hilarity ensues. I'm sure you'd get a kick out of it.

One of my pupils here in Hannover is huge fan of the Finnish band, Him, and asked me to buy her a CD she couldn't get here. The singer, Manna, is married to the guitarist (I think, well someone) from Him. So we went on a little treasure hunt. It wasn't too hard to find the CD once we found the shop! That was a bit of an adventure - we got lost in the department store Stockmann's! Back at home I've listened to the CD and it's really great. I can recommend it highly. I think it is possible to get it through iTunes. Manna writes the songs and lyrics for the most part and sings. She has a lovely light voice, which is clear and the words (in English) are perfectly understandable. The music is not loud, more on the folky/pop-y side. Very nice.

We also bought a graphic novel version (in English!) of the Kalevala, which is the Finnish folk epic kind of like Beowulf or the Canterbury Tales. We asked for a version of it in English and they showed us two paperback editions, one was cheap quality and one was super expensive and we wanted a nice one that was maybe illustrated or something. Just to have, who knows if we would read it! Then I had the idea to look in the comics section and there it was! A nice hardcover edition in black and white and in English! Amazing.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Carmen in Hannover

A couple of weeks ago M and I went to see Carmen at the Hannover Opera with a colleague of his and her boyfriend. (I know, it took me long enough to get around to blogging about it...) It was the premier. A Georgian mezzo by the name of Khatuna Mikaberidze sang the title role. Jose - Pedro Velázquez Díaz and Micaela - Arantxa Armentia. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't very good either, I'm afraid. I've heard operas where the singers were very bad. Here, in Carmen, the singers were quite good, especially Arantxa Armentia, but they were pretty much all of them simply over-singing. Why? I have no idea. The Japanese girl who sang the role of Frasquita (Hinako Yoshikawa), was quite excellent and the only one who didn't sacrifice musicality to sing loudly. Unfortunately, we don't get to hear a whole lot from Frasquita. The Card Aria (Trio) was wonderful, in large part due to Hinako Yoshikawa. The staging and direction was a bit random which hindered the singers in expressing the emotions fully. One exception was the death scene at the end. Pedro Velázquez Díaz as Don Jose sang very sensitively. The orchestra was quite excellent. The conductor, Jahbom Koo, was a bit excited at the beginning, though. The overture began at a racing tempo and returned to that theme at a much more relaxed tempo.

One real gripe: Why must there always be naked people on a German opera stage? Carmen was no exception.