Many people believe that the symphony is a bygone art; underappreciated by the last several generations whose utter lack of interest is threatening symphonic extinction.
While I won’t argue with this sound point, I will say that there are still young people out there who thoroughly enjoy attending the symphony, wherever in the world they might be. Being one of those strange people, I was elated to learn that the symphony is alive and kicking in Hanoi, at accessible prices to boot. Thus, I bought a ticket to “German Night At the Opera House”.
Featuring the Vietnamese National Symphony Orchestra conducted by, up and coming, German composer Jonas Alber, playing selections by Mozart, Weber, Beethoven, Nicolai and Wagner As an added bonus, the symphony is located in one of the most beautiful and famous buildings in Hanoi, the Hanoi Opera House.
The Hanoi Opera house was commissioned by the French colonial administration and completed in 1911. The Beaux-arts structure was modeled on the Palias Garnier in Paris (the setting for the Phantom of the Opera) and is a true architectural gem that looms elegantly over the Trang Tien traffic circle, located in central Hanoi.
Like most French buildings in Hanoi, it is painted yellow and time has left visible chips and cracks in the aging façade but it is these aesthetic imperfections that make the Opera House such and incredible sight—marking it as an architectural marvel and a curious time machine.
After brushing past the Vietnamese women trying to sell me tickets at exorbitant prices, I walked through the main entrance and were immediately transported to French occupied Hanoi circa 1913. I had to use my imagination when it came to the large number of casually dressed Vietnamese and Ex-pats milling about but believe me on this one, the Hanoi Opera House takes you back in time. The interior is straight out of the Phantom of the Opera. The atrium is dominated by a white marble master staircase adorned with a red runner and a splendid chandelier that casts white light on eager patrons sauntering up the century old steps.
My feet became acquainted with the colorfully designed tiled floors while I marveled at the century old wooden wall sconces and Corinthian columns. As I attempted to absorb every nook and cranny of the Opera House, I was called into the concert hall by the obligatory chiming bells and began to search for my seat. After climbing the stairs, I entered the concert hall and quickly found my seat. Seat 405 was comprised of slightly warped carved wood topped with a plush blood red velvet cushion fastened by metal rivets. I sat down like an early 1900’s fancy Frenchman and readied myself for the music, taking in the symphony solo is a marvelous experience, especially so in a such a awesome building.
The concert hall is ornately decorated in what I can best describe as traditional opera hall style—beautiful wooden balconies, red velvet seats, a massive chandelier, and large dark wood stage. The interior could use some re-painting but on the whole it is amazing that the Opera House is kept in such good condition.
The symphony itself was a delight. The Vietnamese National Symphony Orchestra was technically sound and powerful, highlighting a particularly jovial baritone and a gorgeous soprano, as well as several other Vietnamese vocal soloists. To add some humor to the highbrow event was a Vietnamese woman who came on stage after each movement to announce the next movement by way of a wordy Vietnamese monologue. I understand that this aspect of the show was not intended to be comedic but found the Lost in Translation moment to be quite funny.
In regards to the music selection, I particularly enjoyed Mozart’s “A Girl or Young Woman” from A Magic Flute and “Marten Of All Kinds” from The Abduction From the Seraglio. As the final note was struck, our entertainers where awarded large bouquets of flowers and showered with applause. Exiting the Opera House I was met by the bustling Trang Tien traffic circle, which yanked me back into the 21st century.