Last week I was in Vienna for a few days of Easter holiday. We managed to pack in lots of music-related things: a concert at the Musikverein, an evening at the State Opera, a visit to one of Mozart’s apartments, a visit to Haydn’s house in what was the village of Gumperdorf, but is now part of the larger city.
We also trekked out to the Sankt Marx cemetery where Mozart was buried, though the exact location of his grave was not recorded, and even his widow Constanze never found it out for sure. The area of the cemetery in use at the time of Mozart’s death was roughly known, and a rather modest monument later erected to Mozart, but the spot is, as they say in the explanatory plaque, ‘representative’. One can walk on the lawn under the trees, thinking of Mozart.
Luckily the whole city is full of things which make one think of Mozart, not forgetting the delicious ‘Mozartkugel’ chocolates, round balls of praline, chocolate and marzipan wrapped in gold foil with little pictures of the composer. I don’t doubt he would have liked them.
I have visited Vienna before, but one thing was new to me on this occasion: the number of stylishly dressed young people, presumably ‘influencers’, taking artful photos of themselves in iconic locations. I am not on Instagram or TikTok and don’t really understand how these things work, but my daughter told me that on a recent visit to Venice she had seen many young couples, beautifully dressed and with immaculate hair and makeup, posing in picturesque spots and taking innumerable photos of one another. The uneven lanes of Venice do not really lend themselves to very high-heeled shoes, but the young influencers were not deterred from wearing them, or at least bringing them in a bag for the photos.
I realised that I had seen such couples last week in Vienna and wondered why they were so expensively dressed and coiffed on an ordinary weekday morning. When we went to a concert in the Musikverein I saw them posing charmingly against the balcony railing, or toasting one another with sparkling cocktail glasses while someone photographed them. At the Opera it was even more noticeable. The wonderful foyer of the Staatsoper, with its marble steps and seductive lighting (see photo), is evidently the perfect backdrop for social media shots. Opera-goers were tracing a tactful path around young couples leaning against marble pillars or posing with statues on the splendid staircase.
I saw a young man standing on a turn of the stairs with a beautiful coat folded up in his arms. When it was his turn to be photographed, he put the coat on, slung across his chest a stylish bag with some kind of glittering logo on it, and draped himself elegantly against the banister with that glossy smile we’ve all come to know from social media. At the interval, there they were again in the gorgeous bar, posing for photos with the opera crowd as their backdrop. Witnessing all this was a novelty for me and quite diverting until I began to feel that poor old Monteverdi, who had composed the opera (Il Ritorno d’Ulisse), was less a focus of attention than I would have liked him to be.
I suppose the Vienna State Opera has always been a place where people wanted to dress up and look their best, but this seemed a new level of image-consciousness.