Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Politics/Economics of the EU

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Don Giovaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaani

Patrick McAlister ’10 – On this trip, nights are usually free for students to do what they like. Whether it is wander around the city they are in with friends or go to the local bar a native recommends, I always relish this time we are provided. Students find all sorts of places to go and have stories for a lifetime.
Last night, a few of us decided to do something unusual for trips like this. Earlier today we visited the European Central Bank (ECB), located in downtown Frankfurt. For those of you who don’t know, Frankfurt is the capital of banking in Germany, and chosen as the site for centrality in international monetary and economic policy. One wouldn’t expect it to be a bastion of culture.
Nevertheless, right next to the bank was the Frankfurt Opera House. After our visit, Alex Avtgis ’11 was bent on doing something cultural; the opera house seemed like a perfect fit. We wandered next door and found out this particular opera house was doing Motzart’s famous opera Don Giovanni. While none of us regularly attended the opera (I’d hazard a bet you’d find it difficult finding a Wabash man who did), Alex, Aaron Abell ’09, Trevor Counceller ’12 and I decided to try it….if the price was right.
And it totally was – Europeans seem to understand that students have a small budget to work with and their plans usually change at the last minute. The Frankfurt Opera had a program built specifically for students. If there were any seats left available an hour before curtain, they would sell them to students at a drastically discounted price. Thus we showed up (obviously dressed for the occasion), brandished our Wabash student IDs and spent 11 Euros for seats that would normally go for 60 Euros a piece. For those of you who don’t know the conversion, those are roughly $75 seats for $13.     
I am a theater minor, and I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t seen an opera until last night. I understood very little (the opera was obviously in Italian and they had German translation running at the top) but between the few Italian cognates I could translate in my head and the way the story was through nonverbal means I was entranced by what I saw on stage.
The set design was quite interesting. There was a piece of a road that served as the main acting space, which tilted at an angle toward the audience. I couldn’t believe the actors could balance on that platform. There was a false proscenium with doors and windows that could change color to reflect different moods. Color was an important feature, and the drops they employed at the back were sophisticated and numerous. At the climax of the Opera, when the Commodore comes back and takes the unrepentant Don Giovanni, actual fire lines the angled platform as Giovanni sinks to what we can probably assume is Hell. While in no way a ‘traditional’ rendition of Motzart’s famous opera, the odd styling reminded me that famous canonical works can be re-done in wonderful ways.
This was my first experience with theater outside of the United States, and I was on a trip that focused on the study of the politics and economics of Europe. If this isn’t an example of a liberal arts opportunity, I don’t know what is. I am very grateful for the free time we are provided to do interesting things in cities we probably won’t be making too many return trips to in our lifetimes.
Tonight the Opera House is doing Caligula; who knows; for 11 Euros, we may make a return trip.