Tag Archives: Carmen

Three Days in Enchanting Granada

24 Apr
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The Alhambra

 

As previously arranged, the last Muslim ruler in Spain, Boadbil, reluctantly handed over the key to the spectacular Alhambra to the Spanish monarchy on January 1, 1492. No matter how much I have read about the Alhambra, I was still gobsmacked by it, from its size and beauty, intricate carvings, water features, gardens and the overall grand, but tranquil, enchanting ambience. By 1238, with the taking of Cordoba from the Moors, the Spanish “Reconquista” had regained all of Spain with the exception of Granada. Under a peace agreement with the Spanish monarchy, Granada flourished. Under Moorish rule, the site of the Alhambra was used as a fortress, and in the 13th century the Nasrid Dynasty began building the Alhambra complex. Any attempt to provide an accurate portrayal of the Alhambra will be woefully inadequate in describing its unique architecture and beauty. The Generalife, the nearby country gardens and buildings on the Alhambra’s northern area are perched higher, resulting in a cooler, inviting respite for the Nasrid rulers and their associates. A view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, Spain’s tallest mountain range, can be enjoyed from the Generalilfe. I recommend the tour of both the Alhambra and Generalife, which takes around 4 ½ hours. Be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance as tickets are often sold out, arrive early, and wear comfortable walking shoes and bring shade from the sun.

 

 

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Palace of Charles V

 

After more than 250 years of rule under the Moors, King Fernando and Queen Isabel fought to restore Granada to Spain, which they succeeded in doing on January 1, 1492. The Alhambra was spared from the usual destruction and/or conversion to Christian buildings, which makes it a unique attraction. However, their grandson, Charles V, built a palace in the Renaissance style within the walls of the Alhambra, which makes for an odd, but interesting juxtaposition to the Moorish designs. This building houses museums of Spanish-Islamic Art and Bella Artes (Fine Arts.)

 

 

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Albaicín and El Sacromonte

The Albaicín is the Moorish old city, which faces and provides one of the many fantastic views of the Alhambra. The Albaicín has a jumble of narrow streets and historic homes called Carmenes, the latter which consist of external high walls to provide privacy and internal fountains, patios and inviting living spaces. The Albaicín church of San Nicolas is a popular destination, and its plaza affords panoramic views. In the hills just above the Albaicín is the El Sacromonte, the caves where gypsies live and perform flamenco shows.

 

 

In 1523, work began on Granada’s Cathedral, which is massive and opulent, featuring both Gothic and Renaissance architecture created by a series of several architects during the 181 years during which it was constructed. It is one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe. It has a gold and white interior and features a circular capilla mayor (sanctuary) with five naves and multiple chapels. Its stained glass dome, large chorale books, and huge pipe organs are also noteworthy. Adjacent and joined to the Cathedral is the Capilla Real, the Royal Chapel, which was built for the royal monarchs between 1506 and 1521. It houses an ornate grille enclosing the altar and the marble sculptures of Fernando and Isabel, their daughter, Juana La Loca and her husband Felipe el Hermoso. Their coffins lay in the crypt below the marble figures. Both facilities offer works of famous artists.

 

Plaza Nueva is the oldest square in Granada, and a good place for a beverage, tapa and people-watching. One of my favorite spots is Bodega Catañeda, a rustic, authentic tapas spot for local jamones (hams), creative dishes, and sherry. There are many eateries serving authentic Moroccan and Arabic food. Granada is fairly compact, so walking or taking a cab are the best options for getting around.

 

 

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Bodegas Castaneda

Since moving to Spain, I have happily taken advantage of the opportunity to explore the country’s diverse and unique attractions, including many UNESCO world heritage sites. For this special venue in Granada, I splurged and stayed at the 14th century Parador within the walls of the Alhambra. In Spain, a parador is a historic or scenic building which the Spanish government has converted into an inn or hotel. The parador at the Alhambra has been described as the best or one of the best in Spain. Queen Isabel and King Fernando were initially buried on the site, while the Royal Chapel was being built in Granada as their final resting place. The parador was a former monastery built on orders of the royal monarchs on a site which was originally a mosque. This parador provides an inviting, tranquil respite after exploring the Alhambra and the City of Granada, and its intriguing history and delicious local foods.

 

 

 

 

 

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BIZARRE BIZET

18 Aug
View from our seats at La Fenice

View from our seats at La Fenice

When the curtains opened in Venice’s opulent La Fenice Opera House for Bizet’s Carmen, I immediately became suspect that something was wrong. On stage was a telephone booth; I was certain there were no phone booths when Carmen was first performed in 1875. As lovers of live music, we had already searched out the secluded the Venice Jazz Club where we enjoyed samba and bossa nova music, attended an intimate chamber orchestra playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in old prison connected to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), listened to live jazz at the Hotel Cipriani, and ended every evening listening to live music on the Piazza San Marco.

While looking for other live musical performances, we were excited to learn that Carmen would be performed at the recently rebuilt Teatro La Fenice. We immediately walked to the Opera House in hopes of securing tickets for that night’s performance. We succeeded in getting two tickets in the coveted lower loge seats which are directly across from the stage, high enough to prevent obstructed views from taller patrons.

La Fenice is one of the most famous theatres in Europe. The San Benedetto Theatre, as it was originally known, saw its first performance in the early 1700’s, but was destroyed by fire and later forced to move due to a legal dispute. When the new theatre was opened in 1792, it was aptly named La Fenice, which means The Phoenix. The theatre suffered two more fires, the last an arson by two electricians in 1996. It reopened in November 2004.

On the evening of the performance we were attending, we donned our finest apparel and walked with anticipation to La Fenice. We wandered the beautiful building before taking our seats. We had previously seen Carmen and were excited to see it in Venice. Once the opera started, it quickly became apparent this was not the traditional Carmen we expected. While we were trying to digest the phone booth and more contemporary set and costumes, during the opening march, a man ran around in circles in his underwear carrying a gun. This version of Carmen was represented to be set in a contemporary fascist era. During one particularly bizarre part, the cast pulled a Christmas tree from the trunk of an old Mercedes Benz, and proceeded to assemble and decorate it. While the adults and children were decorating the tree, a female prostitute engaged in salacious simulated sexual activity, with the children present. Carmen ultimately pulled off and held up her bright red panties, which were hoisted up the flagpole. Several times I closed my eyes to disrupt the visual assault on my senses; with closed eyes I could enjoy the spectacular vocals. However, every time I opened my eyes the bizarre set and shenanigans interfered with my ability to enjoy the opera. I suspected my son, an artistic soul who has experience in the performance arts, would be more receptive.

By the intermission, I determined that in spite of the fantastic singing, I couldn’t take it any longer and decided to return to the Hotel Cipriani for more ego-syntonic jazz. To my surprise, my son concurred with my Carmen experience and decided to join me. In retrospect, I wondered if there was any way I could have known this was a non-traditional version of Carmen, but realized there was nothing in the advertisements or communication from the theatre ticket staff that telegraphed this unusual interpretation, so I just chalked it up to another laughable travel memory.