Does one really have to fly 14 hours to Buenos Aires to see Richard Wagner's 'The Ring of the Nibelung' performed on one single day? DW's Rainer Traube made the trip to see the premiere of the 'Colón Ring.'
The city really is at the end of the Earth: a 14-hour flight from Berlin, 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) from Mexico City and Johannesburg, and 17,000 kilometers from Tokyo. Fly all the way to Buenos Aires just to go to the opera and listen to Richard Wagner's "Ring" for seven hours. Really? Hard-core Wagner fans, like my friends Rudolf and Heinz, don't even bat an eye. "The entire 'Ring' in one day? Well, we'll see about that," they say, and off they go, half-skepical, half-curious. After all, they haven't missed one Bayreuth Festival in the past 40 years.
A collapse of cultural bridges
The first reason to visit Buenos Aires: this abridged version of the "Ring of the Nibelung" - authorized by Katharina Wagner, great-granddaughter of composer Richard Wagner and heiress on the famed "Green Hill" - is a wonderful idea. It's perfect for Wagner beginners and a must for the advanced. One hundred thirty-six years after its debut, arranger Cord Garben was confident enough to boil down the at times long-winded stage festival play to half its original length: the entire "Ring" on one evening, rather that over four days, as it is usually performed. It's an exciting game with the "total work of art," but it doesn't appeal to everyone. "It works - on paper," said one singer after a rehearsal.
The fact that a frustrated Katharina Wagner quit as director just a few weeks before the premiere has nothing to do with the concept. No, she got caught up in a communication tangle between two self-absorbed cultural strongholds - the Bayreuth Festival and Teatro Colón. It's a perfect example of how the "cultural bridges" so formulaically praised by politicians can lead to nowhere.
Opera for the New World
Teatro Colón - an opera house legend, an Argentine cultural myth - is in itself reason to travel to Buenos Aires. It offers the best acoustics in the world, my Wagner friends say, and boasts architecture from a Belle Époque picture book - a bit of Vienna, a bit of Milan and a bit of Paris all rolled into one.
Building historians call it an eclectic mix; others might call it a "best of" selection. The porteños, who emigrated from Europe, wanted to prove to the Old World how they could build a new life in this port city, while showing that they could remain on the same cultural level as their European counterparts. Pride and self-doubt - it's the Argentine drama.
Perfect for a stroll
And that leads us to the third reason to travel to this city: Buenos Aires flair! Everything from tango to soccer, steak and gauchos - it's all packed into this city, the most culturally vibrant in Latin America.
Bogotá is more hip, Rio de Janeiro more sensational, São Paulo more dynamic? Could be. But where else can you drink an espresso in a coffeehouse laden with history, then browse through one of the countless bookshops, then enjoy a steak, and follow it up by watching some of the locals dancing tango? We take a stroll through the city districts - loud Microcentro, elegant Recoleta, youthful Palermo - on the search for traces of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, as the jacaranda trees glow a radiant purple against the sea of urban buildings.
Living out the dream
Borrowing all the clichés after all? Well, maybe that has to do with the fact that Buenos Aires lives up to its own legend more convincingly than any other metropolis: a stubborn response to the social and economic downfall decried everywhere else.
"No one can wallow in their defeat so elegantly as we Argentineans," writes Martín Caparrós, in his smart novel of generations "A quien corresponda ("To Whom it may Concern"). Self-doubt, pride and always a little bit of drama. Here, at the very latest, one must mention soccer - just to round out the picture.
However the cultural drama surrounding "Colón Ring" plays out, it's absolutely worth being in Buenos Aires to see it.