A Shakespearean Study Break


Just a pair of ETH Zürich students pretending to be fancy.

Otello tells a story of love, revenge, jealously, and repentance. It was deviously entertaining when performed at the Zürich Opernhaus in March 2017. I decided to stay in Zürich that weekend because of prospective travels in the following weeks (read as: every weekend for two months straight). Luckily, my building mate, Colin, also shared a love for classical music. We were elated to have snatched 20CHF student tickets to the opera. If you’re a young person (under the age of 26) and/or a student, then you’re eligible to purchase discounted tickets on the day of the show. The seats are often good enough and especially worth it for the price you pay. However, popular shows might have longer lines and there’s always a chance that it is sold out before you arrive at the ticketing counter.

The two of us arrived a little too early and ate at a nearby bistro. Tidbits is a laidback vegan buffet, popular among the Swiss crowd. Apparently it’s also a chain restaurant and Colin had recommended it after trying the one located in Oerlikon. Overall, it was a yummy meal. I rarely ate out during my time in Switzerland due to exorbitant prices, but this one was calculated by the weight of your food. You could definitely get a filling meal by topping up with hearty options.


Sunset on Zürichsee in March.

With a happy stomach, we crossed the street again to Sechseläutenplatz. Taking a couple photos in the dimming sunlight, we decided to line up early to avoid catching a cold. In queue, Colin and I talked about our families and how we came to love classical music. I won’t go into details, but it was nice to discuss non-travel topics for once. I’m often in the planning stages with Alex and Zach, but I rarely get to see Colin. Although I visit his roommate, Jing, often enough, Colin and I probably ran on different schedules. I’d occasionally see him and Alex “attempt” to cook dinner together, but they do it so late that I often go to bed by the time they start to eat. I’ll shed more light on these nightly occurrences in another post.


I refrained from posting the other version, which is comparable to our selfie in Engelberg.

The decorated UPenn engineer spoke about his love for piano composition. Later on in the semester, he’d come across a keyboard and record a little excerpt for me to consider. Personally, I was trained as a classical pianist. I live for Bach and Beethoven. I had even planned a special solo trip to Salzburg to visit Mozart’s birthplace. In this good combo, Colin and I were excited for the show.


Casually chilling before the performance.

The interior of the Opernhaus was elegant and luxurious. The majority of guests wore at least semi-formal and they looked regal on the red carpet. You don’t have to arrive super early for the opera as most people mingle around the bar. There is a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as a small selection of snacks. Outside of each door, the opera house provides lozenges to suppress coughs. In the colder months, the venue has a coat check. Swiss are always on time and when the show bell rang, everyone, in a very organized fashion, promptly proceeded to their seats.


The theatre is filling. As you can tell, the average age of the audience is quite older than your reporter.

Inside the theatre, you see contrasts between red, black, and gold. Colin and I sat on a side balcony that gave a perfect, unobstructed view of the orchestra. This was probably the perfect spot for us because we were more interested in the music than the show. When you sit by the side, it is difficult to see one corner due to the angle. Therefore, throughout the opera, we would always wonder what the character was doing when they walked towards us. The stage layout was on a slant, perhaps to give a better depth comparison for people further back in the theatre. I don’t remember the capacity, but it looked quite large. The lighting gave a sophisticated atmosphere and dimmed for the show.


Full orchestra view. The conductor was just as entertaining as the singers on stage during the performance.

I won’t give away too many details about the production, but it was entertaining to say the least. In Zürich, the opera was performed in the original Italian libretto. Then, they had a narrow screen at the top of the stage with translations, both in German and English. There were many characters jumbling around on stage, but the music complemented each turn of events. I’ve seen orchestral productions back in Toronto before, but this was my first opera. At first it was difficult to switch between reading the translations and focusing on what the plot line was brewing. However, I found that listening to only the main character’s speech was enough to understand what was going on in the scene. The booklet distributed at the beginning of the show also gave a synopsis of each act. It was a nice keepsake from the experience.


Ceiling on the inside of the Zürich Opernhaus.

During the intermission, Colin and I went to check out the outdoor balcony of the opera house. It over looked the plaza below and with the cool winter air, the busy city of Zürich hushed to a calm. We didn’t stay outside too long due to the smokers, but we managed to snap a couple of photos before warming up inside again. The second half of the opera hit climax and resolution. In true story line fashion, the guy gets with the girl. You could read the Wikipedia summary, but definitely search up if your local theatre is performing Otello!


A clear night in Sechseläutenplatz.

I was really happy to have had the chance to experience the opera abroad. Not just once, but twice! I’ll be reminiscing about my time in Vienna soon, but the comparison is interesting to say the least. In both cases, production value was high and not one costume or musical note were spared. It’s really a shame that I didn’t get a chance to visit Zürich Tonhalle, where I hear the acoustics were supreme. More on a list of places that I wish I had visited during my short time in Europe. Instead, I’ll end this off with being thankful for all that I had done already.


Took a little break from studying and travelling for some Shakespeare.

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