Now I could pretend that these two reading choices were made because of their operatic connections, but that wouldn’t be truthful. The fact of it is that I chose these books because of their connections with the first two destinations in my #gapyeartravels, Prague and Munich. They also have a further connection. The first was a recommendation from Denis Jackson, the translator I interviewed in 2015 for German Literature Month. The second was translated by Mike Mitchell, interviewed in 2014.
In the words of Denis Jackson, Eduard Mörike’s novella, Mozart’s Journey to Prague (1855) is “a light-hearted tale of the composer’s journey from Vienna to Prague to attend the opening performance of the opera, Don Giovanni. It is Mörike’s supreme achievement in prose, clearly revealing Mörike’s spiritual affinity with the composer and the profound emotions aroused in him by his opera.”
Now I’m no opera lover – in fact, I have an affinity with Cora Dulz, the soprano-hating protagonist of my second read. So much of the operatic hommage to Don Giovanni was lost on me. Jackson’s point about spiritual affinity of the author with Mozart is an interesting one though, given that Mozart, at least the Mozart in these pages, comes across as immature and irresponsible, whose life would go off-track if it weren’t for the patience and virtues of his capable wife. I know I’m not meant to judge it this way as Mörike’s purpose is to show, in a humorous fasion, how the real world conflicts with the demands of Mozart’s genius and talent. Certainly it is Mozart’s preoccupations with his music that lead to him absent-mindedly picking an orange from a tree in the grounds of a stately home. A common man would have been arrested for theft but Mozart has his name to save him, provided he agrees to spend the rest of the day with the baron and his family. He does so, providing them with an exclusive preview of the opera which is to be performed shortly in Prague.
This is a charming novella, a loving homage to Mozart’s life and genius, though not really to my taste. It is far too gentle …
… which cannot be said of the second book, one I read pre-blog and have since puzzled about why it is not better known. Helmut Krausser’s The Great Bagarozy (1997) is a clever novel, full of black laugh-out-loud humour, concerning a psychiatrist in crisis and the devil who identifies her weak spot. Dark and sticky like a tin of treacle, I know it’s bad for me, but I can’t stop at one spoonful.
The non-opera loving psychiatrist Cora is bored, both privately and professionally. The latter is evidenced during the first consultation with her new client, Nagy. She is more concerned with her post-shift shopping list than with his woes. But it takes only a couple of sessions before she is reeled in and finds herself obsessed with this ambiguous character claiming to be the Devil incarnate. Nagy can certainly read her better than she can read him. She starts overstepping professional boundaries – though not as many as she would like, given that he awakens a desire in her that she has not felt for years. Where will this obsession lead?
Her obsession mirrors her client’s with Maria Callas. Nagy’s zest for life disappeared after her death, at which time he had been following her – incognito – for years. At one point he claimed to have been her agent, named Bagarozy; at the time of her death, her pet black poodle. This latter position obviously gave him access to the most private parts of her life and many intimate details of Maria Callas’s life are woven into his story.
But can this deluded tale possibly be true? “There’s a rational explanation for everything”, claims Cora’s husband at one point, a prosaic man whose only quirk is to collect stories of bizarre deaths. (Foregleams of what is to follow.) Really? That’s the question at the centre of this novel and Krausser demonstrates a brilliant sleight-of-pen in balancing the rational and supernatural to keep the reader guessing. It’s a skill worthy of Bagaroz himself, Nagy’s stage magician alter-ego. All I’m saying is that Cora does lose her soul but I won’t reveal how or whether it is to a devil of a man or to the devil with a capital D.
So Maria Callas is the operatic connection here. The connection to my #gapyeartravel destination of Munich is not that the novel is set there, but that the author lives there. This may be a tenuous link but so too is the Prague connection in Mörike’s novella. We never reach that beautiful city in those pages either. No worries, I had better luck aligning my travelling and reading destination in my next review.