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Vienna opera boss blasts music in the toilets

Dominique Meyer is unhappy at the Strauss waltzes that tinkle forth as you take a wee in the Karlsplatz underground station, near the State Opera. He also takes a swipe at Gerard Mortier’s latest attack on the working practices of the Vienna Phil. Here’s what he tells ORF:



Q: How do you as Director of the State Opera feel about the “Opera Toilet” in the underground passage at the Karlsplatz underground station?

Meyer: It’s dreadful. I and visitors to the opera regard it is a nuisance. If you’re coming out of a performance at the State Opera, you don’t necessarily want to be forced to hear other music. I object generally to music being played everywhere, say in restaurants, department stores or shopping malls.

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  1. José Bergher says:

    I agree it’s dreadful. I propose instead the first 29 bars of Mahler’s 8th symphony.

    • How about Mahler’s Fifth for those contemplative sorts whose incontinence requires some extra time?
      I remember in the late 1950′s or early 60′s, the comedian and satirist Henry Morgan had proposed a system of animal comfort stations along the then new interstate highways in the U.S. The theory was that the dog would go in low and come out high. Would that also be a possible criterion in the selection of the classics and/or for the design of Vienna’s underground stations? And, of course, don’t forget the theme music from “The Third Man”, though some of the oldtimers familiar with the film might prefer flashing images of Alida Valli.

      • Oh, I forgot, they could also include Bernard Hermann’s score from “Psycho”, with flashing images of Janet Leigh.

  2. So how exactly is the Opera boss responsible for the music that is played in Vienna’s public underground toilets?
    I think this smear campaign is “in the toilet”.

    • Meyer doesn’t claim to be “responsible for the music that is played in Vienna’s public underground toilets.”
      He’s expressing displeasure at it, which he’s perfectly entitled to do.

    • R. James Tobin says:

      There is no question of his responsibility. He was asked his opinion and he gave it, as a citizen and interested party.

  3. No! Don’t get rid of it! It is so dreadful that it’s funny, just like a terrible movie!

    It’s lighthearted and sometimes Vienna needs a bit of that. If you hate it that much then go through the other exits to Karlsplatz U-Bahn!!

  4. No long ago, the urinals at Karlsplatz, near the State Opera, were designed to look like women’s mouths — yet another irony considering the opera orchestra’s employment practices. For a picture of the toilets see:

    • It’s just one of many many different themes that were made into urinals in Vienna’s underground. But your relentless attempts to make everything in Vienna a nail so it fits your only hammer you possess, is a bit funny to say the least. What’s next? The Stephansdom a phallic symbol symbolizing suppression of women in Vienna? ;)

    • As if urinals in shape of women’s mouths were somehow acceptable. Deny, deny, deny.

      • Of course it’s acceptable. Relax. It’s a joke. It requires humor though.

        • Imagine if the urinals were made to look like people of African descent, or Jews, or like Austrians in Lederhosen or some such thing. It would, of course, be beyond bad taste and be appalling. On the other hand, symbolic expressions of urinating in a woman’s mouth are somehow to be acceptable in Vienna. It’s all just a joke, you see.

          Symbolic expressions like these, which appear in countless forms, really do affect the way we think and subtly or not so subtly encourage misogyny. It helps us understand how the orchestra of a state owned and operated opera house at the same subway stop could exclude membership to women in contradiction to both Austrian and European law. And why it only changed its employment practices after wide-spread international protests.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I think those urinals are terrible. But what William forgot to tell us is that they actually the work of a Dutch woman, Meike van Schijndel, and they have been installed (and then in many cases, removed again due to protests) in many countries around the world. So it’s not a Vienna-specific tastelessness.

  5. Perhaps a looped tape of Schoenberg, Weber, Zemlinsky and Berg would keep the place void of tourists and give it a dash of Viennese authenticity; or reality depending upon how you look at it.

  6. There are a number of stations on the London Underground that now have classical music piped around the station. Not only does this make for a more pleasant atmosphere, it apparently discourages teenage muggers and pickpockets from hanging around the station entrances.

    • My local railway station used to do something like this, several years ago, and the atmosphere was decidedly unpleasant: the speakers were not suitably adjusted and the pieces were in very insensitively abridged versions (for example, Ravel’s Bolero without the E-major passage). Worst of all was the accompanying “Mosquito” system, a very unpleasant high-pitched buzzing (apparently, audible only to younger people — I suppose it had not occured to the train company that some of us might be legitimate, fare-paying customers) that gave me a headache almost every time I disembarked at the station, despite making a direct and rapid exit from train to street. I recall writing a sarcastic letter to my local council, to no avail…

      Besides the issue of quality, there are compelling arguments against imposing recorded music on people in this fashion, where they are passing through a space and thus will hear only a fragment, yet where they might be temporarily confined (for example, a lift, a station platform, &c.).

  7. Albert Lee says:

    My first composition teacher said it best: “You want to know why music is under-appreciated? Because one can’t have a slash in a public toilet without hearing a muzak version of Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way.’ Music is everywhere. One cannot escape it.”

  8. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    I am afraid Mr. Meyer will have to live with his displeasure of hearing Strauss waltzes in the toilet passage at Karlsplatz Station as long as he is in Vienna. (Comparison: Try walking around in Venice without hearing Vivaldi from nearly every church building). One could, however, decide to have music of those composers repressed during the Third Reich played in certain public spaces aboveground. In addition, it is never quite clear who is the power in the state, the state opera, the philharmonic orchestra, and the austrian radio. All sorts of things can happen suddenly, without any prior announcement, by decree “von allerhoechster Stelle” (from the highest level) – whoever that is. That is done “Modo Austriaco” – the “Austrian Way” of doing things. Last not least: in Vienna it is often much more important what happens in front of, or outside of, or around, the actual State Opera stage, pit, or auditorium. Karl Boehm’s parting words as State Opera Music Director, spoken about half a century ago, are still valid today: “Um Gotteswillen, intrigieren’s net so viel!” “For Heaven’s sake, don’t intrigue that much!” Vienna: the Stage of all Stages!! You either love it (when you know how to play), or hate it… Servus, alleseits!

  9. Theodore McGuiver says:

    @William Osborne, above: In answer to your question about where the womens’ mouths urinals were removed after protests, I think you’ll find the answer is…Vienna! Where did I get this gem of information? From an article about them posted by…William Osborne! Funny old world…

  10. Regarding the toilets in Vienna, they were not the ones created by Meike van Schijndel, but by Rudolf Scheffel. The restroom they were placed in is not a restroom operated by the City of Vienna, but a privately managed restroom leased from the city and open to the public for a fee. That company was responsible for the whole thing. I hate to disappoint Mr. Osborne, but the City of Vienna had nothing to do with it! In fact, the City of Vienna was the prime mover in having them removed. Personally, the “Mouth Urinals” were so cartoonish I never associated them with misogyny, just weirdness. Perhaps if Mr. Osborne imagined Mick Jagger instead of a woman he would feel more comfortable.

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