Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Falling Facades

Münster Town Hall today
Besides the towering steeple of the St. Lamberti cathedral, the first thing that  stands out when you walk down the street in downtown Münster is the row of facades on the buildings along the Prinzipalmarkt. Atypical of most German cities, due to Münster’s proximity and history with Holland, these Dutch gables are quite common here. In the old days, they were used in lieu of numbers to identify addresses, and in the case of the Town Hall’s facade, built 30 meters over the actual roof in the mid 14th century, the highly ornate gable was meant to instill confidence in the power of the reigning Bishop through its imposing outward appearance.

Münster Town Hall, 1944
minutes before the gable fell
Most of the buildings in the Altstadt (old town) were rebuilt to replicate their originals after having been destroyed in World War II. Nearby theaters in Hagen, Aachen and Duisburg were rebuilt to look, at least from the exterior, as they did before the war. The theater in Münster, however, made the somewhat controversial decision to reconstruct in the current fashion of the 1950’s. As an homage to the building which stood there before, the architects left a piece of the original facade standing freely in the atrium, so that theater-goers could reflect upon it while sipping proseccos during intermission in the shiny, modern foyer.

Münster's modern theater
viewed through the facade
When I auditioned in Münster about four years ago, I put up the usual opera singer’s “facade” -- basic black with a flash of color, standard repertoire, polite demeanor, etc. I remember that I sang rather well, and after I was done they asked me, almost as if measuring the gable in front of the Town Hall, “Frau Graham, how tall are you?” Apparently, they had a short tenor.
Opera is an art form which has been around for centuries, and it is also one very reluctant to change. So it is no wonder that we put up our facades to try to emulate what we think might be expected of us. We beef up our résumés to make us look as experienced as the singer next to us. We dye our gray hairs to appear the same age as the singer next to us. We wear heels or flats to adjust our height. We hide our special, individual talents -- like baking, writing, singing silly songs, or even having other jobs -- to make us seem like ‘serious’ artists. We try to keep ourselves lined up with concerts so we appear busy, giving off the impression that we are in high demand and therefore better than all the rest.
I got the chance to audition in Münster again, just four weeks ago. The piece being cast is brand new - a world premiere - and they needed someone in a hurry. Luckily, I was available. Already I tore down my first facade of looking busy. For some reason, maybe because I had to get up so early, I couldn’t be assed to wear my usual audition garb, so I wore a wacky print dress. Second facade down. For the train ride up there, I wore casual red boots and had my basic black pumps in my bag to change into shortly before going on stage. In the middle of my first aria, I realized I had forgotten to change my shoes. Oops, third strike. As I stepped on the stage and looked out into the modern hall and its purple upholstered seats, I exclaimed, “Oh! Purple is my favorite color!” instead of “My name is... and I’d like to sing... .” Surely my cover was blown by then at the latest. The only facade I had left was one of courage, masking my actual scared-shitlessness.
Perhaps a bit perplexed by my demeanor and attire, the panel nevertheless listened to my first selection, then invited me to stay for the second round. In their search for someone to perform this brand new work in this modern theater, I suppose my “facade” (or lack of one) built on a solid foundation of talent, technique and experience, was exactly the one they were looking for.
  The premiere of “Timeshift” is December 4, subsequent performances on December 7th, January 14th, February 29th, and March 11th. Be sure and plan enough time to explore and view the gables of Münster! 


  1. Very proud of you, for being just your perfect you. See you in Münster!

  2. That was lovely. It made me feel how actually painful it is to cloak our authenticity in order to gain something we want.