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TRAVEL TO EUROPE'S MUSIC FESTIVALS

Drawn by the promise of stirring performances amid celebrated surroundings, travelers from around the world descend upon the music festivals and concert halls of Europe each spring and summer, hoping to immerse themselves for a few days in opera, symphony and jazz.

But for many travelers, the charms of a famous music festival or an intimate Baroque opera house may be overshadowed by difficulties in getting to the event or in obtaining seats. Tickets, which can cost well over $100 for many events, are often sold out months in advance and schedules may be complicated. Language can be a problem, particularly for people going to out-of-the-way cities. And, as with tickets, hotels in the area of the event may be booked up in advance.Mindful of these obstacles, some travelers entrust themselves to tour companies specializing in packages that include hotel reservations, meals, local transportation, sightseeing and, most important, good tickets to festivals and concerts. The tours are usually led by music-lovers who are eager to share their knowledge.

The tours may focus on one event, like the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, which celebrates the works of Wagner, or the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland; a particular geographic area, like the opera houses of Italy; or a theme, like Mozart's Europe.

Besides being convenient, such tours provide an opportunity for devotees to meet others with similar tastes, often leading to spirited post-performance discussions.

The recession has forced many nonprofit organizations, like the Houston Grand Opera Guild and some of the jazz educational groups, to eliminate their more expensive activities - like music tours of Europe - and instead concentrate on events closer to home, so there are fewer music tours overseas by these agencies.

The economic slump has also prompted tour companies to cut back their music packages to Europe. Even so, they are turning their sights to Eastern Europe, seeking tickets to concerts in cities like Prague, Budapest and Warsaw. While the accommodations may not be as luxurious as those in Western Europe, the singers and musicians are often excellent, tour operators say.

Tour operators say that most of the travelers booking these packages are over 35. Younger people often cannot afford such expensive trips and may prefer less structured travel. Most of these tours are expensive; few cost less than $2,500 for 10 days or so, without air fare to Europe. But the price usually includes fine hotels and meals at good restaurants.

The following is a listing of tour companies and some of the music packages they have scheduled for this spring and summer. Prices are for double occupancy without air fare and usually include rooms, most meals, tickets, guides, transportation in Europe and assorted extras:

Great Performance Tours, 1 Lincoln Plaza, Suite 32V, New York, N.Y. 10023; (212) 580-1400, offers three tours of Europe in the spring and three in the summer. Christopher T. Clark, the company's president, has been leading trips to the Continent since 1979 and is a former executive of the Metropolitan Opera and the Spoleto Festival in Italy.

The Vienna Festival package, from May 10 to 18, includes works of Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, Strauss and Tchaikovsky; the cost is $3,570. Other spring tours include the London Spring Festivals and the Hohenems Schubertiade in Austria. In the summer, there are tours of opera houses in Italy, the Munich Opera Festival and the Salzburg Festival.

Dailey-Thorp Travel Inc., 330 West 58th St., New York, N.Y. 10019; (212) 307-1555, has been leading music tours to Europe since 1971 and has about 10 planned for the spring and summer. Its packages usually include lectures with music scholars and some of its guides have graduate degrees in music, said Mary T. Dailey, the company's president.

Among the spring tours are Cultural, Historical Russia, from April 4 to 18, with opera, concerts and ballet in St. Petersburg, Suzdal, Moscow and Helsinki; cost is $4,375, including air fare from New York. Another package, Music Festival on the Danube from May 14 to 25, features concerts in Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna; cost is $6,350.

The Metropolitan Opera Guild, 70 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10023; (212) 769-7062, sponsors two tours of Europe that are available only to its members, who pay annual dues of at least $50. Put together by Dailey-Thorp, they differ only slightly from the company's regular packages. The packages are Eastern European Odyssey from March 27 to April 13, featuring opera in Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava, Prague and Berlin; cost is $5,140. A second package, from July 21 to Aug. 1, focuses on opera in Verona, Salzburg and Munich; cost is $7,975, which includes air fare to Europe.

Ovations International Inc., 2 Executive Concourse, Suite 206, Duluth, Ga., 30136; (800) 635-5576 or (404) 476-4007, was founded in 1985 and specializes in music tours of Italy; seven tours to Europe are scheduled for the spring and summer. Michael Paul Tisma, the company's president, said the average price for a 10-day package was $3,000 to $3,500. One tour, Sicilian Landscapes from May 18 to 28, focuses on opera in Palermo and Catania, with a performance of "Aida" and a recital by Marilyn Horne.

International Curtain Call, 3313 Patricia Ave., Los Angeles, Calif., 90064; (800) 669-9070 or (310) 204-4934, is sponsoring seven music tours to Europe, one of which is already sold out, said Jerome J. Glaser, the company's director. A tour of Italy, from June 6 to 16, includes opera in Milan, Florence and Venice. A tour of France, from July 5 to 19, features performances of Rossini's "Barber of Seville" at the Paris Opera and visits to the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Orange Festival in Avignon. Prices of the tours average $4,000.

Rudolph Travel Service Ltd., 77 Bloor St. West, Suite 1105, Toronto, Canada M5S 1M2; (416) 964-3553, features tours put together by its director, John Mainz, a German native who specializes in the opera houses of Germany and Austria. The company, which has been sending tours to Europe since 1971, has scheduled seven spring and summer packages.

The Vienna tour, from May 4 to 12, includes performances of "The Flying Dutchman" and "Don Giovanni"; cost is $2,895. Another package, from Aug. 3 to 17, combines visits to two of the region's most famous festivals, Salzburg and Bayreuth; cost is $7,950. Like other tour companies, Rudolph has built up connections with these festivals, so it is able to obtain what are very scarce tickets.

Now Voyager Tours, 101 Cooper St., No. 6J, New York, N.Y. 10034; (212) 567-1924, is owned by a couple who have spent much of their adult lives studying Mozart. Norman Eagle, the company's president, said he and his wife, Betty, have visited nearly all the places where Mozart lived and performed, and they have crafted their experiences into tours of the composer's life and works.

This year, Now Voyager is leading two Mozart tours, from Sept. 5 to 21 and Sept. 23 to Oct. 9. They cost from $3,041 to $3,679. The first includes three days in Prague, one of Mozart's favorites cities, and concerts at the theater where he conducted the premieres of "Don Giovanni," "Prague Symphony" and other works.

Ciao! Travel, 2707 Congress St., Suite 1F, San Diego, Calif., 92110; (800) 942-2426, offers packages to three of Europe's top jazz festivals - Montreux in Switzerland, J.V.C. North Sea in The Hague and J.V.C. Grande Parade of Jazz in Nice, France. Ciao!, founded in 1987, sent 450 people to these events last year, said its owner, Bill Snider. Its packages, which include air fare from New York, hotel rooms and passes to the festivals, range from $1,399 for a four-day weekend at North Sea to $2,499 for a week at Montreux. The company's offerings are less structured than others' tours built around classical music; travelers are not guided from event to event, but they can consult an executive from Ciao! at each festival.

Montreux, from July 3 to 18, will once again be produced this year by Quincy Jones. North Sea, from July 9 to 12, will feature performances by Dizzy Gillespie, as well as a retrospective on Miles Davis.