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VISIT TO VIENNA FULFILLS A MUSIC LOVER'S DREAMS

Surely there breathes no operaphile with soul so dead that he doesn't dream of at least one excursion to the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), a venerable yet glamorous institution, already well over 100 years old when Mozart appeared on the scene. During the centuries the Staatsoper has had several homes, but always the same elite and glowing mystique.

The Hapsburg monarchs, several of whom were rather talented composers and conductors, established the Staatsoper during the baroque era, and during the late-17th-century reign of Leopold I, more than 400 operas were performed, including many Italian works. The Empress Maria Theresa granted opera a generous yearly subsidy, and her son, Joseph II, commissioned Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio."Besides many small theatres that flourished in the suburbs, opera reigned at Vienna's Imperial Court Opera, housed in the Kaerntnerthor Theater - where the Hotel Sacher now stands, approximately across the street from the present house. Beethoven's Choral Symphony was first performed there; music of Rossini, Weber and Flotow ("Martha") thrived. When the city walls were torn down in the 19th century, the theater had to go. But in 1869 came the present building, inaugurated by Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

Twice the Staatsoper has been struck by fire: a few years after it was built, and again in 1945, when a World War II bomb almost completely destroyed it. But in 1955, with Beethoven's "Fidelio," the building, restored to its former glory, opened with Karl Bohm as Staatsoper director.

And what a building! Though world-renowned singers and conductors have been welcomed in, the architectural ideal and decor of the house have remained remarkably baroque. Outside, its solid squareness, its domed roof, its equestrian statues and Romanesque arches proclaim the Vienna of the Empire forever. Inside, the gold-and-green grand lobby soars up three stories, with majestic stairways, statues on pedestals, arches, bas-relief murals and painted ceilings. Ample promenade halls abound for intermission strolling.

Inside, the house is comfortable and classy, if not overwhelming. A red-and-cream color scheme with gold accents adorns the orchestra, three tiers of boxes and two balconies. Total seating is 1,713 - 50 or so less than Salt Lake's Capitol Theater - and a small bay at the back accommodates perhaps 100 enthusiastic, cheering standees.

But tradition overawes the opera fan who thinks of the many musical greats who have trod these boards or conducted in its pit. Several golden eras have occurred there, often surrounding golden ages of Germanic-Slavic singers such as Lehmann and Jeritza, Schwartzkopf and Della Casa.

The house has most often been headed by exciting directors, sometimes with tumultous reigns - super-conductor Gustav Mahler at the turn of the century, Felix Weingartner, Richard Strauss, Clemens Krauss, Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado and singer Eberhard Waechter, to name a few.

The artistic reputation of the Vienna State Opera, with its spinoff in summer to the Salzburg Festival, remains intact, considered worthy to mention in the same breath as the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and Britain's Royal Opera. It engages the best of international singers, still with emphasis on German, Slavic and other European artists, often before they go to New York.

For a performance of "Andrea Chenier" by Giordano, the company assembled a respectable production with staging by Otto Schenk. Marcello Viotti was on the podium - seemingly a very popular conductor, who nonetheless frequently allowed the orchestra to override the singers.

The opening scene was pretty with its traditional court masque; the scenes of the French Revolution less impressively fit out, with a hurried, make-do feeling about the staging that seemed parsimonious for such a big and prestigious house. Perhaps pocketbooks are feeling the pinch everywhere.

But artistry was not stinted in this production, whose trio of stars have frequently sung at the Met and elsewhere in America. Tenor Giuseppe Giacomini as the poet Chenier is a dependable Italian routinier, who made the most of his attractive and stirring arias. Equally fine was the Gerard of Leo Nucci, whose small stature has perhaps kept him from the top-flight baritone career that might have been his. Beautiful Gabriela Benackova sang Madeleine beautifully, playing the lighthearted, willful heroine at first, then becoming more intense as her dedication grew.

Across town the Volksoper offers lighter fare - operettas, musical comedy, and the ubiquitous Mozart, seldom off the boards since his "Magic Flute" was produced there in 1791. The house is small, hemmed in on all sides by traffic, and probably not the same building Mozart knew, though a history was not available.

On display was "The Pearl Fishers" by Georges Bizet - a tempting prospect for one starved for less than routine repertory, but causing a sinking of the heart with the realization that the production by Torsten Fischer was avant garde.

Ceylon was translated as some nameless city of skyscrapers and lights, as the chorus paraded in formal evening dress, save for what appeared to be an elite guard of a dozen devotees, who periodically performed Oriental ritual exercises.

The tuneful music was beautifully sung, particularly by Simina Ivan as Leila, who was called upon for heroic physical exertions - being suspended on a trapeze where she must rock to and fro, side to side, while gracefully undulating and singing high C's. She and her Nadir (Mark Thomsen) made it all look easy. Blue lighting, evocative shadows behind, and the symbolism of isolation on the swing earned a certain amount of conviction that this was not a bad way to see "Pearl Fishers." Nonetheless, I'll still take Ceylon.

On another night the Staatsoper Ballet staged Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," as choreographed by John Cranko and set by Anne Woolliams. Design and costumes of Joergen Rose were beautiful, and the whole thing danced with appealing spirit and rapport.

However, Ballet West's interpretation by Michael Smuin seems superior on several counts: more exciting pas de deux for the lovers, a more lordly ball scene and brash city scenes that penetrate more to the street-wise moxie that Shakespeare might have desired. Cranko stressed pretty folk dance, including a seasonal Fasching dance on an elevated walkway, but one missed Smuin's acerbic edge.