Love and death on Lake Constance

by HughS

Follow in Daniel Craig's footsteps at the opera in Bregenz. The scenery and the drama onstage will overwhelm any cinematic experience and the beauty of Lake Constance's towns will enchant you

The most recent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, features seven minutes of controlled mayhem behind the scenes of the opera Tosca, set on a stage floating on the waters of Lake Constance (known as Bodensee in German). Shooting this involved thousands of extras enduring the April chill while a single aria was filmed 24 times. Visitors to the real opera should experience warmer weather (the season runs from mid-July to the end of August) a flawless, uninterrupted performance and spine-tingling drama.

A night at the opera in Bregenz (an Austrian city, situated at the south-eastern end of Lake Constance, one of Europe's largest lakes), should begin with an afternoon in the park which surrounds the Festspiele (theatre).  There are no clear boundaries between park and theatre grounds and the relaxed atmosphere of the former pervades the latter. Hours before the opera begins (which is around 9pm) visitors who have no intention of staying for the performance, wander among the 7,000 seats in the stadium, watching final preparations. Out in the park, rock bands perform covers from the 70s and 80s at a beach bar complete with sand, deck-chairs and cocktails.

There are several places to eat, ranging from modest cafés in the park to elegant, alfresco dining rooms linked to the theatre. As the time of the performance approaches, marching bands converge from different corners, trumpeters blast from the rooftops, the excitement mounts.

Operas have been staged in Bregenz since 1955. Given the cost of constructing the spectacular stages on the lake (which can amount to 10 million euros), each opera runs for two consecutive seasons. In 2009 and 2010, the opera is Verdi's Aida. Quite a chunk of this money must have gone into building the two giant blue feet, spangled with gold stars, which dominate the stage. As you take your seat, there is a good chance that the sun will be setting over the lake and the last of the evening's yachts will be gliding silently behind the stage. As the orchestra strikes up, a 180 foot tall crane begins winching a chain out of the lake. Attached to the chain are two apparently lifeless bodies, clad in white. The bodies, of the doomed lovers, Aida and Radames, are lowered into the "death boat ", which slips out of sight. 

The remainder of the performance is even more compelling, including a vast golden elephant, dancers on the lake's surface and a climax in which Aida and Radames fulfil the prophecy of the opening scene as they are lifted into the night sky aboard the death boat, while singing their hearts out. 

As the opera concludes, a large and lovely ship, MS Schwaben, draws alongside the stadium pier to take home those among the audience lucky enough to be staying in Lindau, across the lake

Where to stay

The top choice must be the Lindauer Hof Betriebs GmBH, on the quayside in Lindau.  Lindau (described below) is a beautiful and convenient place to stay. Rates in the Lindauer Hof Betriebs GmBH range from around 80 euros to 120 euros per person  for room only. As the Lindauer Hof is understandably popular, a good alternative in Lindau is the Hotel Vis a Vis. Rooms in the Vis a Vis cost around 100-140 euros.

Further afield, about 12 miles up the east coast from Bregenz, the Seehotel in Friedrichshafen is modern, comfortable, very efficiently run and serves great food at reasonable prices. 

Buying tickets for the opera

The easiest and cheapest way to buy tickets for the opera and the other productions at the Festspiele is to contact or go to the website at . Prices for Friday and Saturday opera performances start at 48 euros and rise to 132 euros. On other evenings prices range from 28 to 112 euros. The phone number of the box office is +43 (0) 5574 407-6.

Other jewels around Lake Constance

Towering 1,064 metres above Bregenz is Pfander Mountain.  A six minute cable-car ride reaches  a panoramic restaurant, a superb view over the lake and an alpine game park populated by deer, ibex, marmot and featuring a 40 minute raptor show. 

The brightest gem in the south-east corner of the lake must be Lindau. Dating from 882 and with a rich history since then, the core of the town is set on an island reached by a short road bridge. The island's streets are mainly pedestrianised, lined by beautiful houses, interspersed with lively cafés and interesting, individual shops.   

Further up the lake, Friedrichshafen is not only a good base for touring around the lake but has its own charms including lakeside parks, cafés, a marina and, for those with an aeronautical bent, the Zeppelin museum, commemorating the invention of the Zeppelin airships. The first took flight in 1900; the current "New Technology" ships provide passengers with a bird's eye view of the lake. 

Finally, still further up the east coast, after many miles of rolling hills covered in vines (viticulture here dates back to the 6th century) is Meersburg. This town of 5,500 inhabitants contains the "Old Castle" (628) and the "New Palace" (1712), both of which are open to the public. The Lower City, by the lake, has wonderful half-timbered houses dating from the 13th century.  

Getting there 

Your chosen mode of transport may depend on the length of your stay and whether the trip is a short break or part of a longer journey. 

The quickest way to reach Bregenz is probably via Ryanair, from Stansted to Friedrichshafen

Other possible airports include Zurich and Munich, respectively 75 and 115  miles from Bregenz .

Driving is also quite feasible. Calais to Bregenz, via Strasbourg, is around 600 miles and the roads are generally excellent (although mostly toll paying in France). On our return journey, we left Friedrichshafen after breakfast, stopped in Strasbourg for a leisurely lunch and, via Eurotunnel, were home (near Guildford ) in time for dinner. 

Maximising your enjoyment 

Just a final and very personal thought: although you do not need to be an opera lover to have an unforgettable experience in Bregenz, if you are going to the opera I would suggest listening to the music a few times before the event - in my experience a little familiarity will really enhance your appreciation! The YouTube video below provides a four minute sample.