Memories Shared…


With more than 35 years of experience leading concert tours and Opera Club holidays, it has often been said that Ben Gunner could write a book with tales of his travels in Europe and beyond.

In this monthly blog, you can relive Ben’s recollections and reviews as he revisits some of his favourite moments on the road with Musica Europa.

April 2024

Paris in the Spring

 Spring is blossoming and Musica Europa Opera Club members are looking forward to a few days in the French capital in May – Paris at its best! Temperate and lovely weather, blooming flowers in the Parks and Gardens with their neat verges and freshly raked paths, the grand Haussman-era Boulevards in full leaf and the façades with their flowering window boxes.

Then there are the two operas in Opera Bastille – our raison d’être.  First, Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” in which the noble but deluded knight’s quest for love and pursuit of Dulcinée is ultimately faced with the bitter truth of his fantasies. Secondly, Richard Strauss’ tragic opera, “Salome” which depicts the biblical tale of King Herod’s daughter, who becomes infatuated with John the Baptist. A fascination which ultimately leads to the demise of both her and her father.

And next? We are looking at the following ideas – Gdansk & Warsaw in October/November, Barcelona & Madrid in January, Bucharest in March, Prague, in the Spring and the Puccini Festival in June ‘25.

Watch this space!

Read more from Ben in May 2024

Wilanow Palace - Warsaw - Bespoke Concert Tours - Musica Europa

March 2024

A rendezvous with history…

Members of Musica Europa Opera Club have just returned from a splendid time in Vienna – Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Donnizetti’s Don Pasquale and Puccini’s Il Trittico.

A visit to the Vienna Staatsoper isn’t just for the performance; it’s a rendezvous with history, tradition, and the profound beauty of human expression. Different productions can transform an opera and naturally members of the audience respond differently to each production.

For the Barber of Seville, I think we all agreed that the singing and orchestra were right up there but found the set leaving something to be desired. The multicoloured panels being raised and lowered randomly throughout the production became a distraction for many of us.

Don Pasquale however was an evening full of delightful surprises. The idea of a Bar for the set provided an excellent platform upon which Ernesto could drown his sorrows with a couple of shots and later play the showman in his Act 3 hit.

Puccini‘s Il Trittico runs the gamut of emotions with his short, but intense ensemble pieces – Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi. ‘How hard it is to be happy’, exclaims the heroine of Il Tabarro. Tatjana Gürbaca’s production examines the struggles of three sets of seekers looking for fulfilment – seen as romantic bliss after a great sorrow, divine forgiveness after having ‘sinned’ and avaricious ambition for money no matter what the cost.

Vienna has a long tradition of being a cultural hub and the Vienna State Opera is a central part to this cultural richness. We made the most of the very comfortable Kaiserhof Hotel whose location allowed us to walk to the opera house and to most other places. We packed in a City Tour, a visit to the Schönbrunn Palace and numerous individual visits viz. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Belvedere Museum, St Stephens Cathedral, The Hofburg, Carlskirche, the Albertina and a classical concert at St Peter’s Church. We also enjoyed classic Viennese style lunches together in two famous old Vienna restaurants.

Read more from Ben in April 2024

February 2024

Brno and Bratislava Opera Tour 2010 

Not the first destinations that spring to mind for an opera tour, but Musica Europa has always enjoyed arranging opera tours to Central & Eastern Europe and has lots of experience in doing so. Both cities are in a fascinating part of Europe and are still relatively unknown to much of the travelling public. They are secret gems – medieval with attractive old town centres and both have first rate opera houses. 

  We stayed in Brno’s Grand Hotel for five nights and went to 3 different performances at Brno’s Jánacĕk Theatre within four days – something only a handful of opera houses are ever able to offer. This enterprising opera company is known for its diverse programming and showcases a wide range of opera productions. In our case we saw an entertaining Die Fledermaus, a spectacular and colourful Nabucco and a hilarious performance of Jánacĕk’s Bartered Bride. We also went to Bratislava for the day which included seeing a performance of La Traviata in the brand new Slovak National Theatre  

 Musica Europa Opera Club holidays always have a mix of sight-seeing and enjoying good food in appealing restaurants. Apart from the two city tours in Brno and Bratislava, our guide Martina, took us to the Punkva Caves and the 18th century Château Valtice in South Moravia. But the most striking place we visited was the site of the Battle of Austerlitz (known in Czech as Slavkov by Brno). We drove up to the top of a small hill and imagined Napoleon gazing across the battlefield directing operations. Known as the “Battle of the Three Emperors”, Napoleon considered his victory there as one the greatest successes of his illustrious career as a military commander. 

 Long lasting friendships between members have been made from those early tours. 

  Read more from Ben in March 2024

January 2024

St Petersburg – a unique destination

A Happy New Year from all of us at Musica Europa!

St Petersburg, on the same latitude as Anchorage in Alaska and built on impossibly inhospitable marshy lands is an extraordinary city by any standards. Peter the Great’s vision for a capital city with a “Window on the West” has provided an incredible legacy with its imperial grandeur, opulent palaces, elegant canals and bridges and cultural richness.

25 members of ME’s Opera Club flew from Heathrow to St Petersburg on Valentine’s Day 2017 to see Borodin’s Prince Igor and Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera at the Mariinsky Theatre and to watch and listen to a sublime performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet given by the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet Company.

Ada, our outstanding guide, took us to see some of the city’s greatest cultural treasures and architectural wonders not least Leonard da Vinci’s “Madonna and Child in the Hermitage Museum. We crossed the River Neva to visit the St Peter and Paul Fortress. Dating from 1703, it has a long history – as a city garrison, a prison for political prisoners a significant role in the Russian Revolution and is where the Russian Tsars are buried. We went to the Fabergé Museum and saw the famous “Imperial Coronation Egg” renowned for its intricate design and craftmanship. We finally travelled out to Pushkin to see Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace with its opulent Rococo architecture and iconic Amber Room, adorned with amber panels, gold leaf, and mirrors.

How fortunate we were, as who knows when such a trip will be possible again.

Read more from Ben in February 2024


December 2023

Beginnings: Budapest and Bean Soup

In 1999, Michael Staff, Chair of Eastbourne Choral Society, for whom Musica Europa had recently arranged a concert tour to Switzerland, asked me to organise an opera tour to the Verdi Opera Festival in Budapest in January 2000 for him and a number of his opera lover friends.

It was a magical experience for the 14 members who travelled in that first week of January not least because everywhere was transformed by thick snow. We attended three operas (La Traviata, Aida and Un Ballo in Maschera) in the beautiful Budapest State Opera House built in 1884 to rival those Opera Houses of Paris, Dresden and Vienna. Hot “Bableves” (Hungarian bean soup) back at the Hotel Erzsébet after the opera was a delicious and welcome cold weather antidote.

An interesting and incidental piece of history is that Eastbourne Choral Society was founded and conducted at the time by the former operatic soprano Elizabeth Muir Lewis who was married to the late Richard Lewis CBE, the internationally renowned tenor.

There is much to look forward to in 2024, so may I take this opportunity to wish all of our Opera Club friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Read more from Ben in January 2024

November 2023

Berlin was buzzing and has a wonderful vibe.

Apart from first class productions of the three operas at the Deutches Oper (Ii Viaggio a Reims, Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Il Trittico) what particularly struck me was how the legacy of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall is still very much in evidence. In many ways, the city’s hub has moved eastwards since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

In 1978, I remember very well walking through Checkpoint Charlie with friends into the Eastern Sector. It was an eerie experience as we walked past so many destroyed buildings unchanged since the war – everywhere so desolate. This time as we drove through the same checkpoint on the excellent Open Top Double Deck Tour the contrast was extraordinary. Hordes of tourists milling around the former checkpoint and then all those same ruined buildings mostly now beautifully restored such as the iconic Französischer Dom, the Deutscher Dom and the Konzerthaus Berlin all surrounding the Gendarmenmarkt – surely now the most beautiful public plaza in Berlin.

Brandenberg Gate at night - Berlin and East Germany - Bespoke Concert Tours - Musica Europa

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