Yet another season begins for the celebrated summer festival in Austria’s beautiful old city of Salzburg: The Salzburg Festival opens on July 20th 2012 and will last until September 2nd 2012. Though much will seem the same, there are subtle but important innovations that deserve to be noted. The new artistic director, Alexander Pereira, has promised changes that will further highlight the uniqueness of the festival. Together with Helga Rabl-Stadler, president of the festival since 1995, and Sven-Eric Bechtolf, newly appointed director for drama, he has compiled a programme boasting new productions and abnegating revivals. This expensive luxury (the Salzburg Festival is largely funded by sponsors) aims to tickle the audience’s anticipation and to maintain the singularity of the event, as Pereira himself explains.
Indeed, born in 1947 in Vienna, Pereira has gathered substantial experience as the highly successful Director of the Zurich Opera House over the past 20 years, and has made a name for himself as a sharp-minded businessman and excellent fundraiser paired with musical qualifications and acumen second to none.
Sven-Eric Bechtolf studied drama in Salzburg and is thus no stranger to the city. His presence provides the festival further creative credibility. An acclaimed stage actor within the German-speaking world, the multi-talent has established himself equally as a director for theatre and opera. Incidentally, Bechtolf will direct one of the new opera premieres of the festival, Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, under the musical direction of Riccardo Chailly.
Further opera premieres among others are La Bohème by Puccini with Anna Netrebko and Carmen by Bizet, a coproduction of the Easter Festival, under the musical direction of Sir Simon Rattle. Among the outstanding concert performances to be expected this season: Tamerlano by Georg Friedrich Händel, with Placido Domingo and Bejun Mehta and Il Re Pastore by Mozart with Rollando Villazón.
Though the Salzburg Festival is known foremost for its musical dimension, theatre premieres look as promising this season and are a vital component for the festival’s unrivalled reputation. No less than two productions by Irina Brook, daughter of Peter Brook, have been scheduled: Peer Gynt by Ibsen will be performed in English whereas La Tempête (The Tempest) by Shakespeare, contrary to expectations, will be given in French, thus not only reflecting well the new director’s efforts to encourage and invite cross-border productions and companies but also his ambition to continue on the path of modernisation of content and form of theatre plays offered to the festival public in Salzburg. Tradition, however, will not entirely be rejected: Jedermann (Everyman) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal is a must see staged open air on the impressive Domplatz (Cathedral Square) in Salzburg and has been performed each year since the beginnings of the festival under founder father Max Reinhardt.
The Festival also still owes much to Herbert von Karajan who helped shape its current form from the late fifties up until his death in 1989. The music however, had always been at the core of the festival so it is not surprising that the concert programme, which had been lovingly brought to flourish under its departing musical director Markus Hinterhäuser, continues to take a prominent place (the more recently established Salzburg Contemporary concerts are attracting a growing audience). Leading names such as Daniel Harding, Valery Gergiev, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Mariss Jansons and Franz Welser-Möst to name but a few will be making appearances to conduct guest orchestras (the Vienna Philharmonic remain however at the centre of the festival).
Pereira has also positioned the festival to include the youngest audiences and has established opera workshops to effortlessly draw children into the world of music as well as a production specifically aimed at a younger public, Mojo, created by the London based company Theatre Rites.
But the Salzburg Festival is more than all this, more than high-class performances in the space of six glorious summer weeks. Socialites and art lovers alike flock each year to be part of an exciting and magical atmosphere, to enjoy an eclectic range of elegant parties or to discover romantic hideaways both in the city and in the surrounding countryside. The choice in the widest possible sense of the word is yours.
By Reya von Galen
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