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THE 2005 SALZBURG FESTIVAL
By Glenn Loney, August 15, 2005
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
The 2005 Salzburg Festival : *
Elliptical, Transcendant Traviata: *
Banned by the Nazis: Franz Schrecker’s Branded: *
Like a Cuckoo in Another Bird’s Nest: *
Gluck’s Alceste in Mozart’s Scenery! *
Mozart’s Mitridate Almost in Concert: *
Mozart in Mourning? *
Monstrous Magic-Flute *
Very Telling Tales from the Vienna Woods: *
Ödön von Horváth’s Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald! *
Vienna Ascends/Prague Falls: *
Rise of the Habsburg Dynasty Revealed *
In Grillparzer’s König Ottokar’s Glück und Ende! *
Salzburg’s Jedermann Still Seeking Salvation! *
Pina Bausch’s Actor/Dancers Still Stomping Carnations in Nelken! *
Salzburg Festival Addenda: *
Authors as Guests: *
Onward & Upward with the "Young Directors Project": *
Festspiel-Dialoge 2005: *
Siemens’ Fest>Spiel>Nächte: *
Other Offerings: *
The 2005 Salzburg Festival :
Before long, it may be possible to read decades of your correspondent’s Salzburg Festival reports on a special website. Not to overlook his hundreds of Archival INFOTOGRAPHY Photos of this beautiful Mozart City!
They don’t give Merit Badges in Austria for reporting on its cultural riches. Savoring them and being able to write about them must be Its Own Reward. But next summer will mark Fifty Years that your reporter has been going to the Salzburg Festival. As well as to the Bayreuth, Munich, and Bregenz Festivals…
Initially—as I was teaching in Europe for the University of Maryland Overseas in the late 1950s—I bought my own tickets, as I had no idea there were such things as Press-Tickets, Pressebüros, and Press Production-Photos.
My undergraduate theatre thesis at UC/Berkeley was on the innovative stage-director, Max Reinhardt, one of the founders of the Salzburg Festival. So I had to see this famous fest for myself.
After several seasons of finding no European summer festival reports in the Christian Science Monitor, Theatre Arts, or the New York Herald-Tribune, I began submitting features and reviews. For many American publications at that time—as far as the Arts were concerned—Europe began with London and ended in Paris.
Amazingly enough, my reports were published. But it was 1959 or 1960 before I discovered I could be granted the Press Privilege!
As I never throw archival materials away—there are now 137 running-feet of Loney Papers at the University of California—over the years I have amassed a huge collection of opera, dance, and theatre production-photos from the Salzburg Festival and the other major festivals.
Many of these images—most in black & white—are no longer in the archives of the various festival press-offices. Singers often raid their photo-files at season’s end for shots of themselves in heroic poses.
Instead of consigning these hundreds and hundreds of production-photos—think: major Herbert Von Karajan stagings at Salzburg, Wieland Wagner’s first Tristan, Werner Herzog’s Bayreuth Lohengrin!—to oblivion in some uncaring library, I have decided to make digital images of these collections available—for study only—to researchers, journalists, editors, critics, and students.
This will be done with the approval and cooperation of the various Festival Press or Communications Offices. [Permission for potential uses for publication will, of course, have to be cleared with the Press Offices and the photographers concerned!]
My summer-festival-circuit colleague, NYU Professor Cynthia Allen—who is creating a Loney Salzburg Festival Archive Website—was not accorded the courtesy of a Traviata press-ticket. Fortunately, the Press-Office did make it possible for her to purchase one, even though they had effectively been sold-out some months before.
Salzburg Festival opera-tickets are very expensive, the most expensive opera-seats in the world! On the day of our Traviata performance, Dr. Allen’s ticket was worth Three-Thousand Euros on the Black Market. Naturally, no amount of money would make her part with this precious piece of cardboard.
Later, it was reported that some very deep-pocketed opera-lovers had sent blank-but-signed checks to Festival Artistic Director Dr. Peter Ruzicka, hoping for any stray Traviata tickets he might have in his desk.
Obviously, this production—starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon—was the Hit of the Salzburg Season—even before its premiere!
But it was by no means the only artistic success. Tales of the Vienna Woods proved an impressively imagined and colorfully conceived revival of Ödön von Horváth’s prewar vision of the desperate lives of Working-Class Viennese, with Hitler waiting in the wings.
Franz Schreker’s challenging opera, Die Gezeichneten—or Branded, a work condemned by the Nazis—was both visually and musically an astonishment.
Nor was Mozart neglected, especially as Salzburg is looking forward to Mozart Year 2006, with productions of all of his operatic works! Mitridate, Re di Ponto offered a foretaste of Things To Come. Surely not a Surfeit of Amadeus? You can never have Too Much Mozart!
The Young Directors Project and Dichter zu Gast also enhanced the Festival programming.
Elliptical, Transcendant Traviata:
The most starkly simple and beautiful Traviata I have ever seen—and one of the most affecting I’ve ever heard—will never be seen on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. Even though its stars, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, and Thomas Hampson are all also Met stars.
This is the magical but heartbreaking Salzburg Festival staging of Willy Decker, in the stunningly spare setting of set-designer Wolfgang Gussmann.
While it’s true that Traviata can break your heart even in a concert-performance—and generate even more emotional power in lavish period-settings: think Franco Zeffirelli—the human passions of this story of a doomed love are so basic that elaborate sets and costumes are often a distraction.
In Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus—with one of the widest stage-openings in the world—the radiant Anna Netrebko and the darkly handsome Rolando Villazon, as Violetta and Alfredo, shoot sparks of emotional fire in what is essentially a very long Post-Modernist Ellipse.
With an imposing doorway at stage-right, this sleek ellipse extends across the stage—with a shallow bench running along its upstage margin—to end at the opposite side of the stage with a giant Clock-Face to remind both cast and audience that Time Is Running Out for poor Violetta.
One of Willy Decker’s many ingenious ideas is to have old Doctor Grenvil [Luigi Roni]—who comes to her deathbed—a brooding Presence throughout the opera, suggesting that Death is hovering over her, even in her happiest moments in the county with Alfredo. Doctor Death always has a White Camellia in his hand to give to the Lady of the Camellias.
Instead of designing an elaborate Belle Époque gambling-room for Alfredo’s catastrophic confrontation with Violetta, designer Gussmann uses the clock-face as a gaming-table. At one point, Violetta even carried aloft on this timely surface. At the last, she dies on the clock-as-deathbed: Dying On Time?
The only real furniture on this gleamingly spare white stage-space are some white sofas. In the first act, there’s only one sofa, and it is red. In the second act, in the country, there are 5 sofas, with very large floral prints on cloths thrown over them. Above, against the back wall, these floral patterns are projected even larger.
Curiously, Gussmann and Susana Mendoza have costumed Violetta and Alfredo in floral-print robes as well. This is a Cute Idea, but when they are seated, they effectively disappear into the sofa-patterns.
In the stark third act, the floral covers are pulled off the sofas, with the wall behind now a grayish pattern.
Violetta is initially costumed in a wonderfully well-fitting seductive red dress. It moves with her, like a second-skin. It is, in effect, her trademark as a Lady of the Night.
At Flora’s gala party, however, the dress is used in the bullfight ballet as a red cape for the Toreador to brandish in the mock-bull’s face. Then a man mocks her by putting on her red dress… The hands of the Clock serve as bullfighter weapons.
Flora’s Party is a Masked-Ball, so the hordes of Chorus—all Masked Men—seem even more a mass of unfeeling sensualists, indifferent to Violetta’s impending tragedy.
As half of these choristers are women-dressed-as-men, it’s worth noting that Hugo Boss did wonders in re-designing men’s formal-wear to fit women’s bodies, making them look and move like men!
The back-wall of the ellipse has an upper edge, over which the Masked Revelers can stare down at Violetta from time to time.
Violetta’s sad death—and the tragic failure of her love with Alfredo—are made all the more pathetic and powerful by the essential simplicity of this elliptical production. But there is not an opera-theatre in the world that can replicate this staging—without having to shrink it to fit the proscenium-opening. And thus, diminish its visual impact.
Nor are there many potential Violettas who can glide and swoop across this vast stage with the ease and energy and joy of Anna Netrebko. And Rolando Villazon can match her, step-for-step, glide-for-glide.
In addition to their splendid voices and passionate interpretations of their arias and duets, they are both intensely physical actor/singers, so every movement has a meaning, and every musical phrase is reflected in their body-language. Or the musical expressions seem to grow out of what their faces and bodies seem to be saying to each other. This amazing duo now seem the ideal Verdian Violetta and Alfredo.
Uusually, the different settings for the three acts—especially in Period or over-decorated productions—give audiences strong visual clues about the social circumstances and emotional temperature of each section. With the deliberately neutral Salzburg unit-set, much depends on the talents of the actor/singers to make these manifest.
Anna Netrebko is notably nuanced, yet always powerfully focused—in moving from glamorous party-girl, through bucolically infatuated woman, to despairingly dying faded beauty. Her Sempera Libera is both exciting and foreboding…
Indeed, the astonishing Austrian TV [ORF] taping of the Salzburg production shows their faces close-up in passionate encounters that seem like the Real Thing, rather than Opera Acting. It’s rumored that there will be a commercial DVD of this splendid Salzburg Traviata.
Carlo Rizzi conducted. Marcello Viotti was scheduled, but Fate had other plans.
Videos of Anna and Rolando in rehearsal are also fascinating to watch: they are having a lot of fun, with each other, with director Decker, Thomas Hampson, and the rest of the cast. When they are rehearsing a scene, it’s like The First Time every time they do it.
Villazon—who at one time entertained kids at parties and has also done puppets and circus—instinctively knows how to put co-workers—and the Public—at ease. What’s more, like Enrico Caruso, he is a genius with Instant Caricatures.
Placido Domingo—also a Mexican tenor—is Villazon’s Model & Mentor. What a Double-Bill that would make: THE TWO TOP TENORS!
In fact, you can now hear them on the same CD: Domingo is Tristan and Villazon is the Steuermann. Yes, he sings excellent German, and his French, in Munich’s recent Faust, is liquid silver.
At a Press-Party for Lang-Lang—courtesy of Deutsche Gramaphone—the brilliant young Chinese pianist took a very long time getting from his mid-morning concert to the party. Critics and journalists were told not to touch the hors d’oeuvres until he appeared.
A Hungry Press is an Angry Press, so someone had the presence of mind to invite Anna and Rolando.
In person, they are both totally open, natural, and delightful. Yes, she is beautiful and charming! Yes, he is handsome and charming—and also something of a humorist!
When a lady-critic asked him for an autograph on her Traviata program, he obliged with a caricature as well. Even after the taxing premiere of the Salzburg Traviata, the duo came down to the foyer and autographed programs, photos, and CDs with great good humor and friendliness.
Lang-Lang finally appeared, and he is also both charming and intelligent. What a pleasure to spend part of a splendid Salzburg afternoon with three great young artists!
I and my colleague had to duck out for another engagement and found ourselves in the tiny elevator with Anna Netrebko, who was also rushing off.
"Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you and Rolando could to this production at the Met?" I asked her.
She smiled wryly: "That won’t happen. It’s too modern for the Met audiences."
And then she was on her way. No limo. Just heels clicking down the avenue before the Grosses Festspielhaus…
But of course we’ll make a point of seeing & hearing her and Rolando at the Met. Indeed, wherever we have the chance to savor their very special chemistry on stage. And their marvelous music-making!
Banned by the Nazis: Franz Schrecker’s Branded:
When Dr. Peter Ruzicka became Intendant of the Salzburg Festival, he announced his intention to produce forgotten or neglected works by Holocaust Victims and others whose works had been banned by the Nazis. Not all the Jewish composers, playwrights, and librettsts died in the Death Camps, but even those who escaped to England or America had their creations shelved or destroyed.
This past summer, his plan paid off in a splendid way: the handsome and provocative production of Franz Schrecker’s Die Gezeichneten, which can be rendered as Branded or even Singled-Out. As a Jew, Schrecker certainly must have often felt that way himself among anti-Semitic Germans, some of them musical colleagues.
So he may also have identified, even if metaphorically, with his curious hero, the dwarfish, hunch-backed, and ugly art-lover Alviano Salvago [Robert Brubaker]. Despite his physical disadvantages, Alviano is a very wealthy Genovese and a patron of the arts.
He also has a circle of aristocratic but rather feline male friends. For them, he has constructed a kind of Magic Island, where they can party and indulge their fantasies. But he has never been there, as his deformities would surely repell pleasure-seekers. There is even a Secret Grotto on the island where his noble friends conduct orgies.
Alviano is fascinated by the beautiful painter Carlotta Nardi [Anne Schwanewilms], who is eager to paint him. He misinterprets her interest as personal. But, as she says, she is a painter of Hands. And when she has painted a person’s hands, then she has his or her Essence. Alviano’s portrait is a pair of Dead Hands.
Like the crippled Alviano, she is also "Branded," an essential Outsider.
Citizens of Genoa are disturbed at the disappearance of some young girls. It’s feared that they may have been kidnapped, raped, and murdered. In fact, it’s Alviano’s trendy friends who are doing this, using under-age girls in perverse orgies in the Grotto.
Distressed at these reports, Alviano makes a gift of his Island to the city. This is blocked by Duke Antoniotto Adorno [Robert Hale] who wants to protect his fellow-aristocrats.
In the event, it is finally Alviano’s most handsome, virile aristocratic "friend," Andrea Tamare [Michael Volle], who falsely denounces Alviano as the predator and murderer. Even as he brutally possesses the masochistic Carlotta, who obviously has a Death Wish.
This nightmarish tale would be compelling enough as a play, but with Schrecker’s potent score, it becomes even more powerful and frightening. The actor/singers are all admirable, especially Brubaker, Volle, and Schwanewilms.
Alviano is costumed in a corset and pink undergown, suggesting repressed transgender desires. But it’s questionable whether he would seem as sympathetic as an Outsider were he played by a really deformed dwarf. Or even made up to look ugly and repellant? This calls to mind Alberto Ginastera’s opera, Bomarzo, about the dwarfish deformed Count of Bomarzo, with his strange baroque garden of grotesques northward from Rome.
Andrea Schmidt-Futterer’s handsome period costumes distinguish the principals, but they also stunningly decorate the stage of the Felsenreitschule, as chorus and dancers glide about the Riding-School’s arcades in "Amadeus" masks, tricornes, and black cloaks, evoking a ghostly Carnival in Venice Effect. Then there are also mysterious seductive semi-naked houris—both male and female—with elaborate ostrich-plume headdresses.
On the vast open stage of the Salzburg Prince-Archbishop’s elegant Manège—carved out of the Mother-Rock of the Mönchsberg—there is only one major set-piece. Designed by Raimund Bauer, it is the ruin of a shattered Colossus, lying on the stage.
At one point, the side of the statue slides down to reveal the Orgy-Grotto. This effect recalls the huge Death Mask of Richard Wagner Hans-Jürgen Syberberg used as his set for Our Hitler. Or was it his Parsifal?
The brilliant Nikolaus Lehnhoff conceived and staged this production. Kent Nagano—Munich’s new GMD—conducted with both vitality and sensitivity.
This is a fascinating staging which ought to be more widely seen. Certainly Franz Schrecker’s Die Gezeichneten deserves to be further explored in other productions as well—and given a place in the repertory.
Like a Cuckoo in Another Bird’s Nest:
Gluck’s Alceste in Mozart’s Scenery!
Once again, simplicity and dignity in opera-performance triumphed over elaborate scenery, lavish costumes, and complicated stage-movement. On this occasion, the opera was Chevalier Gluck’s Alceste, in which necessity proved a virtue. It had to be performed in semi-staged concert in the confining set of Mozart’s Mitridate, in the courtyard of the Prince-Archbishop’s Residenz.
In fact, this worked very well, focusing attention on the principals and permitting their passionate interpretations of Gluck’s music—and the texts of Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc Roullet—to animate this classic myth. [The librettist’s full name is an aria in itself!]
As Alceste, Anna Caterina Antonacci sang like liquid gold. Charles Workman was much more than workman-like as Admète, with Topi Lehtipu as Évandre, and Luca Pisaroni as Hercule and a Herald. Johann Reuter, Sandra Trattnigg, and Mikhail Petrenko completed the cast. Ivor Bolton conducted.
Mozart’s Mitridate Almost in Concert:
Also in the courtyard of the Prince-Archbishop’s Residenz, Mozart’s Mitridate, Re di Ponto did not fare quite so well in Jürgen Bäckmann’s unusual stage-set. Most of the action was confined to a very shallow white forestage, almost like a corridor, which made the actions seem forced, almost like a semi-staged concert—which was probably not the effect director Günter Krämer had hoped to achieve.
Although this fable of a suspicious father and his ambitious sons is nominally set in Ancient Times, Krämer has updated it, so that a Military Briefing—complete with chalkboard and a stage-wide row of folding-chairs—could have been taking place in US HQ in Iraq—which was part of Ponto once upon a time.
At the opening, Mitridate é morto is graffitoed on a white translucent upstage panel. But Mitridate [Richard Croft] is not dead in a battle with the invading Romans, as all believe. He’s coming back incognito to see how his two sons take his death, and how they will behave now the throne seems empty.
The sons—the brilliant counter-tenor Bejun Mehta as Farnace, and Miah Persson as Sifare—are seen first in short-pants, like schoolboys. Farnace crowns himself and declares his love for Aspasia [Netta Or], Mitridate’s Intended. This devastates his original fiancée, Ismene [Ingela Bohlin].
His actions infuriate the jealous, vengeful, murderous Sifare, who also loves. But Sifare demonstrates his courage by committing suicide, rather than surrender to the Roman Invaders. Who have actually been invited into the land by the conniving Farnace.
Understandably, Mitridate is very angry at these events. He orders the axe and the beheading-block!
What prevents this production from becoming just another convoluted opera seria plot—with impressive singers making the most of Mozart’s marvelous music—is a previously unmentioned aspect of the stage-design. The top level of the upstage set-wall is totally playable. At one point, it is filled with 15 baroquely red-coated Mozarts.
Bewigged like Mozart, they may well be only chorus passing as baroque gentlemen and officers.
Behind the stage-wall is a slanting sheet of mylar. This reflects the ascent and descent of the Redcoats on an unseen inclined-plane attached to the back of the stage-wall. The image-reversals possible with this device are amazing. Later, the redcoats are transformed into men in white garments, sitting as at Muslim Prayers.
An Arabic Inscription runs along above the stage-frame possibly to suggest the region of Ponto, though neither the Royal Family nor its subjects could have been Muslims in that mythic time.
Under the leadership of Marc Minkowski, the baroque Mozarteum Orchestra was splendid, with special honors to Hector McDonald for his pristine horn-solo.
Mozart in Mourning?
Is Salzburg really ready to celebrate Mozart’s 250th Birthday? If he were alive now and had just seen the new production of Die Zauberflöte, he’d die!
It’s even worse than the Bayreuth Parsifal in its complete disregard for what Mozart’s music is saying, let alone what is revealed in the libretto, in terms of character, mood, emotions, and stage-action. This is one of those totally misguided Post-Modernist productions that is so determined to be visually different that it virtually ignores these essentials.
This Zauberflöte makes most EuroTrashy opera-stagings look almost pristine in comparison.
Those who have never seen a staging of Zauberflöte—and who have no prior knowledge about its characters or its fantastic fairytale fable—would still have no idea after seeing this overblown disaster. Even reading the synopsis in the elegant program would be no help, as the plot-events there outlined do not seem to occur on stage in any recognizable form.
Now it is perfectly true that—as Zauberflöte is a kind of fairytale, but metaphorically and symbolically so very much more than that—directors and designers can imagine all kinds of stage-visions for this Singspiel. Indeed, both David Hockney and Julie Taymor have given the Metropolitan Opera quite different but totally fantastic visions of this ingenious and mysterious theatre-parable. And some seasons ago, Achim Freyer created an even more wonderfully bizarre version for the Salzburg Festival.
Nonetheless, no matter how inventive or fantastical these productions, the staging, the sets, and the costumes did not distract from, nor work against, the score and the libretto.
But that is exactly what happens now at Salzburg, thanks to stage-director Graham Vick—notorious for such perverse mountings—and his designer Paul Brown.
Perhaps this Miscarriage of Mozart wouldn’t seem so monstrous, were it not so Monumental. Brown’s costly settings are deployed on the immense stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus, not in the much smaller Landestheater, where a much smaller version of this production might have been dismissed as a crazy joke.
For starters, instead of Prince Tamino [Michael Schade] being overwhelmed by a great dragon or snake in some fantastic landscape, he seems a college frat-boy who has just found a small snake in his bed. Although Mozart’s score is expansive here, the audience discovers him in his cramped little bedroom, cluttered with such Boys’ Life objects as a surfboard and an aquarium.
The walls are covered with heavily patterned wall-paper—through which the three ladies of the Queen of the Night slither, wearing dresses featuring the same pattern. Instead of descending from the starry Heavens, or rising from the bowels of the earth, this low-budget Queen [Anna-Kristiina Kaappola] emerges from under Tamino’s sheets!
Wow! What a Cool Idea! She’s got the hots for the Prince!
But maybe not, as she hit all the notes, but without much passion. This is not surprising, nor were others in the cast at their best in these roles because the staging and set-design were so hostile to the music and the words.
Tamino opens his closet to discover Papageno [Markus Werba] in another world. Shades of C. S. Lewis and Narnia! Later, there are only his clothes in the closet…
The scene with Monostatos [Burkhard Ulrich] threatening Pamina [Genia Kühmeier]—with the three little Vienna Choirboys monitoring the action—takes place for some odd reason on a very confining Spiral Staircase! Not much room for movement there…
Sarastro’s noble realm turns out to be a huge field of Sunflowers, in which some of the characters and their actions are effectively hidden. Nor are the Wild Animals Tamino tames with his Magic-Flute seen, except on the distant fringes of the prop-field.
The second act is set in a huge Old Folk’s Home. The Queen’s women now seem feeble old men. And Sarastro himself [René Pape] is something of an Old Gaffer. Fortunately, he was in good voice for an aged sage.
Downstage front and center, men are digging an immense grave, either for Mozart or for some of the Golden-Agers. There is also a grand sweeping staircase, but it is divided in half. And, yes, there are some more Narnia Doorways!
As for the climactic Tests of Fire and Water, Tamino and Pamina just stand still on the bare stage, holding on to each other. No Special Effects…
Riccardo Muti conducted. He didn’t seem to be enjoying his work.
Very Telling Tales from the Vienna Woods:
Ödön von Horváth’s Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald!
If the Rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party are not specifically chronicled in the pre-war plays of Ödön von Horváth, these disturbing and dangerous phenomena are certainly part of the social fabric of his dramas. In one of his most pregnant plays, Tales from the Vienna Woods—with its somewhat ironic musical title—there is even an energetic and obsessive young man who is an eager supporter of the Nazi’s goals.
Writing of working-class people after the defeats of the Great War and the subsequent hopelessness brought on by currency-collapses and dire unemployment, Von Horváth shows the effects of this wounded economy and bad government on a once proud people. The Habsburg Empire—rotting for years—had finally been swept away.
Von Horváth’s Casimir und Carolina shows similar social chaos and despair in Munich, Die Stadt der Bewegung, or the City of the Movement [Nazism]. And yet, for all their bitterness and futility, his characters still have time for love, even passion, and a good joke, along with a beer and a Schnitzel.
The Age of the Great Depression in America engendered similar problems, but the results didn’t look the same as they do in Von Horváth’s dramas—which have a special Middle-European quality. This may be why Tales—which became for a while a great repertory favorite across the United States—is no longer produced, even in Christopher Hampton’s facile translation.
This past summer in Salzburg, however, director Barbara Frey and her designers have given Tales a stunning Post-Modernist New Look. It is so handsome, sexy, and surprising, that it could well fascinate audiences abroad—with some racy supertitles. It’s a Festival co-production with Munich’s Residenz-Theater, so you can see it in repertory there this coming season.
Had this play been written by Gerhart Hauptmann, Germany’s grim poet of "Slice-of-Life" Naturalism, the events of the plot would be enough to drive most of the characters to deep despair, if not outright suicide.
Consider: The fairly prosperous "Zauberkönig" [the wonderful Lambert Hamel] insists that his beautiful but modest daughter Marianne [Juliane Köhler] marry a gauche, insensitive, intellectually-challenged, and often blood-smeared butcher [Thomas Loibl], who nonetheless adores her. He’s such a boob, that he throws her to the floor in a wrestling-hold he’s learnt. He thinks that will impress her!
But Marianne is fascinated by the charming, raffish, jobless Eternal Student, Alfred [Michael von Au], who is being more or less kept by the sexy and amoral Valerie [Sunnyi Melles]. Valerie will apparently do it with almost anyone who has the price; she even provides smutty photos for a retired & repressed Austrian Cavalry Officer [Gerd Anthoff].
Alas for Marianne: Alfred gets her pregnant, but he has neither the money for—nor the intention of—marrying her. Her spiteful old grandmother [Heidy Forster] takes the baby. Desperate, Marianne begins "modeling" in the nude at Maxim’s. Out for a night on the town, her father sees her there and promptly has an almost fatal stroke.
He disowns her, but eventually takes her back. And she marries the butcher, who is willing to help her raise the baby. Too late! Granny has given the child away.
There’s even an improbable former neighbor who’d gone off to America. He’s now returned, full of himself, but clearly his time there was not well spent. He tells the folks he’d been in New York, Chicago, and Sing-Sing.
If this isn’t an ideal plot-line for a Domestic Tragedy…
Amazingly, Von Horváth is able to infuse all the disappointments and disasters with a wry comedy. His people have such a sense of life that even dire set-backs don’t drive them over the edge. And, as interpreted by these outstanding Munich actors, they are a fairly fascinating lot.
The Look of the production does a lot to soften the sexual and social problems. It lends the proceedings a kind of stylish frame that makes them almost comedic—and certainly distanced from Real Life.
Bettina Meyer’s Post-Modernist three-wall set is all white, studded with swinging-doors and port-holes. And there is an immense Circular Aperture in the center. This opens and closes with an Iris, like a giant camera. It discloses scenic-milieus in projections or videos—as well as revealing Marianne in the nude.
Cast-members amble on or off through the doors. Or they stick their heads out the port-holes at various levels to carry on conversations. This often "distances" some exchanges, making them visually comedic. Costumier Bettina Walter has created effective outfits for the time and the situations of the various characters, without making poverty look downright unattractive.
When virtually the entire neighborhood goes off to the Vienna Woods for a picnic, they enter through the white doors, sit on the white stage—with port-holes and Iris behind—and enjoy their wicker-baskets of Wurst. Uncertain though it is from day-to-day, Life could be Worse!
Tales is also a very physical production, with a lot of touching, even some violent groping. But it’s a very interesting, attractive, and even amusing staging, quite a contrast to the co-production the Residenz created for Salzburg in the summer of 2004.
This was a very strange 1950s Retro Vision of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, with Eugene looking like Jimmy Dean and the O’Neill’s Waterford, CT, living-room awash in water, rather like New Orleans now.
Well, you cannot Win Them All, and American theatre-ensembles have not done well in recreating the prewar Munich and Vienna of Von Horváth’s dramas either. When they do them at all…
Vienna Ascends/Prague Falls:
Rise of the Habsburg Dynasty Revealed
In Grillparzer’s König Ottokar’s Glück und Ende!
Franz Grillparzer was Austria’s first major poet/playwrights—though his works are little known abroad. His most important dramas focused on major characters and events in the early history of Austro-Hungary. His Libussa—or Libuse in its operatic form—is regarded as the "National Opera" of the Czechs, dealing with the Founding Myth of Prague on the Moldau.
Grillparzer’s König Ottokar’s Glück und Ende—his "Fortune and Fall"—also focuses on Czech Bohemia, its capital of Prague, and its rampaging ruler, King Ottokar, who was crushed by the founder of the Habsburg Dynasty, Rudolf von Habsburg. So this drama is also a kind of Foundation Myth.
As re-imagined by director Martin Kusej for the Salzburg Festival, however, the new production in the Hallein Salt-Drying Halls is anything but a Period Evocation. His Ottokar is rash, raging, immature monarch, who wants everything and wants it Now.
Ottokar also believes he should be elected Holy Roman Emperor. A title that at the time conferred certain power, although it made its owner head of a kind of confederation that was neither an Empire nor Roman. And certainly not Holy!
That Kusej’s re-vision of Grillparzer’s vision will be anything but Historic is made instantly visible by Martin Zehetgruber’s Post-Modernist Quasi-Industrial set-box. This is an immense stage-space box with walls of what looks like yellow insulated construction-panels. On either side, it is studded with a number of silvered metal doors.
The rear wall—also of the yellow panels—is hinged, so that it can fall forward in a great coup de théâtre, almost crushing the unruly King. He is saved only by his huge gothic Throne, which smashes through the falling wall.
In fact, in the early sequences of the drama, the Throne is virtually the only set-prop, complemented by the King’s royal robe and regalia.
Tobias Moretti—also a star of Jedermann, playing both the Devil and Everyman’s Friend—is remarkable in this ranting role. As King of Bohemia, he holds important lands beyond his borders, thanks to his dishonored and dismissed Queen, Margaret of Austria [Elisabeth Orth].
Ottokar is brave in battle—almost foolhardy, in fact—but he is a fool in politics. He is subtley out-manouvered by Rudolf [Michael Maertens], who knows whom to bribe and whom to get rid of. Rudolf will become an almost Unholy Emperor, but the House of Habsburg will rule in Central and Eastern Europe—and also in Spain and the Spanish Netherlands—for centuries.
Rudolf also knows how to win the Love of the Common People—turning them against Ottokar. In fact, to demonstrate this, he takes center-stage where there is a gas-fire, flanked by dishes of egg-batter, raw meat cutlets, and seasonings. He proceeds to cook Wienerschnitzels for the clamoring Folk. This is not a scene original with Grillparzer, needless to say…
Instead of honoring his Queen—who is later brutally hanged for her own intrigues— Ottokar prefers to crotch-grab the lovely princess Kunigunde [Bibiana Beglau]. In fact, there is a great deal of raw sexuality in this production: including butt-fucking and a wretched Kunigunde trying to give a battered, mud-spattered Ottokar a blow-job in his defeat.
After the yellow wall falls, high white balcony cat-walks are disclosed and used for some of the subsequent action. Beneath are four sleek Volkswagen sedans, used for various semi-nefarious purposes. After a disastrous battle, they are all trashed!
The stage-box is inundated with snow, followed by water and blood. The modern-dress of costumier Heide Kastler makes possible a Danubian Beach-Scene, with swimmers in scanty suits sunning themselves on the banks. Later, they are all slaughtered. Indeed, there is a great deal of random, gratuitous personal violence in this staging.
If Austrian spectators didn’t get enough of this in Salzburg, they can see it again in Vienna, for this is a co-production with the prestigious Burg-Theater. This is surely the reason the actors are so very good, despite some of the hi-jinx they are asked to perform.
Most of the production is accompanied—if not drowned-out—by thundering sounds of traffic and percussive music. At the close, however, a parodic note is intruded by having the Vienna Choirboys—or facsimiles thereof—sing the KuK Anthem.
Forced to kneel to Rudolf—his new sovereign as Holy Roman Emperor— Ottokar loses all respect from his subjects. However ruthless Rudolf has been, he nonetheless soon will unify the Austrian Empire.
In his last Salzburg season as theatre-chief, director Peter Stein presented a memorable Libuse—or Libussa—production in the same hall as Kujec’s Ottokar. At the close of that staging, modern construction-men with chain-saws entered and sawed away sections of the undulating wooden stage-floor—that had represented Prague on the Moldau—until all crashed into the basement!
Salzburg’s Jedermann Still Seeking Salvation!
After the success of his staging of Oberammergau’s famed Passion-Play in 1990—and again in the Millennial 2000—Christian Stückl was invited to give Salzburg’s own version of a Medieval Religious Drama a New Look. Working with Markus Zwink [music] of his Oberammergau Team, he newly enlisted Marlene Poley as designer of sets & costumes. So he was indeed able to make this Max Reinhardt Monument more colorful, more musical, and certainly more interesting.
But it’s not at all clear—from what one now sees onstage—why he was replaced with Henning Bock as stage-director. Unless he had "other commitments."
Under Stückl’s direction, the stage was often vibrant with life, sometimes almost too much so. But from being perhaps too busy, the stage-business now has the problem of being confused, even if much of Stückl’s original conception remains.
This past summer, however, designer Marlene Poley’s original set & costume conception was still a powerful element in the theatricality of this English Morality Play, Germanized for Reinhardt by Hugo von Hofmannstahl.
One of her most important contributions was devising entirely new stage-platforms, with great white stairs rising right up into the great arches of the cathedral and with upper-level playing-areas inside the arches. This had never been done before, but it now includes the cathedral façade in an even more powerful way.
Poley’s lavish costumes for the Banquet Scene also do much to make it more colorful than older, more Traditional stagings. As well as to increase the horror when Jedermann’s guests flee in terror from the Spectre of Death, knocking over the table and each other—elegant wigs and all—in their haste to escape.
It is a Salzburg Festival Tradition that Jedermann and his beautiful mistress will be played by outstanding actors from leading German and Austrian stages. Maximilian Schell, Karl Maria Brandauer, and even Curd Juergens have played Jedermann.
Since the premiere of this new mounting, the distinguished actor Peter Simonischek has done the Jedermann honors, with power and dedication. Initially, Veronica Ferres was Buhlschaft, but she has been replaced by Nina Hoss.
Tobias Moretti is still Jedermann’s untrustworthy friend, but he also doubles as an outrageous scatological Devil, who both pees and shits on stage!
This past summer, Moretti also played the disastrously rampaging King of Bohemia, Ottokar, in a bizarre and violent Festival production of König Ottokars Glück und Ende, in Hallein, in the former Salt-Mines Drying-Hall! He is obviously a young Acting-Star on the Rise… If his English is as good as his German, who knows what may happen?
The crux of this drama is that even a Rich Man—who has been arrogant, self-satisfied, and unconcerned with the needs and problems of others—can still be saved when God sends Death to claim him. Near the close of the play, the Question is—as it has been for centuries among contentious clerics—Is Man Saved by Good Deeds? Or by Faith Alone?
Unfortunately, Jedermann does not, in any case, have very many Good Deeds to his credit. Finally, it is Faith that saves him. But, considering how he has lived his life, he’s unlikely to get 72 Virgins in Paradise. He’s already had more than his share on earth…
Pina Bausch’s Actor/Dancers Still Stomping Carnations in Nelken!
Wuppertal’s Wunderkind, the innovative choreographer Pina Bausch, has for a long time seemed to repeat herself in her various Performance Pieces, even if her actor/dancers’ essential Shtik is deployed in different and often unusual venues. But repeating or reviving an older production, like Nelken, suggests that she may be running out of ideas…
I have now—including this summer’s Salzburg Felsenreitschule performance—seen Nelken three times, the latter two times with diminishing aesthetic returns. What I had never seen before at any Bausch performance, however, was the stuffy and ostentatious departure of obviously disgusted and very well-dressed spectators.
As I was seated near the very front of the stage, I had the opportunity to savor their eager pre-show anticipation of what they’d heard would be an especially interesting avant-garde theatre-adventure. Many of the clearly prosperous men were wearing the formal evening-wear version of the traditional tribal garbs of Salzburg and neighboring Bavaria. [Elsewhere in Europe, it’s either tux or tails, but this area is special. Perhaps it’s being so near the Alps?]
Their wives were generally wearing various attractive versions of the peasant Dirndl dress. And when an apparently naked woman came on stage, concealed only by an accordion, a number of these women smiled or giggled. Some of the men were annoyed, presumably on behalf of their spouses. But the same reaction greeted Nelken at its premiere so many years ago in Wuppertal: nudity—even with a squeeze-box—was going-too-far!
The Major Feature of Nelken—from which it takes its name—is a stage bristling with standing carnations. [Bayreuth’s Tannhäuser has a similar effect, but its flowers are mounted on springs.] These are stomped into the floor by the time the performance is over. In Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule, a number of them were strewn in the aisles at the close.
It wasn’t just the nudity that annoyed some. At the opening, a slim man stood front & center to sing/recite the lyrics of The Man I Love. This, in itself, bothered some of the male onlookers. Women tittered. But this was repeated from time to time, always with deliberately robotic Deaf-Signing gestures.
This ultimately proved maddening to a couple near me: But that seems to be the point of Bausch’s deliberate repetitions of the most ordinary and banal daily activities and conversations. What were Salzburgers to make of a woman who came on stage with a pail of potatoes, sat down, and proceeded to peel them?
When they are accompanied by sexual or gender inversions, they can seem hilarious. Or pointless. Or offensive. What you see is what you get… When hairy-chested male dancers don slinky dresses and parade around the stage, it’s too much for some—and not enough for others.
In addition to the field of carnations, the set-decorations included stacks of corrugated cartons and metal scaffolds at either side of the stage. A visual climax involved stacking some of the boxes center-stage and stationing the stair-scaffolds behind them. Four men climbed to the heights. Then they jumped in unison, crushing the boxes in their fall. Well…
Some of the repetitive actions on stage showed the Need to Dominate & Humilate, balanced by the Need to Accept & Obey. Not to overlook the need to preserve some kind of Body-Rhythms in the midst of Movement-Chaos. Oddly enough—although this work must be nearly 20 years old by now—these various set-pieces could very well have been visual metaphors for Involvements in Vietnam and Iraq!
It’s a trademark of Bausch’s male and female performers to vamp or flirt with their audiences. Some of them come down into the audience to do it: to the intense embarrassment of some, and the obvious delight of others.
Way back in 1969—when Happenings were born—Richard Schechner’s cast of Dionysus in ’69 gathered round at one point to talk about their cats. This had nothing to do with Euripides’ The Bacchae, which they were updating. But it was a great hit with audiences. Bausch’s people do something similar: Each tells the audience: "Why I Became a Dancer."
Walking Out mid-performance was something new to me in the Felsenreitschule, especially as there have been some aggressively Post-Modernist productions there from which no one fled. On the other hand, spectators for some time have been noisily leaving some outrageous Festival stagings in Hallein, in the former Salt-Mines Drying-Halls. Perhaps they feel entitled to leave, as the venue is far from Old Town Salzburg and the tickets are cheaper?
Salzburg Festival Addenda:
Authors as Guests:
In the Dichter zu Gast program, admired performers read works by three distinguished authors: António Lobo Antunes, John M. Coetzee, and Austria’s own Elfriede Jelinek. The latter two are Nobel Prize-winners, 2003 and 2004.
The Theme of the presentations was: We, The Barbarians: News from Civilization. Sub-themes included Power & Oppression, Speech & Understanding, Past & Present, Civilization & Barbarism.
Antunes was represented by The Judas Kiss and Good Evening, You Things Here Below, as well as by Bewegungsmelder and Die Leidenschaft der Seele.
Jelink’s Children of the Dead was read by five actors, under the direction of Martin Kusej, Salzburg Festival theatre-chief, who also plans these programs.
This program was "decisively inspired" by Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. His Schande and Im Herzen des Landes were also presented.
Onward & Upward with the "Young Directors Project":
At the inauguration of this challenging Salzburg Festival program—created by Jürgen Flimm, then theatre-chief, but soon to be the Artistic Director of the entire fest—questions were raised about its title being in English instead of German. Some regional critics took this as just another sign of pandering to you-know-who. Or Globalization…
In fact, however, some of the young directors are beginning to enjoy international careers, and their choices of plays for Salzburg are certainly not limited to German-language dramas. One of the first Mont Blanc prize-winners in this program, Igor Bauersima, was recently a very welcome guest at your reporter’s academic-base, the Graduate School of the City University of New York [CUNY].
The stagings in this past summer’s program were presented under the same provocative title as Dichter zu Gast. And Martin Kusej was also responsible for devising this assemblage of Young Directors. They included Sebastijan Horvat [Alamut], Emma Dante [Carnezzeria & La Scimia], Árpád Schilling [Phaidra], and Dusan David Parizek, who staged Robert Musil’s classic, Young Torless.
In keeping with the idea of Us—or We—as effectual Barbarians, in the midst of our so-called Civilization, these seven dialogues considered the role of Art—or the Arts, especially Opera & Theatre—as possible commentators or counterpoises to current rabid political polemics and orchestrated violence in the name of Liberty and Democracy.
Festival Artistic Director Dr. Peter Ruzicka discussed the politico-social metaphors in Schrecker’s Die Gezeichneten, among other aspects of this once-banned work.
From Bochum, Manfred Schneider offered thoughts on Barbarians between Poetry and Politics, noting some Renewal Concepts in the 20th Century.
Daniel Binswanger focused on La Traviata—the major new festival staging—with a double-edged vision: Liebeszeit—Lebenszeit. And André Tubeuf spoke on Eros als Spiel.
Cora Stephan, of Frankfurt am Main, posed opposites that are sometimes complementary: Krieg und Kunst—or War and Art—Das Ornament und das Verbrechen, or The Ornament and the Crime.
A triad of experts discussed Europe in the Mirror of Art and Politics.
With Big-Spenders willing to pay 3,000 Euros for a single ticket to La Traviata—for the brilliant performances of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon—it was a great gift from Austrian TV [ORF] and Siemens that hundreds could see this production live on a huge screen set up in the Prince-Archbishop’s Horse-Bath by the great baroque Salzburg Cathedral.
Excellent videotapes of previous festival opera-stagings and memorable concerts were also shown in July and August. Mozart’s Figaro, Don Giovanni, Magic Flute, Così, and Titus were offered, as well as Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos & Rosenkavalier, Puccini’s Turandot, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Verdi’s Don Carlo & Falstaff, and Von Hofmannstahl’s Jedermann.
For those who couldn’t get tickets for the actual Jedermann, staged before the Cathedral façade, there was also a Youth Version, offered in a forecourt near the Cathedral Square.
Across the nearby Austro-German Border, there was even a touring version of Jedermann. This was to be seen in the historic Monastery of Benediktbeuren—where those medieval lyrics that inspired Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana were found. It was also toured to Altötting, played in front of the chapel that houses elaborate gold & silver chalices containing the Preserved Hearts of Bavaria’s Wittelsbach Kings.
As Salzburg has a number of admirable museums and art-galleries, there were many interesting exhibitions. At the Salzburg Barokmuseum, amazing optical-illusions and early photography were on view in Lust und List im Augen Blick.
The Dom-Museum was showing Himmelsbilder, or Images of Heaven. The historical paintings and images were inspiring, but it was unsettling to see an Alien Mask from the world of cinema as well. Does this mean Heaven will look more like Star-Trek than a Vision by Rubens?
At the Salzburg State & City Museum Carolino Augusteum—founded by an Austrian Empress—interest focused on a series of vintage photos of daily-life from 1945, when Salzburg was Liberated from the Nazis by American troops. As some Americans are still under the impression that the US was fighting both Germany and Austria in World War II, it is good to be reminded of this delicate clarification.
Another exhibition in the same museum—linked to the end of the war—spread out the contents of a home on the floor, showing all kinds of clothing, packaging, kitchen-utensils, platters, makeup, shoes, suitcases, writing-materials, posters, shoe-polish, fly-sprayers, toothbrushes, pictures, decorative objects from 1945 and beyond. This was not only colorful, but also instructive, as many of the objects have now passed over into History.
This was punningly, cunningly called an/sammlung an/denken: A Sammlung is a collection, while an Andenken is a souvenir. An-denken=Think About, or Remember…
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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