Page 1 of 5Opera at the Salzburg Summer Festival RECENT ENTRIES Opera at the Salzburg SummerBy Dr. Irving Spitz on September 20, 2011 12:42 PM | Comments | Festival Of the three new productions, one wasOf the three new productions, one was outstanding, one academic and the third outstanding, one academic and the thirdtraditional traditionalThe 2011 Salzburg Festival featured six full…The 2011 Salzburg Festival featured six full operatic productions. Almost By Dr. Irving Spitzwithout exception, singers were of the highest standard, which is in keepingwith this elitist musical extravaganza. An added attraction was the Vienna The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra:Philharmonic Orchestra which was in the pit for 4 of these operas. Celebrating 75 Years of Music Making This year is the 75th anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), originally known as the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra and… By Dr. Irving Spitz Jerusalems Season of Culture: An innovative approach spanning the worlds of music, dance, poetry and philosophy This year saw the inauguration of the first Jerusalem Season of Culture. One of the highly acclaimed events of this… By Dr. Irving SpitzOverall the most satisfying of the new productions was the Czech composerLeos Janácek’s Vec Makropulos (Makropulos Case). The question posed in thisopera is whether prolonged longevity is such an alluring prospect. The youngEmila Marty had been given an elixir to prolong life by her father and was now337 years old. She had been living under various aliases, all with the initialsEM. Now a renowned opera singer, she appears during the concludingmoments of a century-long inheritance lawsuit in a family in which she had anamorous relationship with one of the ancestors and mothered a child. ToEmilia, the fate of the inheritance is of no consequence. She only wants herfather’s written formula to maintain her youth.The production was directed by Christoph Marthaler with sets and costumes byAnna Viebrock. She divided the huge stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus intosections. The center functioned initially as a paneled lawyer’s office, then as adressing room at the opera house and finally a courtroom. The glass box on theleft had the appearance of an old age home, with two women, one old and thesecond young and beautiful. At the outset they engaged in an amusing and
Page 2 of 5entertaining silent repartee projected in supertitles in English and German.One question posed was who should decide if a person should live to be over300 years. Should it be the government or possibly the Swedish Academy?Later, the older women appeared to metamorphose into a younger woman. Were these personifications of Emilia? Further on, the same male admirerreturned repetitively to present the same old lady with the same bouquet offlowers. The three act opera was given without any intermission which addedto the emotional intensity.The arduous role of Emilia Marty was taken by soprano Angela Denoke whogave a stunning and impassioned performance. She succeeded brilliantly inportraying the protagonist’s narcissistic character, with disregard for life andhumanity, using people solely for her own benefit. Only at the end of the operain herå searing monolog did she come to terms with her age and an element ofhumanism crept into her character. At this stage Emila decides that she haslived long enough and offers the formula of the elixir to the young Krista, anaspiring singer who nonchalantly lights a cigarette and burns the document.Ms Denoke was well supported by the remainder of the outstanding cast mostof whom were under her magnetic spell.Esa-Pekka Salonen, who recently conducted a great performance of Janacek’sHouse of the Dead at the Metropolitan Opera, has proved to be a greatexponent of this Czech composer and repeated his success here in Salzburgwith sumptuous nuanced playing from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.The Makropulos Case was the unquestioned operatic highlight.Another new production was Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (TheWoman without a Shadow). This fairy tale by librettist Hugo vonHofmannsthal, involves two couples, one celestial (Emperor and Empress) andthe other earthly (the dyer Barak and his wife). The Empress casts no shadow(a metaphor for her infertility) and to save her husband from being turned tostone she must acquire one. The nurse, the link between the two couples, takesthe Empress to the earthly abode of Barak and his unhappy wife. There sheengineers a Mephistophelian plot with Barak’s wife promising the latter richesif she is prepared to relinquish her shadow to the empress. Initially Barak’swife agrees but subsequently has second thoughts. Even the Empress refusesto accept the shadow, finding the inner strength to determine her own fate.
Page 3 of 5Christof Loy presented the Salzburg audience with an academic andphilosophical production. Designer Johannes Leiacker, staged this opera as apost-World War II recording session in Vienna’s Sofiensäle, the location ofmany of the famous Decca recordings. This concept was certainly novel butalso somewhat controversial. As Loy himself pointed out in a programinterview, the Sofiensäle was the site of the foundation of the Austrian Naziparty and was subsequently “a center for rounding up Jews marked fordeportation.”The drama was played out as a recording session with soloists singing theirroles into microphones. Dressed in winter coats dating from the 1950’s, theyarrived and left the cold recording studio carrying their musical scores. As thedrama unfolded there was an attempt of the main characters to act out theirroles. Dancers in exotic period costumes with feathers make an appearance aspart of the temptation process conjured up by the nurse of what awaits Barak’swife should she give up her shadow. In the final sequence, the cast appeared inevening attire in a concert setting that included a large Christmas tree, Austrianflags and boy’s choir. The production was without doubt intriguing, but onecould not escape the inevitable conclusion that this was merely a glorifiedconcert performance.There was, however, no question about the brilliant performance of the ViennaPhilharmonic Orchestra under Christian Thielemann. He really came to termswith the dramatic score and kept the giant orchestral forces (which comprise164 instruments) under tight control resulting in glorious sound and neverdrowned out the singers. Especially notable was the beautiful violin obbligatoaccompanying the Empress near the conclusion.Soprano Evelyn Herlitzius portrayed the complex wife most effectively. AnneSchwanewilms was outstanding as the Empress and Michaela Schuster tookthe role of the sly nurse and made very evident her aversion to humans.Wolfgang Koch, the sonorous baritone sang the role of the Dyer who could notquite comprehend the situation and begged his wife for understanding.Stephen Gould as the Emperor had an imposing ringing tenor whose mostarresting moment came in Act 2 where he realized that his wife was associatingwith humans.The hottest ticket in the current festival was Verdi’s early opera, Macbeth,conducted by Riccardo Muti. In a press conference, Muti announced that thiswould be his last Salzburg operatic production which no doubt contributed tothe hype. Muti has been a Salzburg favorite for several decades. With him atthe helm of the Vienna Philharmonic and his hand picked soloists, animpeccable performance was anticipated and indeed forthcoming. One could
Page 4 of 5not fault his interpretation which was paced far slower than his previous foraysinto the opera. Muti used Verdi’s early version which ended with Macbeth’sdeath rather than the traditional victory chorus and also included the balletscene which is usually omitted. The latter failed to add anything and may evenhave reduced the dramatic tension.Peter Stein’s production was conventional and classical. Designer FerdinandWögerbauer utilized the large passageway between the orchestra pit and frontrow seats for King Duncan’s entourage which included brass and woodwindinstrumentalists. The same space was later used for the flight of refugees.Another ingenious effect in Act 3 was to project Banquo’s future descendents,in line with the prophesy, to include images of British royalty (Charles I,George III, Victoria, and the current Queen Elizabeth). The opera was stagedin the Felsenreitschule (Riding School) which has three magnificent tiers ofstone arches. This was effectively utilized when rebel soldiers covered withbranches from Birnam Woods emerged from the arches in fulfillment of thewitches’ prophesy and engaged in a battle on the giant stage.Baritone Željko Lučić was an impressive Macbeth especially in the banquetscene when he was accosted by the ghosts of Banquo. Macduff, tenor GiuseppeFilianoti, rose to the occasion when mourning his family (their bloody corpseswere displayed on stage). Dmitry Belosselskiy was an excellent Banquo. Prideof place, however, went to Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan as Lady Macbeth.Unlike many sopranos, she was equally effective in both the pianissimopassages as well as when full fortissimo was required. At no time, did she haveto force her voice. Her early letter aria was a real tour de force and equallyinspiring was her sleepwalking scene where she pulled off the high D-flat withaplomb. The passage of soprano Tatiana Serjan attired in a white night gownacross the upper tier of the Riding School in the prelude to her final aria wasmy most cherished memory of this opera and the festival in general.Other operas staged included the full Mozart-de Ponte trilogy directed by ClausGuth and a concert performance of Stravinsky’s first opera Le Rossignol andTchaikovsky’s last opera Iolanta with the incomparable Russian soprano, AnnaNetrebko.Operas are only one aspect of the festival which also includes orchestralconcerts, chamber music and recitals. This annual festival appears to go fromstrength to strength. Over 250.000 visitors from 72 countries attended the 300events and 95 percent of the tickets were sold, generating an income of over 25million Euro. The top price for some of the operatic performances was €370.Over 70 percent of the visitors had attended previously indicating that thisprestigious festival had built up a loyal base of followers.