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Summer Opera 2006: Salzburg Festival

Other Reviews:

Shirley Apthorp, Salzburg Festival Offers Mozart Marathon, Sexy Diva, Premieres (Bloomberg News, July 25)

Shirley Apthorp, Salzburg Boos Future Festival Director Flimm for 'Lucio Silla' (Bloomberg News, July 27)

Shirley Apthorp, Mozart's `Figaro' Boasts Glitzy Crowd, Dream Cast in Salzburg (Bloomberg News, July 28)

Eric Dahan, Mozart pour le meilleur et le pire à Salzbourg (Libération, August 1)

Eric Dahan, «La Finta semplice», mariages et déraison (Libération, August 3)

Jean-Louis Validire, À 12 ans, Wolfgang était déjà Mozart (Le Figaro, August 3)

Anthony Tommasini, A Light Mozart Opera Refitted With a Hard Edge (New York Times, August 4)

Jean-Louis Validire, Critique : Un parti pris incohérent (Le Figaro, August 5)

George Jahn, Love a failed endeavor in Salzburg Festival production of 'Abduction' from the Seraglio (Turkish Daily News, August 7)

Anthony Tommasini, Mozart’s Singspiels and ‘The Magic Flute’ at the Salzburg Festival (New York Times, August 7)

Jean-Louis Validire, Riccardo Muti, l'enchanteur (Le Figaro, August 8)

Anthony Tommasini, ‘Figaro,’ With Nikolaus Harnoncourt Conducting, at the Salzburg Festival (New York Times, August 8)

Eric Dahan, Une «Flûte» tradition (Libération, August 9)
I thought that the quixotic plan of the organizers of this summer's Salzburg Festival -- Mozart 22, productions of all of the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in honor of the year of the composer's 250th birthday -- was both crazy and wonderful. It was also apparently very expensive (Shirley Apthorp, Salzburg Festival Sparks Queries Over Sponsors' Investment, Bloomberg News, August 4). Anthony Tommasini was there (among other places) for the New York Times, and he even wrote something like a blog, a Salzburg Festival Journal (all of four days long), about the experience.

I have gathered together the best reviews I found, by Shirley Apthorp for Bloomberg News, Jean-Louis Validire for Le Figaro, and Eric Dahan for Libération. Here are some thoughts that anglophone readers probably have not read, from the reviews by Renaud Machart for Le Monde. I have caught some flack for not being terribly enthusiastic about Wolf Trap's production of The Marriage of Figaro. For some international operatic context, the Salzburg Figaro is something I would describe as extraordinary, as Machart's review (A Salzbourg, des "Noces de Figaro" fortes et dangereuses, July 28) in Le Monde indicates (my translation):
On Wednesday night, July 26, in Salzburg, one left the theater moved to tears by the most delicately poetic staging of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro since that of Giorgio Strehler for the Opéra de Paris. Judging from what the young German director Claus Guth [b. 1964] made of Figaro, with the active and very competitive collaboration of the Austrian director Nikolaus Harnoncourt, one may say that this artist is a genius of finesse, with the ability to make a vision of intuition, to impose it on the opera without disturbing the Mozartean dream and the tonal sweetness of the librettist, Da Ponte. If I speak of "competitive collaboration," it is because Harnoncourt is a veritable catalogue of musical ideas and because of that he rivals the overflowing but directed imagination of Guth. One may not agree with everything that Harnoncourt proposes (and probably imposes), but rarely do we see, in opera, two visions harmonize so well, two intellects functioning at the same speed.

Guth has one major idea that could be nothing more than a banal turnaround: this Figaro is not as crazy a day as all that. Guth's characters are Bergmanesque, depressed and without any illusions. The Countess still has desires (notably for Cherubino's fresh flesh) but suffers from the infidelities of her husband, a restless and nervous Don Juan, who blows from the corner of his mouth what remains of his desire. Susanna has understood everything about life before it plays the same tricks on her as it did the Countess. Cherubino is perhaps the only one who believes that the desires of the flesh are not sad. He offers his own to anyone and everyone before it fades, too.

Then, in the finale, Guth makes Cherubino's fall as tragic as the angel who is his double. Because there is an omnipresent angel pulling all the strings of this sadly lucid Figaro, played by actor, juggler, and acrobat Uli Kirsch, as beautiful, silent, and toxic as Tadzio. Rilke said it best: "Beauty is the beginning of the terrible." This winged feline gives one of his feathers to Susanna to write the Count's false letter, holds up the weakening Cherubino as Mary Magdalen holds up Christ, plunges into magic trapdoors, climbs up to windows, dances, watches, distraught or tender, loving irresistably all who can and want to love.
Machart sums up this production as "almost barbaric ... strong and dangerous." The cast included Dorothea Röschmann (Countess), Anna Netrebko (Susanna), Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (Figaro), and Christine Schäfer (Cherubino), with Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Vienna Philharmonic. Now that is more extraordinary than not.

Magic Flute, Salzburg Festival 2006, photo by Klaus LefebvreMachart also reviewed the Salzburg Magic Flute (Festival de Salzbourg : une "Flûte enchantée" au bonheur des yeux, August 1) for Le Monde (my translation):
This was in some ways a revival of the Magic Flute mounted in the summer of 2005 at Salzburg (essentially the same cast, same orchestra, and same conductor), with one important exception: it is no longer Graham Vick's production, booed by the audience, little admired by the critics in spite of its qualities, and that Peter Ruzicka did not want to revive in this commemorative year. As a replacement, Ruzicka asked Pierre Audi, the director who is chameleonic and gifted like few others, to revive a production created in 1995 at the Amsterdam Opera, where he has been director since 1988, with sets by Dutch painter Karel Appel (who died on May 3), one of the founders of the Cobra movement.

This Flute, is according to the director the "definitive version" of a production that has known two other reshapings, in 1999 and 2003. In the flamboyant, colorful, frank, and delightfully childlike way also illustrated by the English painter David Hockney in his work for the opera stage, Karel Appel succeeded in giving his own fabulous color to The Magic Flute. At each apparition of characters in paper mâché, huge sculptures in "primitive" style, large carnivorous flower of cardboard, we heard the approving murmur of the audience, weary of so many bare and distanced -- and, it must be said, often absurd -- productions seen at Salzburg the last few years. Even if the three ladies looked like Dora the Explorer in their mountain-climbing outfits, the three boys appeared in an airplane, and Papageno was a chick-yellow rasta pushing a "flower power" Citroën 2 CV, fortunately no one was shocked.

We even heard unanimous bravos at the curtain call, most rare during premieres at Salzburg. Audi has taken The Magic Flute for what it is, an ancestor of American musical theater, mixing dialogue and singing, while also giving the proper respect to the Masonic scenes in Sarastro's temple.
Only the musical side disappointed somewhat, with Paul Groves too nasal and middle-aged as Tamino and Christian Gerhaher singing well but too reserved as Papageno. At the same time, René Pape gave his usual excellent turn as Sarastro, and Riccardo Muti conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, although not up to the level of Harnoncourt in Figaro.

N.B. All of the productions were recorded for eventual DVD release. Of course, these recordings will be broadcast on European television networks. I don't think I have to inform you that we will not be seeing them on PBS here in the United States. You know, we could fix that, my fellow Americans.

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