As the Salzburg Festival approaches its centenary next August, how can we not mention Mozart in the history of the event? The composer is obviously inseparable from the Austrian city, but the performance of the local boy's works have varied during the hundred years of the Festival's existence, sometimes presenting his great classics, sometimes rediscovering some of his lesser known works, or to remind us that even today, "Mozart has a lot to tell us".
Mozart at the Salzburg Festival, what could be more obvious? Some of the first renditions of the festival were devoted almost entirely to him, one or more of his operas were performed at each holding of the festival, and the series of concerts devoted to him were many. A hall was even built in 2006 with the declared aim of providing an ideal showcase for his works - 2006, the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, when the festival chose to give a complete new performance of his operas.
But the evidence does not tell the whole story. The place of the nation's son in the festival's ancient and recent history has been variable. The ill-named Haus für Mozart has not hosted any works of its namesake some summers; the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which has been in residence at the Festival since its inception, affords him little space in its Salzburg programmes, far less than Mahler or Bruckner, as if being a giant was favour sufficient; and, in recent years, the festival’s historic effort to highlight Mozart’s early works has come to a halt - after the complete works of 2006, the Da Ponte trilogy and The Magic Flute constitute the overwhelming majority of the Mozart operatic performances.
Mozartian excellence in Salzburg has long come from Vienna. In the 1920s and 1930s, the financial fragility of the festival allowed opera no more than an opportunity to serve as summer residence of the Vienna opera, which thus obtained the opportunity to present itself in its best light to an international audience. Collaborating with the founders of the festival, Erwin Kerber, took over the direction of the Vienna State Opera in 1936, and the Vienna Opera Company continued to make a significant contribution to Salzburg's reputation as a centre of Mozart's spirit even after the Second World War.
In the 1930s, Salzburg played an important role in a brand new movement that was well suited to the international character of the festival. At the instigation of Bruno Walter, Don Giovanni was performed for the first time in 1936 in Italian and not translated into German; Le Nozze di Figaro followed in 1937, and the recording preserved testified to the authenticity and vitality to be offered by Salzburg. The cast was thus no longer limited to the Vienna State Opera. As today, these performances feature singers from all over the world, and first and foremost, of course, Italians who are accustomed to singing these works in their original language. After the war, the original language established itself as the norm in Salzburg, and although The Marriage of Figaro was sung in German in 1953, it was at the request of Furtwängler, who was more familiar with the translated version, and this was only an isolated episode. The Vienna State Opera itself performed Marriage of Figaro in German after the war; the original version only came to Vienna at the beginning of 1958... as an import of the Salzburg production of the previous summer!
The history of the festival has long been marked by a considerable effort to raise awareness of the diversity of Mozart's works, beyond those currently to be seen everywhere else. The first opera in the history of the festival, in 1921, was indeed by Mozart, but it was not one of the great operas mentioned above, but Bastien und Bastienne. This role of rediscovering Mozart's neglected works is not limited to opera, The Mozart Matinee series, premiered in 1949 by Bernhard Paumgartner and generally performed by the Mozarteum orchestra, did much for the rediscovery of the many (and exciting) serenades composed by Mozart before his departure for Vienna, but also, in vocal terms, for that of concert arias. The soloists are often young singers, but the names of Teresa Stich Randall, Lisa della Casa and Christa Ludwig can be found early on.
In terms of opera, however, this mission of exploration is only belatedly undertaken. Until 1948, with the exception of the inaugural Bastien und Bastienne, only The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Magic Flute and the Da Ponte trilogy were on the Salzburg programme. It was not until 1949 that La Clemenza di Tito made its first appearance; Idomeneo, re di Creta was on the programme for the first time in 1956, initially in January as part of the first Mozart week, then in summer; five years later, Idomeneo once again had the honour of the Festival's Great Hall, inaugurated the previous year, in order to demonstrate its capacity to accommodate the works of Mozart. The zenith of Mozart's cult status at the Festival naturally came in 2006, for the 250th anniversary of his birth. A DVD edition contains vestiges of all his operas, some actually given in much amputated versions which did them a disservice.
Mozart is a must when in Salzburg, and many festival-goers cannot imagine staying in Salzburg without taking in a Mozart opera; however, it is often very different works that have made the event in recent years. In 2017 Markus Hinterhäuser's first programme finally succeeded in giving Mozart the place he deserves. La Clemenza di Tito took the Salzburg public by surprise, thanks to the inspired direction of Teodor Currentzis, the heart-rending staging by Peter Sellars, and also the exceptional singing of Marianne Crebassa. A just return to the composer's hometown, and a promising foundation for the future. If Mozart plays the leading role in Salzburg, it is not simply a case of biographical anecdote; it is above all because, in a festival that is always in tune with the times, he still has a lot to tell us.
Dominique Adrianthe 01 of July, 2020 | Print