Intense and Moving
Opera at the Salzburg Summer Festival
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
During the week I spent in Salzburg, I had the opportunity to see three of the nine operas on the program. I had already seen the production of Der Rosenkavalier last year (Rosenkavalier at War, 12 August 2014). I wasn't ready for a third new production of Fidelio in the last six months, and the other titles were programmed in the second part of the Festival. Thus, in addition to Die Eroberung von Mexico by Wolfang Rihm (Meeting between civilizations?, 8 August 2015), I heard and saw two operas fitting thestandard repertory: on 2 August Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and on 3 August, Bellini's Norma. The former was a brand new production by Sven-Eric Bechtolf and was meant to conclude the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy started three years ago (and reviewed in M&V). The latter is not a new production but a revival, in great demand by the audience, of a production which had its debut at the Whitsun Festival in 2013, which was awarded the International Opera Prize in 2013 and is in a 'sold out' Haus für Mozart for the fourth time. Its success is such that the production will travel to other theatres next season.
Let's start with Le Nozze. Sven-Eric Bechtolf has not handled the trilogy as a whole. Don Giovanni was staged in a nowadays deluxe hotel (with reference to the French politician Dominique Strauss Kahn's well known adventures). Così fan tutte in an eighteenth century postcard Naples, andLe Nozze in an Upstairs, Downstairs mansion at the beginning of thetwentieth century. Also, whilst the first two operas were conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, for Le Nozze Dan Ettinger was invited to hold thebaton. The Wiener Philharmoniker and the Wiener Staatsopernchor were as professional as ever. Incidentally, next year the three operas will be offered again but each of them will have a different conductor. The setshad two levels in the first three acts and in the forth act, the garden was an airy greenhouse with two smaller plant rooms (where the protagonistsof La Folle Journée could hide).
The cast was stunning, especially Luca Pisaroni who depicted a tormented Count; he must betray his wife because this is required by the 'social norms' for his status, but he is in love with the Countess (Anett Fritsch) and he is quite happy to be re-conquered by her. The Figaro (Adam Plachetka) and Susanna (Martina Jankova) couple is perfect and quite sweet. The Marcellina (Ann Murray) and Bartolo (Carlos Chausson) are as funny as they should be. Margarita Gritskova is a splendidCherubino. There were open stage applause after the main numbers, and ten minutes of ovations at the end.
A few words on Norma. Cecilia Bartoli has a special role in Salzburg. She has been both the General Manager and the Artistic Director of the Whitsun Festival since 2012, an assignment extended to 2020 due to her tremendous success. She works on a team with Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier as stage directors, Christian Fenouillat as set designer, Agostino Cavalca as costume designer, Christophe Forey as lighting specialist, Konrad Kuhn as dramaturge as well as Giovanni Antonini as conductor with the 'La Scintilla' orchestra playing instruments with a sound as close as possible to that of the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of thenineteenth century. It's a very cohesive group.
This is not the first time that Norma is not placed at the time of the Romanconquest of Gallia. (I saw a production where it was staged in Tibet underChinese occupation.) Also it is not the first time that Norma has been set during Nazism or during the French Resistance movement, as chosen for Salzburg. Last year (Light of Hope, 23 June 2014) I reported fromPalermo on one of these productions that had originated in Stuttgart in2002.
The main difference is the cohesion of the team, the return to the originaltexture for the voices (with Cecilia Bartoli, Rebeca Olvera, John Osborn and Michele Pertusi taking the main roles). This was a very intense and moving staging which received nearly sixteen minutes of ovation.