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SALZBURG FESTIVAL BLOG

Joy of grief • Salzburg Whitsun Festival 2017

17 MAY 2016

by FESTSPIELKIEBITZ  09:45 h;
published in: Whitsun

Cecilia Bartoli (Photo: Decca / Uli Weber)
“I look forward to the sixth program by and with Cecilia Bartoli and the fact that the collaboration continues under the new artistic director Markus Hinterhäuser. The diversity of the past six programs shows Cecilia Bartoli’s wide variety of interests as an artistic leader,” says President Helga Rabl-Stadler

“It is a great stroke of good fortune for Salzburg and the Whitsun Festival and a wonderful perspective for my directorship to be able to continue working with this great artist,” says Markus Hinterhäuser, the designated director of the Salzburg Festival from 2017.

On a Romantic Dream Journey of Self-Discovery
An Interview with Cecilia Bartoli

You have set new standards for the Salzburg Whitsun Festival over the past five years. Looking back, how do you judge these first few years of your artistic directorship?
First, I feel deep gratitude that we encountered such a great deal of interest, enthusiasm and support. In a way we turned the Whitsun edition of the festival upside down, without know- ing what the reaction would be. The resulting success then really knocked us over. The enthusiastic response has allowed me to continue dreaming up projects in the best possible environment there is for a festival! I’m particularly proud that  a committed team, effectively a Whitsun family, has come together. Every year I become more and more aware of how big the support is and how my input and our success would be curbed if it weren’t for the amazing dedication of all my colleagues and the fantastic audience.
From an artistic perspective I’m delighted by the high standard we have achieved and been able to maintain. I’m pleased  that we have enriched the festival with art forms like classical ballet, a new repertoire, and young artists. And it was important for me to bring a female touch to the programme.

You have extended your contract to 2021. How will the programme move forwards as you begin your second five-year term?
I will endeavour, with my fellow artists, to continue pursuing what isn’t so easy to accomplish: variety, with a unifying theme at each festival. Besides this, I enjoy it when, say, the repertoire or the style of a performance provokes a little controversy.   And I want to present the audience with regular surprises and new questions. Baroque should follow great romantic works, and the comic – perhaps an operetta by Offenbach? – should follow the tragic. Artists who are already known quantities at the Whitsun Festival should also encounter new artistic colleagues, like Teodor Currentzis.

With Cleopatra, Norma, Angelina/Cenerentola, Iphigénie and Maria, women were in the foreground; women whose woes, loves, and deaths deeply moved us. Will the focus stay on heroic female figures?
Basically yes, but next to a heroic woman there will often be a man who flourishes with her or comes unstuck. I don’t see this so narrowly then, and the 2017 Whitsun Festival will be my first time venturing the crossover into a male role – Ariodante. But at the same time there’s Ginevra, a great female role, which of course this opera doesn’t go without.

What challenges arise for a female singer in a trouser role, when she has to run the gamut of emotions and moods felt by a man in love?
In some sense this kind of transition is made easier by, let’s say, the more “schematical” structure of baroque opera, because certain moments will depict a particular feeling which is inscribed less deeply in the psychological profile of the relevant character than it would be in later times. This is precisely the great difficulty about baroque opera: how do you make a character cohere and show that the emotional state being sung about isn’t generic or abstract, but sincere and meant for that particular character – because that’s what modern audiences want. Here the stage direction plays a central role, and I’m very pleased that Christof Loy has agreed to work with us on this opera.
In terms of the voice, the baroque period was much more relaxed. You might also say that the audience of that time could better differentiate between the performer and the role: men sang female roles and vice versa. Often high voices in the form of castrati predominated, but – happily – these are no longer available to us today. Contemporary solutions are therefore always compromises.

Where exactly will the journey lead us in 2017?
Over the stormy sea to Scotland. But neither the popular tourist region nor the Scotland characterised by heated debates and the search for a modern identity. Instead, a mythical, romantic, enchanted world. I’m thinking here as a central European, back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Through the prism of poets like Ariosto and Ossian I will embark on a dream journey – just like Alice when she climbs through the looking glass. Journeying through enchanted landscapes ultimately brings us closer above all to our own self.

What ignites your passion for the North?
The Italian baroque period and later the romantic period were very much shaped by the literature and poetry of Scotland – thus influencing one opera after another in the Italian baroque period and continuing through to Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi! It’s of interest to contrast the view of romanticism anchored in the German-speaking world with that of the Italian one, which I feel is perceived as the more lightweight movement.
“Romantic” as an attribute, with all its aesthetic, literary and religious connotations, is more attached to the sublime music of Weber, Schumann, Wagner, while Bellini’s or Rossini’s romantic perspective in dealing with form, content and compositional technique is dismissed as pure aesthetics. For this very reason we will be showing both at Whitsun 2017: Rossini’s romanticism alongside the romanticism of Mendelssohn and Wagner – and even the romanticising perspective of George Frideric Handel. Where these works intersect, though, is the Scottish fantasy world which provides their setting.

With Rossini’s La donna del lago, you are once again putting on an opera by a composer dear to your heart…

La donna del lago is an absolute masterpiece which I’ve dreamed about for a long time. In 1819, this very work unleashed the Scotland mania in Italy, leading to more than 25 other romantic operas with Scottish themes.
For Rossini, the characters are more psychologically developed than in the baroque era. His depictions of nature, however, are a very special feature which reflect psychological processes and other content in many ways, forming an element which he would later hone to an even higher level in Guillaume Tell. In Tell, nature serves as a surface onto which human emotions are projected. It gets assigned the main role, really, and that’s romanticism in its purest form.
Still, compared to their German-speaking counterparts, the Italian romantics are rather more connected to the classical and baroque eras. Rossini was devoted to the art of baroque singers and especially the castrati. That’s why his ideas unarguably differ from Carl Maria von Weber’s. Rossini’s attention  is focused on his top priority: exalting the glories of the singing voice. That doesn’t mean verismo, in the sense of finding a truth of whatever kind. Drama is expressed through the intensity of the singing, through virtuosity, or just through coloratura singing.

You have noted Rossini’s depictions of nature and their huge significance. How do Wagner and Mendelssohn express their perceptions of landscape?
Perceiving a landscape always means that you experience it very personally, and render it in an interpretive way by virtue of your individual emotional reaction. Topography in music is thus always mapping the soul of the composer too. It is interesting to compare how different musicians have perceived the same landscapes and how differently they rendered them in sound. The wild landscapes, severe climates, the juxtaposition of mountains and water, the play of colours in the sky and on the land, the mighty castles with their proud occupants and spine- chilling legends – all of this certainly stimulated the imaginations of artists, even those who were never personally there.

The tales of the northern poets inspired the romantics, and Ariosto’s Orlando furioso had a similar effect on both poets and composers from all over Europe. What parallels can be identified here?
With Handel’s opera Ariodante and Max Emanuel Cencic’s recital – incidentally his Salzburg Festival debut – we are introducing an aspect which at first glance doesn’t fit with our ro- mantic view of Scotland. At the same time, Ariosto’s legendary epic poem Orlando furioso sparked an enduring desire among readers at the beginning of the 16th century for fearless knights, raging battles, burning love affairs, magical powers and mythical beasts, malicious witches, innocent girls imprisoned in dank castles, and misty, enchanted landscapes – just like those in Scotland. This late medieval bestseller already contains everything you later find in Ivanhoe, Lord of the Rings, even Harry Potter. Those enthused by Ariosto’s poetry ranged from Handel to Haydn, and Shakespeare to Sir Walter Scott. I also find it fascinating that you can detect features and traits of the baroque period which are obviously thoroughly romantic. And this in turn may prompt us to reflect on how stylistic categories and epochs are traditionally classified. 

You are once again presenting a ballet. La Sylphide is considered the first romantic ballet and also takes place in Scotland…
…on top on that, the libretto was written by the great Rossini tenor Adolphe Nourrit, whose tragic early death led to him likewise being stylised as a romantic hero. The Bournonville version of La Sylphide that we’re showing has been played in repertory almost continuously since its Copenhagen premiere in 1836, and is probably the oldest surviving ballet in the world. In this art form this is bordering on the sensational, because it’s difficult to preserve the choreography in an original form for a long period of time.
The guest appearance by the Mariinsky Ballet also correlates nicely with the beginning of my artistic directorship in Salzburg, since this prestigious company brought the art form of ballet to the Whitsun Festival for the first time in 2013. 

And finally, 2017 marks a special anniversary…
The concert with Anne-Sophie Mutter pays tribute to her Salzburg debut which took place at the Whitsun Festival exactly 40 years ago, so I think we’ll be excused for stepping a little outside the sphere of our Scotland theme here. Herbert von Karajan’s engagement of the then 13-year-old girl from Baden-Württemberg and the subsequent brilliant career of this world-renowned violinist, whom I deeply admire, is a story which also resembles more a romantic fairytale than reality. Yet it is, thank God, true.

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