2 Jul 2024

Press conference concept Jedermann 2024

The renowned director Robert Carsen talks about his work on the production of "Jedermann". He describes his thorough research into the timeless play and the creative process of staging it. He also provides insights into his collaboration with the actors during rehearsals. Both his expertise and his passion for the theater shine through.

Did you ever expect to be directing this play at the Salzburg Festival?
Never in my wildest dreams – but I’m thrilled to be doing so. When Markus
Hinterhäuser asked if I would like to direct Jedermann, I was astonished that he had
remembered the long and intense conversation we had had several years before on
the subject of Hugo von Hofmannsthal. I have loved Hofmannsthal’s work since I first
encountered it, and I have directed five of the six operas he wrote with Richard
Strauss. I have also lived for a long time with the three-volume works of
Hofmannsthal in English translation – although, interestingly, Jedermann is not in it! I
was also familiar with the English medieval morality play Everyman, having studied it
at drama school.

As a Hofmannsthal fan, what would you say are his most appealing qualities as a writer?
His writing is so very rich in meaning, symbols and intent. But in addition to that,
there is always much more to be discovered, resonating within the text.
Hofmannsthal had a unique ability to tap into a thematic vein and let his reader
sense riches beneath the surface. It’s like drilling for water: a spring shoots up, but
that spring is supplied by the unseen river flowing underneath.
As well as being an extremely refined, sophisticated and gifted writer, Hofmannsthal
had a constant awareness of the political, social and cultural Zeitgeist. He suffered a
sense of loss – as so many of his contemporaries did – after the demise of the
Austrian Empire, but I think Hofmannsthal also saw that conflict coming. He had a
razor-sharp eye on many levels.
His society’s obsession with money was a recurrent preoccupation for him. He wrote
Jedermann, giving it the subtitle ‘The play of the rich man’s death’, out of his concern
about the growth of materialism and a corresponding loss in spiritual values. This
concern reached beyond Jedermann: Act II of Der Rosenkavalier (which premiered
in the same year as Jedermann), and the 1916 version of Ariadne auf Naxos are
both set in the houses of the wealthiest men in Vienna – both clearly nouveaux
riches. There’s a line in Act I of Der Rosenkavalier that is often overlooked, in which
Baron Ochs explains to the Marschallin that his intended bride’s father, the newly
ennobled Baron von Faninal, made his vast fortune by supplying the army in the
Netherlands. Even in 1910/11 Hofmannsthal could see war coming, which is why in
both productions of Der Rosenkavalier that I have directed (including the first one
here in Salzburg in 2004), I set the work in 1911 and decided to make it very clear
that von Faninal was an arms dealer.

So, what did you make of Jedermann when you began to study it?
Jedermann is a very particular text which is not representative of Hofmannsthal’s
writing in general. It is made even more particular, peculiar even – but in a good way
– by the fact that Hofmannsthal wanted to refer to the original medieval morality play
through both the theatrical and textual languages.
The theme of the play, death, affects and unites us all, because every single one of
us is going to die. And while the fact of our deaths clearly defines our lives, it is also
the single most difficult thing for us to accept, especially here in the West. Most of us
seem to have been programmed in our DNA to not be completely able to conceive of
or believe in our own deaths: death is what happens to other people. Jedermann
deals with the inevitability of death, but also its unexpectedness. And that is why the
theme of death extends most importantly into a meditation on how we ought to live
our lives.

These performances in Salzburg are full of ghosts. All the actors who’ve said the same lines in the same place…
There was an enormous amount to study and to comprehend before I felt able to
even begin to conceive a staging: I had to read and re-read the play many, many
times – very often reading it out loud – in order to understand how the many
separate scenes make a cohesive whole. I think Hofmannsthal wrote a ‘mystery play’
which contains a lot of mysteries, which each production attempts to unlock.
And then there is the fact that it was the great Max Reinhardt, one of the founders of
the Salzburg Festival, who directed the first production. We even have his
Regiebuch, with all his staging indications. That raises the level of the bar even
I was also intrigued by the fact that the characters in this play, some of whom are
real and some of whom are allegorical, can be presented in so many different ways. I
mean, how should we present Gott (God), Tod (Death), Mammon, Werke (Good
Deeds) and Glaube (Faith)? And what do their scenes really mean? So, in making
casting choices for Jedermann, especially for the allegorical characters, you are of
course already having to decide how you intend to interpret the play.

If you were able to play just one of those characters, which one would you
I am extremely happy with the multiple role that I have been given: director, co-stage
designer and co-lighting designer! It’s challenging and exciting, sometimes
exhausting, but always extremely fulfilling.
The other characters would also be marvellous to play, each for completely different
reasons. It’s true that the only one who undergoes major change (both psychological
and spiritual), is Jedermann (Everyman) himself, and so I think it’s essential that the
audience identifies with him. For the longest time Jedermann doesn’t understand
what the audience understands: how misplaced his values are. It is only in the
powerful scene with Werke, after he has lost everything, that Jedermann begins to
have an inkling of what a meaningful life could be. This is further developed in the
scene with Glaube. Jedermann’s shift from a materialistic, unthinking hedonist to a
fully aware, spiritual being is something that should be moving and cathartic for the
audience, both as individuals and as a collective. And that is one of the main reasons
that the piece is so powerful.

It’s interesting, because quite a few people, from Arthur Schnitzler and Karl
Kraus onwards, have said that it is not a very good play at all. Do you think
that this has something to do with the fact that, as you said earlier, the play
contains so many mysteries?
When writing something, an author rarely has an idea of how it’s going to be
received or resonate. When Jedermann was first performed in Berlin at the Circus
Schumann in December 1911, Hofmannsthal could never have imagined that it
would be staged again nine years later as a stopgap to open the first Salzburg
Festival, simply because he hadn’t finished Das Salzburger große Welttheater. Or
that this stopgap would become something so significant that it would be performed
annually over such a long period of time.
The play is a one-off. When studying it, I was surprised to see how faithful
Hofmannsthal often is to the old English Everyman, even using some excerpts in
their entirety. Elsewhere, he has developed the play in an entirely different way. As
we know, Hofmannsthal’s reason for writing this play was his concern about the rise
of materialism, which is why he introduced the character of Mammon. He also
carefully placed a number of key moments in the play where money and wealth are
discussed: Jedermann’s scenes with the Armer Nachbar (Poor Neighbour), with the
Guter Gesell (Best Friend), with the Schuldknecht (Debtor), his monologues and
even the scene with his Mother. And then there is the crucial scene before Mammon
appears, when Jedermann decides that if no one will accompany him on his journey
to death, then he will take his money with him for company.
In fact, thinking about it now, I am convinced it is a very, very good play indeed,
possibly even a great one – whatever that may mean.

As well as Mammon, another character that Hofmannsthal invented who isn’t
in the medieval English Everyman is the Teufel (Devil). Why do you think he
felt he needed to include him?
I think what is terrific about that scene is that this Devil gives clear voice to the
doubts anyone who is sceptical about the concept of Christian redemption might
have: that through repentance one’s sins can be forgiven. Hofmannsthal does an
absolutely brilliant thing, turning everything upside down, so that it is the Devil who
says in essence, ‘How can someone as honest and hard-working as me survive in a
dishonest world full of cheats?’ And in a strange way this scene allows us to accept
Jedermann’s final transfiguration, whatever our religious persuasion may be, simply
because the objections to it have been expounded so very clearly and carefully
through the mouthpiece of this Devil.
The Devil equates the way Jedermann has lived his life to building an edifice of sin,
and wants to claim his soul ‘für uns’. I think it’s important to remember that the Devil
in Jedermann is only a devil – he is not Satan. When I studied the text more closely, I
noticed that Jedermann’s best friend, his Guter Gesell, is always encouraging him in
his selfish, bad behaviour. Furthermore, the Guter Gesell mentions hell several
times, even swearing by God’s death. This led me to think that these two parts could,
in fact, effectively be the same character and that Jedermann has a devil by his side
right from the start. I hope that the audience will be able to enjoy that.
In a similar way, the Armer Nachbar (whom we present as a beggar) can be
imagined also as Werke, someone with direct experience of Jedermann’s lack of
charity. This dual role opposes the one of the Guter Gesell/Teufel. I see them as
balanced opposites.

The project that both Reinhardt and Hofmannsthal had worked on in the same
Berlin venue immediately before Jedermann was first performed was Oedipus.
Do you think that Jedermann shares some of the features of a Greek tragedy?
Hofmannsthal had seen several plays by Aeschylus in the Teatro Greco in Syracuse
– the same theatre where I was fortunate enough to direct Oedipus Rex two years
ago, and where we are preparing the rest of the Oedipus trilogy. Hofmannsthal refers
to the powerful impression the theatre had on him in one of his essays. I think seeing
those plays in that setting did inspire him to try to find a subject that could deal with
life and death in a way similar to how Greek tragedy deals with them, clearly
operating on two different levels, the earthly and the numinous.

In Jedermann, a messenger is sent by God to visit mankind. Though,
compared with Pentheus in The Bacchae, Jedermann gets off quite lightly.
In this case I think Hofmannsthal is not only writing the play as a warning; he also
wants to celebrate the idea that there is something beyond human life. He works
through what happens when a man who does not have any values beyond material
ones comes to realize how misguided he has been, but only when he is about to die,
and when it’s too late to begin again. This is where the whole notion of repentance,
forgiveness and redemption comes in, which in this particular instance is explored
through the Christian Catholic tradition. However, we know from Hofmannsthal’s
1912 essay ‘Das alte Spiel von Jedermann’ that he did not mean this play to work
only for people who believed in the tenets of the Christian faith. His aim was more
My instinct is that Jedermann is more about how to live than how to die.
Jedermann’s motto may be carpe diem, but if you live in that way only, don’t you risk
doing so at the expense of other people – even if you are the one paying for
everything? I think the play is also about the fact that all of us need to help each
other, that we’re all part of one larger entity. The Schuldknechts Weib (Debtor’s Wife)
says ‘Geld ist ein Pfennig, den eins leiht / Dem Nächsten um Gottes Barmherzigkeit’
[Money is a token one person lends another for the sake of God’s mercy.]. You can’t
take it with you, but what can you do with it while it’s yours?
The act of theatre remains one of the few acts of sharing we have. The actors and
the audience collectively make that experience happen, and every performance is
unique. We experience it together, and it doesn’t matter that the individual audience
members don’t know each other. I hope the play reminds us that we are all part of
the same whole, that we have to attempt to find a way to live together and to share
what we have. This play, at a time like ours when the rich are so staggeringly rich
and the poor are so poor, seems to me to be more relevant than ever.
And the performances are (hopefully) all outdoors, directly in front of the
The Cathedral (Dom) is an astonishingly powerful building. The proximity of the
stage to the audience means that there remains an intimacy, in spite of the vast
scale. So together with my co-designer, Luis Carvalho, we decided to use the Dom
as our set, rather than build another set in front of it. It’s as if the Dom itself is
another character. In this way we hope to make the stage as large as possible and to
attempt to use the building itself to match the scale of the spiritual and temporal
power which Hofmannsthal explores in the play.

Can you remember when you first became aware of death?
My grandfather died the year I was born. When my grandmother died, I was only five
years old, and too young to go to her funeral. But I remember my mother’s
inexplicable sadness, and, because of it, a sudden distance and separation from me,
which I didn’t understand at the time, and which upset me greatly.
I have discovered that when people who are very close to me die, they somehow
become more present than they were before. I tend to think of them more often, I
think about what they said, and their words become part of my vocabulary, part of my
thinking process. I don’t remove them from my address book. They’re all still there
with me, somehow.

If it were possible, would you want to live forever?
Paradoxically, living forever means fixing one’s life at one moment in time, freezing it.
If that were to happen, there would be no development, either individual or collective.
And at which point in one’s life would one fix that moment of forever? If we want to
embrace the things that life offers, then I think we are obliged to embrace death,
because whether we like it or not, it is clearly part of life. As Erda says in Das
Rheingold: ‘Alles, was ist, endet’ and the sooner we can really accept that the better
and more fulfilling our lives can be.

One last question: Is there anyone who’s passed away whom you particularly
wish could have been able to see this show?
Well, there are many in fact. But your question makes me think above all of one
person: Hugues Gall, who died a few weeks ago. He took a risk and gave me my
first directing job when he was intendant of the Geneva Opera. It was Boito’s
Mefistofele, which, curiously, is related thematically to Jedermann. After that, I
directed a number of other productions for him in Geneva, and more still later on
when he became intendant of the Paris Opera. In March he presented me with the
First Grand Prix de l’Académie des beaux-arts in Paris. At the party afterwards I told
him about Jedermann and he said: ‘I’m going to come and see that.’ It doesn’t seem
to have worked out that way, but who knows, he may in fact have the best seat in the

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