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With his appointment as Artistic Director, on 1 September 1991 the Belgian opera director (Intendant) Gerard Mortier took over the legacy of Herbert von Karajan. The ‘new Salzburg’ proclaimed by Mortier pursued a policy of openness: towards a broader and more modern repertoire, to contemporary and also in part provocative perspectives, to different and younger sections of the audience. The number of new productions increased, and a troupe of new stage directors arrived at the scene. Herbert Wernicke, Karl-Ernst Herrmann, Peter Mussbach, Hans Neuenfels, Luc Bondy, Peter Sellars, Robert Wilson and Christoph Marthaler placed their stamp on the aesthetic of the Mortier era.

Nor did the contentious Artistic Director shy before disputes with a fair number of institutions – the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the circus of stars, the money nobility, the omnipresent record industry – and he became the target of conservative critique. Mortier was a man who joined in political discussions with articulate bravura and opened up the Festival ‘to be a place of new horizons and confrontation’.

Although only two opera world premières were performed while he was Artistic ­Director, consistent fostering of the 20th-century repertoire defined the programme as a whole. A Janáček cycle, Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise, Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, also operas by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Weill and Busoni were milestones in the regenerated programme. Straight drama stepped up in status through the work of Peter Stein. With his cycle of Shakespeare’s Roman plays he furthermore won the Felsenreitschule/Summer Riding School for drama again; meanwhile he conquered the Perner-Insel in Hallein as Festival venue. The concert repertoire under Hans Landesmann included much-appraised cycles notable for their thematically cohesive concepts. In 1998, the previous Whitsun concerts conceived by Karajan were transformed under Landesmann’s direction into a Baroque Festival and integrated into the Festival structure. As of 1993, the avant-garde oriented Zeitfluss Festival directed by Markus Hinterhäuser and Tomas Zierhofer-Kin was an enrichment for the Salzburg Festival.

With effect from 1990, new paths were also taken in the financing department. For the first time, sponsorship contracts were concluded with ABB, Allianz and Nestlé. In 1995, the Ingolstadt automobile company of Audi, and also Nestlé, became main sponsors. Siemens joined them in 1999 as third main sponsor. And there were also private patrons, including Alberto Vilar and Betty Freeman, and also the Association of Friends and Patrons who assured the artistic quality and diversity of the Festival.

In 1994, Helga Rabl-Stadler was newly appointed to the Board of Directors; in January 1995, she followed Heinrich Wiesmüller as Festival President and continues to guide the Festival in this role today. In 1996, Mortier and Landesmann extended their contracts until autumn 2001. By the end of the decade – marked by the Yugoslav wars and global reordering after the end of the Cold War – a selection committee was set up again to scout for their successors.