Man Ray, The veil, 1931,
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / ADAGP — Bildrecht, Wien — 2020, Photo: Telimage, Paris
About the production

‘A bastard has defiled the throne of England, /
a noble-hearted nation is deceived /
by a cunning cheat: if there were any justice /
it would be you who should be lying here, /
before me in the dust. I am your King!‘

The last 15 years of Friedrich Schiller’s life were marked by extremes: the author’s creative powers were truly formidable, but he was also plagued by various illnesses that hindered him from working. The most ruthless of these, tuberculosis, eventually led to his death in 1805. For over a decade, from 1787 to 1798, he had turned away from writing plays; then, his later works poured out in a final, feverish burst of creative energy. In just five years he wrote Wallenstein, Maria Stuart, The Maid of Orleans, The Bride of Messina and William Tell. In the decade beforehand – during his break from playwriting, and health permitting – he devoted himself to his famous philosophical papers on art and theatre.

Some of the ideas he wrote in these essays can seem astounding: in On the Sublime, Schiller draws on a medical metaphor in order to illustrate the relevance of theatre for people and society at large: ‘The pathetic is an inoculation against unavoidable fate, whereby it deprives it of its malignancy’. Translated into contemporary terms, he is arguing that the excitement of watching a theatrical performance and being part of an audience is like a vaccination against the often calamitous vagaries of life. Schiller, a trained physician, meant it literally: for him, the theatre was a big vaccination centre that one only has to visit regularly enough to be equipped to handle the catastrophes that fate inflicts, or to counter the escalations of one’s suffering.

After the many months in which people have had to manage without the dramatic arts, the Salzburg Festival resumes its annual mission of vaccinating through theatre in 2021. The programme includes Schiller’s Maria Stuart – probably the world’s most famous theatrical tale of two queens – in a co-production with the Burgtheater in Vienna. The Scottish queen for whom the play is named has asserted a claim to the English throne, on which Elizabeth sits. After two decades in English imprisonment and a trial that has sentenced her to death for high treason, Mary finds herself in a desperate position. Could one of the numerous Catholic attempts to free her succeed? Will the English really dare to execute an anointed monarch? Mary’s Anglican opponent, Elizabeth, is hesitant, but faces mounting pressure from her courtiers, who advise her to finally sign the death warrant. Mary Stuart is a political thriller, a work that takes historical licence, and an impassioned reflection on questions that troubled Schiller throughout his life: what is freedom? How does politics operate? And how can the theatre immunize us against the deadly virus of power?

In 2021, this late work by Schiller will receive its first production in the 100 years of the Salzburg Festival’s history. It will be staged by Martin Kušej, artistic director of the Burgtheater in Vienna, and stars the peerless actresses Bibiana Beglau as Elizabeth and Birgit Minichmayr as Mary Stuart.

Alexander Kerlin
Translation: Sebastian Smallshaw

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FAQ

How do I get to the Perner-Insel in Hallein?
On performance days, a free bus shuttle is available from Salzburg to Hallein to the Perner-Insel and back. The bus leaves one hour before the performance starts at the beginning of Reichenhaller Straße (at the height of house no. 4). The exit is in Hallein at the Celtic Museum, the further way leads you over the pedestrian bridge directly to the Perner-Insel. Free bus tickets are available on the bus. Please show proof of low epidemiological risk ("3G proof") when boarding the bus. During bus rides, guests 14 years and older must wear an FFP2 mask. Guests under 14 years of age will wear mouth to nose protection. The return trip will be directly after the end of the performance from the Celtic Museum.

Parking on Perner Island is free for the first 3 hours and from 20:00. This means that if you enter from 17:00 onwards, there is no charge for performance guests.

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