The past two years our trip has taken us by train up through Northern Italy – Trento, Balzano – and we had decided to follow that same pattern this year. However the newly restrictive – only regional trains going north of Verona – train schedules meant a change of plans and I popped a pill and boarded a flight to Vienna Wednesday and after a few days in Vienna we boarded a train for Salzburg.
Austria is a country that I have had a love-hate relationship with since my first visit to Salzburg back in 1969. There are events of recent history that I find difficult to reconcile with a country of such beauty, history and culture. And I still recall an episode on that first visit to Salzburg that made me aware of how geographically close Berchtesgarden was. But I also have such good memories of three seasons at the summer festival in the glory days of the early 70s and the past few years that I have been able to share the town with Laurent, so maybe its time to forget what happened all those years ago.
Opened in 1903 the Bristol stands where once a palace of the brother of the Prince Archbishop Wolf-Dietrich lived. It has been owned and operated by the Hubner family for the past 75 years and the tradition continues, Frau Dokter Hubner retired this year and has turned the managing over to her son. It is one of my favorite hotels in the world for so many reasons but mostly because of the people.
And staying with the familiar we have settling into the Hotel Bristol once again, the Tuscany Room, same lovely room as last year and giving ourselves over to the care of the wonderful staff - though we were sadden to hear that at 70 the Frau Dokter decided to retire and leave the running of the hotel to her son. Her animated presence always added to the home-like atmosphere. But the front desk staff has remained unchanged - welcoming and friendly and our favourite barman Gunther is still doing what he does so well - tending bar, making warm, funny conversation and making you feel that you are at home. In a conversation with Frau Dokter last year she said that the secret to her success was always her staff. During hiring process she would conduct several interviews and see if the candidate was the type of person who honestly liked people. Because, she said, she could train anyone to do anything in the hotel business but liking people could not be taught. Her people like people.
The Festival this year is following the normal pattern of several concerts book-ended on the Friday and Monday by two works conducted by its artistic director Riccardo Muti (pictured at the left) with his Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra. Both are settings of Betulia liberata by Pietro Metastasio, the great Italian author of over 150 opera librettist. It recounts the Old Testament story of Judith and the beheading of the tyrant Holfernes. The first version is a staged opera by Mozart written when he was still in the womb or shortly after delivery and never performed in his life time. The second is an oratorio to the same libretto by Niccolo Jommelli, a Napoletano composer of an earlier period. Frankly last year I was underwhelmed by his opera seria Demofoonte so it will be interesting to hear how he's oratorio stacks up against a young Mozart.
In Salzburg if it isn't Mozart, then it Sound of Music; if it isn't Sound of Music then its Amadeus. I'm not sure if the Capezzoli di Venere that Saleri talks about when he attempts to seduce Constanze in the movie really were a known confection in those days - but they are now. And they come in pairs.Saturday was a busy day: a morning violin concert of music by various Napoletani at 1100, a performance of a Hasse cantata lead by Fabio Bondi with Vivica Genaux and Desiree Rancatore, two bright lights in the opearatic firmament at 1830 and then at 2200 an Italian silent movie classic Napoli e une canzone (Naples is a Song) with live musical accompaniment. We left the Hasse at the halfway point - more about that later - but I am fighting a cold and the hall was hot. It is uncomfortable and I was subject to some coughing fits. So we headed back to the hotel and Gunther served us a nice supper at our regular table in the hotel bar. After the movie he whipped up a hot toddy that if it did not cure my cold certainly put me to sleep.
Sunday morning brought a remarkable concert of sacred music by Les Arts Florissants and the Festival comes to an end with Monday morning's performance by Muti. This year rather than rushing to catch a train after the morning concert we'll spend Monday in Salzburg and return to Vienna Tuesday morning. It should be a rather peaceful day in the town as Whit Monday is a major holiday in Austria. Most businesses will be closed and many of the festival goers will have left though between music festivals, Mozart and the Sound of Music its a wonder there is ever an off-season in Salzburg. Though Gunther tells us that the hotel closes between the end of January - the close of Mozart Week - and Easter as there is almost no business at that time.
It seems there is always the sound of music in Salzburg - and no I don't mean the Doe a Deer thing - it may be a one man band playing near the bridge, or one of those ubiquitous Peruvian flute groups but more likely it will be a brass band on a Sunday morning in the Mirabel Gardens or maybe just the bells sounding the hour or celebrations. At 1500 yesterday the bells of the Franzikarnerk rang to celebrate a wedding - next thing I knew the Cathedral bells had joined in - and then those of St. Peter's. It was a glorious cacophony of peels.
I'll be writing about the various events and goings on in the next few days - sort of like this cold - in drips and dribbles. Which is probably not a word picture you really needed! Meanwhile Gunther has delivered one of his signature hot toddies ... so here's looking up your old address and down the hatch!
23 maggio - Pentecoste