Saturday, June 14, 2014

Salzburger Zeitung 2014 #2

June  5, 2014

Well the Pfingstfestspeile began in semi-earnest last night with La Cenerentola to a mostly full house - I notice that for next year's Festival the idea of starting on the Thursday of the holiday weekend has been jettisoned.  As happens here there was high fashion, silly fashion, casual fashion and the odd smell of mothballs and dry cleaning fluid that suggested a few articles of summer finery had been in storage over the long winter.  Of the production itself I am of several minds and will have to try and get them all together to a degree where I can write something of some intelligence.  Let me just say that my restraint when stage director Damiano Michieletto and his crew took their curtain call was beyond admirable!

After seeing what's on the menu (see items below) at Don Magnifico's Buffet (don't ask!) Laurent
wasn't too sure if he really wanted to go in.

Prince Ramiro's car seemed a bit dodgy even before it crashes through the front window of the
 Don's Buffet - again don't ask or I'll have to explain it to you. 

A late night diner at the Sketch Bar of the Hotel Bristol was a wonderful occasion to have a chat with Herr Leitner, the Manager and see our friend Dr M., who at 81 is still travelling the world for opera, ballet and theatre.  He had just arrived from Toronto via Munich and after the Festival is heading to London to see Natalia Osipova in a new ballet.  He's already planning for next year's Whitsun Festival - the man is a wonder.  And as always we were spoiled in the Sketch Bar by Gabor and Peter and the late night kitchen staff while Herr Leitner got us up to speed on the gossip around town and the music scene in Austria.

June 6, 2014

Today was the first of two music free days and an old friend of Madame J's is arriving from Switzerland for a brief visit later today.  The day started a bit late and continued at a leisurely pace - but that's why they call it vacation, right?

In 1822 Rossini and his, by then wife, Isabella Colbran left Napoli and moved to Vienna.  The move was not unexpected - his music had been wildly successful in the Austrian capital and his friend-partner (and Colbran's former lover) Domenico Barbaja was the impresario at the Theater am Kärntnertor.  It might be added that Barbaja seemed to be the impresario and casino operator at half the opera houses in Europe at that point.  Rossini conducted La Cenerentola and Zelmira there and Colbran sang the title role in the later.

In celebration of this rather tenuous connection with Austria - at one point a Festival publication tries to, without much success, link Mozart and Rossini - the De Ponte Institute has set up an exhibition:  Rossini-mania Wien 1822.  Publicized widely in the Festival programmes and prospectus it was still difficult to find - a small sign pointed to the Festival Administrative Building but once inside there was nothing to indicate that it was buried in the basement.

Consisting mostly of prints and scores it covered more than the Swan of Pesaro's period in Vienna.  His years in Naples, the visit to London and the last years in Paris were well represented in the numerous prints, playbills and fashion plates on display.  Many were familiar from publications and website devoted to Rossini but just as many were new - to me at least - and portrayed the singers, musicians, dancers and vips who performed, befriended, celebrated and feted the composer during his life time.

A general view of Vienna - 1819 by Jacob Alt.  Some of the landmarks are still visible today, others have been blocked by the urban sprawl of the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was only one of the fascinating cityscapes on display at the Rossini-mania Wien 1822.
Perhaps most interesting were the representations of Vienna, London and Paris in those early years of the 19th century.  Many landmarks were recognizable but as with all cities what had once been forest or parklands has long since been filled in by urban sprawl - even if it is late 19th - early 20th century urban sprawl.

One of the more intriguing lithographs on display indicates the orchestra seating at the Kärntnertor-Theater in 1821.  By today's standards it seems odd that the conductor is situated right at the stage rather than between the hall and the orchestra.  There are 26 seats, most of which would have been given over to violins and oddly there does not seem to be any space provided for a harpsichord or cembelo. Given that Rossini was wont to conduct from that instrument it is likely the arrangement was changed when he conducted his works there.

It was a fascinating exhibition but sadly so poorly advertised that there were very few people there.  It was almost representative of what seemed a slightly under-planed Festival.  However more about that later.

The entrance to the Haus für Mozart and Felsenreitschule features a colourful mural highlighting the first performance of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Jedermann at the Festival on 22 August 1920. The architect and stage designer Clemens Holzmeister is seen at the left holding plans for what was to become the first Festspeilhaus. 
After a nice lunch at the Goldener Hirsch Laurent and I headed over to the Festspeilhaus for a tour.  In all the years we have been going to the Festival we've never been through the houses that make up the complex set against and deep inside the Mönchsberg. Unfortunately the Grosses Festspeilhaus was closed for rehearsals for the next day's concerts but we still went through the Haus für Mozart and - my own favourite venue - the Felsenreitschule.  That included a visit backstage to see the workings of Paolo Fantin's sets for Cenerentola - though thankfully the labyrinth of chairs that cluttered Don Magnifico's Buffet were absent.

Don Magnifico's Buffet minus the chairs that were moved, piled on tables, thrown, upended and occasionally - just occasionally - used to sit on.  We also saw the multitude of cables that bore it heaven word when the scene changed to ...
.... Prince Ramiro's party at the Palace Disco.  Do they still actually do the frug - except in operatic productions where they are trying to show decadence and high living?

At Don Magnifico's they serve up all manner of appetizing - from a distance - goodies. 
I must say that even up close a good deal of it looks very realistic.
But the real surprise came at the Felsenreitschule (Rock Riding School).  The great arched boxes  carved into the sides of the old stone quarry in 1693 have been hidden by a set being built for Charlotte Salomon - a modern opera being presented at this year's summer festival.  Only the side boxes were clearly visible;  I mentioned what a shame it was and several people, including the guide, agreed. 

Only the side boxes of the Felsenreitschule were the only portion of this wonderful space that clearly visible - the stage itself was taken up with a unit set for a production for the summer festival.

The stage of the Felsenreitschule was a mass of suspended flats, unfinished lumber and carpenters tools.  The sets for the upcoming opera were being constructed in place.
But  more surprising than the decision to hide this architectural marvel, was the revalation that the entire front section of seating had disappeared.  Or at least appeared to have.  The sloped floor and seats are on hydraulic arms that are cantilevered and can swing the seating units up out of the way to allow equipment to be brought in.  It also serves as a scenery dock and storage area.

The first nine rows of the centre sections of seats in the Felsenreitschule are on hydraulic arms.  This allows them to be lifted out of the way.  The day we visited the area served as storage space for the chairs that would be used at the gala dinner on Sunday evening in the Karl-Böhm-Saal.

The Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the refreshment hall for both the Haus für Mozart and the Felsenreitschule.  Originally created to serve as the winter riding school by Prince-Archbishop Guidobald Graf von Thun it was the scene of tournaments and military training in the 17th century.  This year it was also the site of a gala dinner prepared by Elena Arzak, one of Europe's more noted chefs.  Needless to say that as it was being held in honour of Rossini the famous Tournedos of that name were on the menu.

The beautiful Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the intermission foyer and crush bar for the Haus für Mozart
and the Felsenreitschule.  It was built in 1662 as the winter riding school and restored by Clemens
Holzmeister and again with the major renovations of 1960/70.

The balcony and staircases were added by Holzmeister in the style of the original period when further work was done in 1999.
The Karl-Böhm-Saal serves as the refreshment hall for both the Haus für Mozart and the Felsenreitschule.  Originally created to serve as the winter riding school by Prince-Archbishop Guidobald Graf von Thun it was the scene of tournaments and military training in the 17th century.  This year it was also the site of a gala dinner prepared by Elena Arzak, one of Europe's more noted chefs.  Needless to say that as it was being held in honour of Rossini the famous Tournedos of that name were on the menu.

The fire firescreen fronting the great fireplace built into the rock of the Mönchsberg was also created by Holzmeister to symbolize the history of the room - ecclesiastical, military and artistic.
The Festival venues are used primarily during the Easter, Whitsun and Summer Festivals and lay largely empty during the rest of the year.  He made a point of mentioning that it was the Festival that gave the city much of its status and, its very apparent, wealth.

A few facts the guide revealed concerning the Festival made us very aware of its importance to the city of Salzburg:

  • The Festival employees 226 people year round but that figure jumps to over 6000 during the summer months.  
  • The budget is around 60 million euros with ticket revenue covering about of third of that amount.  
  • Its been estimated that the Festival brings in tax revenues equal to three times what it receives in public subsidies.  
  • In 2011 it was estimated that the Festival generated some 276 million euros in business revenues for the district.  

The afternoon was capped off by finding a table on the loge of Café Tomaselli overlooking the Alter Markt and choosing from their extensive eis menu.

A view from the loge at Tomaselli and a choice between an eis-caffe and a mocha frappe - what more could a gnome of vacation ask for?

Music, drama, history, a great setting and good (and fattening) food - that's why they call it vacation.  Right?

June 14 - 1789: Whiskey distilled from maize is first produced by American clergyman the Rev Elijah Craig. It is named Bourbon because Rev Craig lived in Bourbon County, Kentucky.

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