From Spring to Festivals

Nights at the Opera

On The Town | Oliver Macdonald | April 2012

The stage in Klosterneuburg ready for Don Pasquale (Photo: Roland Ferrigato)

Once again Spring is in the air, full of revival, renewal and anticipation. All around us there is much to look forward to as the evenings lengthen and nature bursts into early bloom. This anticipation applies also to opera and does so with an urgency we mustn’t overlook. Although the season still has three months to run we now need to look beyond that for two good reasons. Firstly, there is the wide range of festivals and summer opera programmes for which booking has already opened, and secondly, the Vienna houses have already prepared and published their programmes for the 2012-2013 season. More of all that anon.

The immediate effect of Spring is the return of the big screen to Herbert von Karajan Platz (on the East side of the Opera) where there will be live relay of several performances. In April the screenings include Wagner’s Parsifal, whose theme is very close to that of Easter. Also to be seen are Der Rosenkavalier with Elina Garanca in the eponymous role; L’Elisir d’Amore; Werther: Boris Godunov and Don Carlos, in the five-act French version with a slightly madcap interactive production. (See TVR Special Events, p.23)

Looking ahead, I suppose that the Salzburg Festival is the greatest of all the summer festivals. I had gone off it for a while with a sense that it had lost its soul and become operatically jaded, even if on a grand and expensive scale.

Now with Alexander Pereira firmly in place as Artistic Director, Salzburg is again an exciting prospect. His introductory notes to each of the eight operas at the centre of the festival are full of the promise and purpose which attach to each of them. He has also expanded the festival, both in terms of time and scope. It includes an Ouverture Spirituelle which begins a week before the premiere of the first opera, Die Zauberflöte on 27 July. The next day includes a Liederabend with Elina Garanca. Don’t be confused by the German label – it begins at 11:00 in the morning! The festival programme is a must have, and as soon as possible. Seat prices are from €400 to €15 for standing room.

The next four venues are outdoor stagings, ideal for warm, balmy, summer evenings.  However, Mother Nature may disagree, so each venue has set conditions for what happens if and when: These should be noted carefully.

The first is the Bregenz Festival, on the Bodensee, which runs from 18 July to 18 August. The huge lakeside arena overlooks the stage which is actually on the lake. This year the lake opera is again Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano The opera is the story of Chenier and the French Revolution that cost him his life. There are three sets of singers for the leading roles, the conductors, Ulf Schirmer and Enrico Calesso. The production is by Keith Warner and the set design (The Death of Marat) is by David Fielding. It’s an imposing set, with a bust of Marat so huge that it is clearly visible from aircraft overhead. There are 10 performances in July and twelve in August, with prices from €48 to €272.

The other work in the Festspielhaus is the 2012 opera Solaris by German composer Detlev Glanert after a sci-fi novel by Stanislav Lem. There are three performances on 18, 22 (matinée) and 25 July.

The second venue is at the Römersteinbruch in St Margareten, not far from Eisenstadt. This ancient Roman quarry is a huge natural arena, the largest in Europe, renowned for the spectacular productions. (Browsing elephants were a memorable feature of a recent production of Aida.) This year’s production is Carmen, with 31 performances between 11 July (premiere) and 26 August. Most weeks, there are four performances Thursday to Sunday, with two extra performances on 14 and 15 August. They begin at 20:30 and last about three hours. Prices range from €29 to €105.

The third popular venue is the Burgruine at Gars am Kamp, less than an hour northwest of Vienna. As the name suggests the operas are staged at the ruins of a castle fortress. Opernair Gars was founded in 1990 by Karel Drgac, onetime Intendant of the Prague State Opera, and has gone from strength to strength. This year’s opera is Verdi’s Rigoletto, weekends from 13 July to 5 August, with eleven performances in all.

The next venue is right near to the city, in the Hof of the great Stift (Abbey) Klosterneuburg, a very good setting for this year’s comedy of manners, Don Pasquale by Donizetti. There will be alternating casts over eleven performances between 8 and 31 July, all at 20:30. Intendant Michael Garschall has a stellar record and no change is expected.

Next month we shall look at highlights for the next season. Happy Eastertide!

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