Salzburg Festival Blog 1 (22 July)

Salzburg puts on it’s summer clothes-certainly meteorologically speaking. Glorious weather is appropriate for the final countdown to this, the most intense of Festivals. For today after lunch is the Dress Rehearsal  of Theodora, the first offering of the 2009 Festival Five soul-searching,stimulating weeks of rehearsal have been accompanied by what has felt like incessant rain. Our cast, directed by our inspirational and also tenacious director Christof (Loy) have certainly been able to concentrate deeply on this perhaps the most profound of Handel’s oratorios.

1pm -the area around the festival house is filling up, as people take advantage of the sun to enjoy the various bars and restaurants. I see an old friend from Italy (former casting director of La Monnaie Opera House,Brussels) and we catch up on the latest productions. Dress Rehearsal day sees the arrival of a lot of the professional, agents, intendants, casting  directors come from far and wide. The first Dress Rehearsal of each season also has a totemic significance beyond the production itself, seeming to set the template for the next six frenetic weeks.

2.15 I meet with our orchestra, the wonderful Freiburg Barock Orchester in the pit and we celebrate the 50th birthday of their spectacular tympanist Karl Fischer. He is visibly moved as the whole orchestra has come in specially to play a Tyrolean dance for him. Inside the Festival House the activity level is increasing fast-costume and make-up teams working on overdrive, last minute notes are being delivered to cast and chorus by Chris (Moulds) my assistant and Brenda (Hurley), repetiteur.

15.00 We start. Nearly four hours later, it seems that Handel’s late work has worked its magic, once again on a public most of whom have probably not heard the piece before. Our magnificent cast have brought 4th-century Antioch vividly to life . Is there a more contemporary dramatic work by Handel? Its themes of courage, steadfastness, selflessness, martyrdom, conscientious objection (and its limits) resonate profoundly in our turbulent age. Afterwards relief, exuberance, earnest discussion, meetings with old friends  are all part of a convivial evening at Triangel.

Thursday (July 22nd) Today I eagerly await the return from holiday of my great Mozarteum Orchestra. We ended last season on a high with a tremendously well-received Japan/China tour and some excellent recording sessions. Their official summer holiday, because  of their extensive Salzburg Festival commitments, is necessarily taken at the end of June and beginning of July.

There is a feeling of pleasurable anticipation in the air and also  a self-confidence in the playing as we rehearse for Saturday’s official opening of the Festival. The Festakt. Live on TV and attended by the head of State. As an Englishman with the good fortune to lead one of Austria’s leading cultural institutions, I am constantly reminded of the importance placed on culture in Austrian society. The Salzburg Festival, its content and delivery are topics  for practically all of society. This puts the UK to shame with its philistine government, desperately trying to manage the catastrophic fallout of yet another failed policy or the near- criminal  behaviour of its MPs!

A rare evening off – much needed – and well-timed as my wife Tess (Cambridge University term-time is over!) and son Samuel have arrived. We enjoy swimming in Aigen and cycle over to Dr. Wirt in the next village. Early night called for in view of the next few days.