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The Salzburg Festival, reduced this year, roars back in 2021
A photo provided by Marco Borrelli/Salzburg Festival, German pianist Igor Levit after the first recital in his cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. As cultural events worldwide were called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Salzburg Festival surprised many by forging ahead with a scaled-down program to celebrate its centennial. Marco Borrelli/Salzburg Festival via The New York Times.

by Zachary Woolfe

SALZBURG (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- It was the great exception in a summer for the performing arts almost entirely scratched out by the pandemic. Its calendar reduced and its audiences distanced, but still defiantly ambitious, the Salzburg Festival, classical music’s most storied annual event, went forward in August with a robust schedule of opera, theater and concerts.

“The people were so happy that it happened; they were so devoted to what was there to experience,” Markus Hinterhäuser, the festival’s artistic director, said in an interview. “The concentration, the silence, the joy — I’ve never experienced a festival with such tenderness. It was tiring for us because every nanosecond could bring something, but looking back it was incredibly satisfying.”

Ticket sales, while capped at a fraction of capacity, were stronger than had been feared. And strict safety protocols and frequent testing, combined with what was then a limited spread of the coronavirus in Austria, seem to have worked: Helga Rabl-Stadler, the festival’s president, said that an intern tested positive shortly after arriving in July, but otherwise no positive tests emerged from staff, artists or audiences.

But the event was still a shadow of what had originally been planned as a jubilee celebration of the festival’s 100th anniversary. So the party will spill over into 2021, Salzburg announced on Thursday as it unveiled a season largely back to pre-pandemic scale and containing several productions postponed from the centennial slate.

Although the festival’s leaders cautioned that their plans could change with the virus’s course, they said they were optimistic that a 46-day, roughly 200-performance summer — scheduled to begin on July 17 and run through August — would be possible.

The opera productions will include revivals of the two offered this year: Strauss’ “Elektra,” directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, and an acclaimed staging of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” that was planned and executed on extremely short notice.

Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” will be conducted by Teodor Currentzis and directed by Romeo Castellucci; Cecilia Bartoli stars in Handel’s “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno.” Anna Netrebko takes the title role in Puccini’s “Tosca,” and Ingo Metzmacher conducts Luigi Nono’s “Intolleranza 1960.” A Morton Feldman minifestival culminates in a concert performance of his one-act monodrama “Neither.”

The Vienna Philharmonic, long the festival’s house band, will be featured both in the opera pit and in concert; other orchestras include MusicAeterna, Currentzis’s ensemble, and the Berlin Philharmonic. The only American group scheduled to participate is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in the twilight of Riccardo Muti’s tenure as its music director. A starry recital lineup is particularly distinguished in its pianists, including Mitsuko Uchida, Maurizio Pollini, Evgeny Kissin, Daniil Trifonov and Igor Levit. Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s morality play “Jedermann” (“Everyman”), a Salzburg signature since 1920, will open the festival on July 17.

Out of budgetary caution, there will be somewhat more concerts, and fewer opera and theater performances, than usual, Rabl-Stadler said. “We were more careful” in planning for 2021, she added. Even if vaccines are being distributed worldwide over the coming months, the festival has prepared an alternate budget in case it is restricted to only two-thirds of capacity in its theaters. (The full-steam version, though, anticipates a total cost of 65 million euros, or about $78.5 million.)

But Salzburg has arrived at this point in a better position than many performing arts institutions. The festival was able to sell only about 76,000 tickets this summer, instead of its usual 230,000. Government subsidies and sponsorship deals, though, have ensured it will leave 2020 without a deficit.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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