Orfeo Salzburg Festival 2023

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May 2023



Act 1

After La musica's final request for silence, the curtain rises on Act 1 to reveal a pastoral scene. Orfeo and Euridice enter together with a chorus of nymphs and shepherds, who act in the manner of a Greek chorus, commenting on the action both as a group and as individuals. A shepherd announces that this is the couple's wedding day; the chorus responds, first in a stately invocation ("Come, Hymen, O come") and then in a joyful dance ("Leave the mountains, leave the fountains"). Orfeo and Euridice sing of their love for each other before leaving with most of the group for the wedding ceremony in the temple. Those left on stage sing a brief chorus, commenting on how Orfeo used to be one "for whom sighs were food and weeping was drink" before love brought him to a state of sublime happiness.


Act 2

Orfeo returns with the main chorus, and sings with them of the beauties of nature. Orfeo then muses on his former unhappiness, but proclaims: "After grief one is more content, after pain one is happier". The mood of contentment is abruptly ended when La messaggera enters, bringing the news that, while gathering flowers, Euridice has received a fatal snakebite. The chorus expresses its anguish: "Ah, bitter happening, ah, impious and cruel fate!", while the Messaggera castigates herself as the bearing of bad tidings ("For ever I will flee, and in a lonely cavern lead a life in keeping with my sorrow"). Orfeo, after venting his grief and incredulity ("Thou art dead, my life, and I am breathing?"), declares his intention to descend into the Underworld and persuade its ruler to allow Euridice to return to life. Otherwise, he says, "I shall remain with thee in the company of death". He departs, and the chorus resumes its lament.


Act 3

Orfeo is guided by Speranza to the gates of Hades. Having pointed out the words inscribed on the gate ("Abandon hope, all ye who enter here"), Speranza leaves. Orfeo is now confronted with the ferryman Caronte, who addresses Orfeo harshly and refuses to take him across the river Styx. Orfeo attempts to persuade Caronte by singing a flattering song to him ("Mighty spirit and powerful divinity"), but the ferryman is unmoved. However, when Orfeo takes up his lyre and plays, Caronte is soothed into sleep. Seizing his chance, Orfeo steals the ferryman's boat and crosses the river, entering the Underworld while a chorus of spirits reflects that nature cannot defend herself against man: "He has tamed the sea with fragile wood, and disdained the rage of the winds."


Act 4

In the Underworld, Proserpina, Queen of Hades, who has been deeply affected by Orfeo's singing, petitions King Plutone, her husband, for Euridice's release. Moved by her pleas, Plutone agrees on the condition that, as he leads Euridice towards the world, Orfeo must not look back. If he does, "a single glance will condemn him to eternal loss". Orfeo enters, leading Euridice and singing confidently that on that day he will rest on his wife's white bosom. But as he sings a note of doubt creeps in: "Who will assure me that she is following?". Perhaps, he thinks, Plutone, driven by envy, has imposed the condition through spite? Suddenly distracted by an off-stage commotion, Orfeo looks round; immediately, the image of Euridice begins to fade. She sings, despairingly: "Losest thou me through too much love?" and disappears. Orfeo attempts to follow her but is drawn away by an unseen force. The chorus of spirits sings that Orfeo, having overcome Hades, was in turn overcome by his passions.


Act 5

Back in the fields of Thrace, Orfeo has a long soliloquy in which he laments his loss, praises Euridice's beauty and resolves that his heart will never again be pierced by Cupid's arrow. An off-stage echo repeats his final phrases. Suddenly, in a cloud, Apollo descends from the heavens and chastises him: "Why dost thou give thyself up as prey to rage and grief?" He invites Orfeo to leave the world and join him in the heavens, where he will recognise Euridice's likeness in the stars. Orfeo replies that it would be unworthy not to follow the counsel of such a wise father, and together they ascend. A shepherds' chorus concludes that "he who sows in suffering shall reap the fruit of every grace", before the opera ends with a vigorous moresca.

Program and cast

House for Mozart

When it became clear that the ambitious plans to build a festival stage in Hellbrunn could not be realised, the idea was born of transforming parts of the court stables into a theatre. After a building period lasting only four months a provisional festival hall was built on the grounds of the large winter riding school in 1925 which was opened with Das Salzburger Grosse Welttheater. Only one year later, in 1926, the architect Clemens Holzmeister supervised a first phase of re-building of the inadequate provisional festival hall. Adaptations were again made in 1927 so that operas could be performed: Beethoven’s Fidelio was the first opera to be performed here.

The building was known as the Kleines Festspielhaus, and underwent several more reconstruction phases: in 1937 the auditorium was turned around by 180° which meant that it was necessary to build on a fly tower for the backstage area. In order to make this possible, the then governor of Salzburg, Franz Rehrl, allowed his birthplace in the Toscanini courtyard to be pulled down. Benno von Arent redesigned the festival hall in 1939 and replaced the wooden panelling with stucco work ornamented in gold. The unsatisfactory sight lines and acoustic problems made a further conversion necessary in the years 1962/63. The Salzburg architects Hans Hofmann and Erich Engels gave the hall the form it had until 2004.

For many years the Salzburg Festival had followed plans to create a “House for Mozart” which would in every respect be suitable for the performance of the composer’s stage works, with excellent acoustics and the best possible sight lines from all seats. The auditorium had to be both intimate but also have sufficient seating capacity. The task that seemed like squaring the circle was achieved by the team of architects Holzbauer and Valentiny: what was previously known as the Kleines Festspielhaus was transformed in three building phases from September 2003 into a Haus für Mozart (House for Mozart). The auditorium of the Kleines Festspielhaus was widened, shortened and lowered. Two new audience circles were created which extend on both sides of the hall as far as the stage. This creates the effect that the stage is framed on three sides by people in festive mood rather than by bare walls.

In comparison with the previous situation in the Kleines Festspielhaus the foyers have undergone major changes. Tall windows extending over two floors offer views from the main foyer to the city, and in the evenings the lighted interior of the theatre creates an inviting impression. The main foyer is dominated by a 17-metre high gilded lamella wall; through the openings a profile of Mozart’s head made of Swarovski crystal can be seen. The terrace above the hall construction had never been accessible to the public since its construction in 1924; now, with the new design, it has become part of the interval foyer. The arcade below is made predominantly of glass and means that the auditorium opens out on two sides instead of only one, as was the previous situation. Thus people can step out directly from the festival hall into the magnificent urban surroundings.

The festival lounge on the roof, the SalzburgKulisse, has become a great attraction (made possible by Gerhard Andlinger). The name in itself already suggests the splendid view offered from there to the old town centre of Salzburg. This lounge is furnished with pear-wood panelling; the tapestries in the alcoves are by Anton Kolig, a contemporary of Anton Faistauer.

The Faistauer Foyer has become a jewel of the new house (made possible by Herbert Batliner): the famous frescoes in this hall, which were created by the Salzburg painter Anton Faistauer in 1926, were removed after the Nazis marched into Austria and some of them were deliberately destroyed. Not until 1956 was it possible to re-mount them. For the opening of the Haus für Mozart they were thoroughly restored, and architecturally the foyer has been returned to its original historic design.

As regards the exterior façade the proportions of the Holzmeister ensemble from the years 1924/37 have been retained. The visual impression of the façade is characterised by the prestigious doors opening out onto the terrace which were designed by the sculptor Josef Zenzmaier: he created three bronze reliefs which are mounted above the portals and depict scenes from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte. The stone masks by Jakob Adlhart are now clearly visible above the entrance to the house: this is under the new extensive concrete roof decorated in gold leaf. Throughout the entire building rough concrete surfaces are contrasted with fine gold leaf, thus creating aesthetic tension.

From the backstage area a huge iron door opens onto the Toscanini courtyard. The six concrete reliefs mounted to the left and right Genies holding Masks were removed in 1938 but reconstructed again in 1979 by their creator Jakob Adlhart. Above them is an organ which was played for performances of Jedermann when they had to be transferred from the Domplatz to the Festspielhaus due to bad weather.

For the celebrations for Mozart’s 250th birthday in Mozart Year 2006 the Haus für Mozart was opened with the premiere of Le nozze di Figaro (conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt, stage director: Claus Guth).

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