Looking at this sturdy little theater today, you’d never guess that it used to have the reputation of being one of the most totally botched and bungled construction projects of the entire 19th century.
It was built in the 1840s and was inaugurated with great pomp on the emperor’s birthday in April 1846. But the joy was short-lived. Within five years the local papers were full of horror stories about faulty construction work in the theater. Constant repairs were necessary just to correct the most glaring and dangerous defects.
Amazingly, they muddled along for 115 years before making any fundamental changes. It wasn’t until 1961 that they finally closed the building and spent six years reconstructing and stabilizing it, as well as expanding it to include a large modern addition at the back.
It was reopened in 1967, and since then there have been no more complaints about the stability of the building. It is now a sturdy and pleasant regional theater with a full program of opera and spoken theater.
From 1999 to 2012 Brigitte Fassbaender was the General Director of this theater, the Tiroler Landestheater (Tyrolean State Theater). She is most famous as a singer — she was a leading mezzo-soprano for many years — but has also been notably successful as a theater director and stage director. In recent years, after leaving Innsbruck, she has staged numerous operas including three in Frankfurt: Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, Paul Bunyan by Benjamin Britten and Capriccio by Richard Strauss. The last two, especially, are notoriously challenging for any stage director, since not much actually happens in them, but in both cases she managed to create a surprising amount of interest and hold the audience’s attention throughout the evening.
I had been wanting to come to the Innsbruck Festival of Early Music ever since Miah Persson sang Almirena here in Haendel’s Rinaldo in 2002. (I missed her that year in Innsbruck, but saw her in the same production in Berlin a few months later.)
The Innsbruck Festival of Early Music is usually devoted to Baroque music, up to around 1750, but in 2006 they made an exception because it was the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth in 1756.
The singer on their posters was the young Italian soprano Raffaella Milanesi in the role of Tamiri in Il re pastore. The photo on the poster shows her sitting at the edge of the stage with her feet dangling into the orchestra pit as she sings her aria Di tante sue procelle from Act 1.
In 2006 I made the mistake of waiting until only about a month in advance before trying to get tickets for the Innsbruck Festival. All four performances of Don Giovanni were sold out, and I was lucky to get one of the last remaining standing-room tickets for Il re pastore. (Not that I mind standing. I have trouble sitting still anyway, LOL.)
Il re pastore (meaning “The Shepard King”) was Mozart’s eleventh opera. He composed it in 1775, when he was nineteen years old.
After three open-air operas in the massive Arena di Verona that same week, I was impressed with how small everything was in the Innsbruck theater, how loud the voices were and how close I was to the stage and the singers, even though I was standing up at the top of the top balcony.
It was a brilliant performance, with five fine young singers and a small orchestra playing on historical instruments. The staging was from the Brussels Opera, and was first rate. I can highly recommend this festival — but do book well in advance!
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).