While Salzburg is full of impressive and significant places to visit, like the fortress, the cathedral quarter, the festival halls and the two Mozart houses, I must admit that my favorite place in this town is the Landestheater (State Theatre), an outwardly inconspicuous building on Makartplatz that you might not even notice if you don’t know what it is. In May 2016 I saw two operas and a musical at the Landestheater and was highly pleased with all of them, even the musical, though that is not a genre that usually turns me on, particularly.
Like nearly fifty other theaters that were built in Europe between the 1870s and the First World War, this one was the work of the Viennese architects Fellner and Helmer. (They also built the State Opera in Prague, for example.)
The control board for the stage lights is at the back of the orchestra level, aka ‘the stalls’.
Like most of the older opera houses in this part of the world, the Salzburg State Theatre has separate staircases going up to the expensive box seats (staircase on the right, with the red carpet) and to the inexpensive balcony seats (staircase on the left, with no carpet). The idea of this was that the elegant spectators at the lower levels should be spared the indignity of having to mingle with the less elegant spectators from the cheaper levels upstairs.
This poster at the trolleybus stop outside the theatre lists the operas (and musicals) that were performed at the State Theatre in 2015/2016. I was fortunate enough to see three of these when I was in Salzburg in May 2016. The two singers on the poster are the Romanian soprano Laura Nicorescu und the Swedish tenor Kristofer Lundin in the Salzburg production of Mozart’s Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte).
Rossini’s Turco in Italia
All you loyal readers of my post on the Old Stage in Copenhagen might recall that when the composer Gioacchino Rossini was 22 years old, in 1814, he composed an opera called Il Turco in Italia (“The Turk in Italy”) for the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. He was hoping, evidently, to repeat the huge success he had scored with “The Italian Girl in Algiers” the year before.
Then as now, a sequel is usually not as good as the original, but “The Turk in Italy” is still quite clever and funny and is worth seeing if you get the chance. And the music is vintage Rossini. I have seen “The Turk in Italy” not only at old Danish Royal Theater in Copenhagen, but also in an open-air production in the Palmengarten in Frankfurt and now at the State Theatre in Salzburg. (And yes, I am listening to a recording of it as I write this.)
In Salzburg stage director Marco Dott gave this opera a special twist by setting in on a cruise ship — not just any cruise ship, but the Costa Concordia, which hit some rocks and sank off the coast of Italy on January 13, 2012.
Here soprano Hannah Bradbury is welcoming the orchestra conductor to the stage, which is something sopranos usually do at the end of an opera. The people in orange life vests are members of the chorus.
From left to right: Mezzo-Soprano Rowan Hellier as Zaida; Baritone Simon Schnorr as the poet Prosdocimo; Bass-Baritone Pietro di Bianco as the Turkish prince Selim; the orchestra conductor Adrian Kelly; Soprano Hannah Bradbury as Donna Fiorilla; Baritone Sergio Foresti as Don Geronio; and Tenor Carlos Cardoso as Don Narciso. The opera was sung in the original Italian, with German surtitles projected above the stage.
Here in the orchestra pit is a fortepiano, an early form of piano that was still in use in the early 19th century.
Like many other operas, Il Turco in Italia includes recitatives (rapid half-sung dialogues that advance the plot). These were accompanied on the fortepiano by Adrian Kelly, who stood up at the end of each recitative to conduct the orchestra from here.
Unlike the singers, the fortepiano is equipped with a microphone, because it is nowhere near as loud as a modern piano.
Stormy Interlude by Max Brand
When the Nazis came to power in Germany and later in Austria in the 1930s, most of the leading opera composers of that period had their careers cut short because their works were banned, and many were forced to emigrate. These included Franz Schreker, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Ernst Krenek and Kurt Weill, as well as the Austrian operetta composers Oscar Straus and Ralph Benatzky. One of the exciting things about the European opera scene in the 21st century is that the works of this lost generation of composers are finally being revived and finding their way back into the repertoire.
Now thanks to the Salzburg State Theatre I know of another such composer, Max Brand (1896-1980) — not to be confused with the American author Frederick Schiller Faust, who used “Max Brand” as one of his pseudonyms.
The composer Max Brand studied under Franz Schreker in the 1920s and had one very successful opera, Maschinist Hopkins, which played at 38 different opera houses between 1929 and 1932. His works were banned in Germany as soon as the Nazis came to power. When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Brand fled by way of Prague, Switzerland and Brazil before finally getting to the United States, where he tried with little success to continue composing.
Stormy Interlude is a one-act opera that Brand composed in New York in 1955 to a text that he wrote himself in English. It was never staged in his lifetime, in fact the first staging ever was the one I saw in Salzburg in May 2016, conducted by Mirga Grazinyté-Tyla and directed by Amélie Niermeyer.
Here are some of the cast members during the applause at the end of Stormy Interlude. They are, from left to right: Elliott Carlton Hines, Frances Pappas, Jason Cox, Hannah Bradbury, Rudolf Pscheidl and Raimundas Juzuitis.
Hannah Bradbury, whom I had seen four days before as a sophisticated aristocratic woman adroitly juggling her husband and two lovers, is this time a bored teenager named Mona living with her mother (Frances Pappas) in an isolated guest house in New England. She falls for the charms of a stranger (Jason Cox) who breaks into the house, but he turns out to be a wanted criminal, the infamous “Willy the Charmer”, who is running from the law.
Since the opera was so short, they played it twice, once before and once after the intermission. The second time not only one man broke into the house, but half a dozen, so it could have been Mona’s nightmare or maybe her wish-fulfillment dream, however you wanted to interpret it.
In the 1960s, since his career as an opera composer wasn’t going anywhere, Max Brand turned to electronic music and teamed up with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer or Moogtonium — a brilliant invention that was a few decades ahead of its time, since what it did can now be done by any multi-media computer with the proper software. But at the time it was a sensation, as some of us older folks well remember.
My photos in this post are from 2016. I revised the text in 2017.
Next: A musical comes home