The Salzburg Easter Festival wishes to express its great sadness at the passing of Claudio Abbado, its former Artistic Director, on Monday, 20 January 2014.
Renée Fleming, one of the most famous Sopranos, sings the title role of Richard Strausss opera Arabella at the 2014 Salzburg Easter Festival - for the fist time together on stage with Thomas Hampson. In an interview with journalist Fiona Maddocks she describes her approach to the role, and her abiding attachment both to the city of Salzburg and to the music of Richard Strauss.
Next Years new production of Richard Strausss opera Arabella marks the operatic debut of Thomas Hampson at the Salzburg Easter Festival. In interview with John Allison the baritone speaks about his eagerly awaited return to the role of Mandryka
Mr Thielemann, you made your debut at the Salzburg Easter Festival with Parsifal in 2013, the year of Wagner's bicentenary. 2014 is now a "Strauss year" ...
... and I can tell you that I'm delighted about this combination of jubilees, because Strauss isn't so Wagnerian! - in the sense that we're dealing here with a more relaxed personality.
Well, Strauss isn't exactly devoid of tension either: Salome and Elektra both caused scandals - and even Arabella has plenty of it.
Strauss was always an unruffled man, even if he composed works whose content is quite the opposite of that. Unlike Wagner, whose life was always dramatic, what with his womanising, his political radicalism and his debts, Strauss always kept his scandals on the stage. He returned time after time to his domestic idyll in Garmisch and cultivated his congenial, homely Bavarian patriotism. The difference is that Wagner was continually working to maintain his very existence, while Strauss could move from composing his dramatic scores to spending an afternoon simply playing his favourite card game "skat".
This bourgeois life ought to appeal to you: Strauss got up punctually at six in the morning, worked a little at one of his scandalous operas and then had his lunch dished out to him at twelve on the dot by his wife Pauline. You once mentioned that the new avant-garde is conservative - was that also true of Strauss?
Strauss's comfy lifestyle didn't exclude great musical revolutions. I actually find his penchant for the stuffy and the staid ultramodern. Take a look at our ex-foreign minister, who once started out on the streets, at some point exchanged his trainers for a suit and today lives in a villa in the Berlin suburb of Dahlem. For me, a life like that typifies the late victory of the bourgeois. Because ultimately, every revolutionary thinks it's super when his hot bath is ready, when he's got nice food to eat, when his maid can serve him tea and when his bed smells of lavender. After all, even a revolution is supposed to be fun on some level - binge-drinking through the night and having sex with everyone - but hey, at the end of the day not even a professional revolutionary wants to live in filth. Sooner or later they all have to acknowledge that water boils at 100 degrees, that you have to sleep if you want to be properly awake, that you smell if you don't wash, and that inventing an eight-sided wheel might be a great new idea, but it'll never catch on ...
But if you'll pardon my saying so, what's all that got to do with Strauss?
During the upheaval between the two world wars he undertook all kinds of forays into the chaos of our world. And ultimately he returned to Garmisch to his mountains and said "Hey, all this rebellion is actually pretty inconvenient and stupid. I don't need that at home as well. It's enough for me to show these human extremes on the stage". Personally, I have a great deal of understanding for such a stance.
So what exactly is revolutionary about Strauss - especially in his rather bourgeois opera Arabella?
Let's first talk a little about that word "revolutionary". What's that supposed to mean today? We live in a time when concepts such as "avant-garde", "conservative", "left" and "right" have all but evaporated. We grew up with them in the 1970s and '80s. Today, everything's changed. Also because the revolutionaries have long broken new ground and realized that deep inside, they're actually very fond of the bourgeois. If you take a look at this paradigm shift, you can find similar phenomena even in ancient times, and you recognize that it's a perfectly normal process. And then you pretty quickly land in the apocalyptic scenarios of Salome and Elektra, in which the reinterpretation of existing values plays a central role.
But you're going to perform Arabella in Salzburg, an opera that plays among the bourgeoisie, rather like Rosenkavalier - is it as wicked as the early works?
Arabella was naturally meant to become Strauss's second Rosenkavalier. And there's plenty of wickedness in that one alone. Whereas in Salome we are tracing the downfall of a world empire, in Rosenkavalier we are watching the moral decline of the aristocracy. And in Arabella, too, an illusory world is unmasked that only pretends to exist. People who used to be rich are sitting in a run-down hotel; one of their daughters has to disguise herself as a boy because no one can afford to kit her out properly. She has an eccentric mother, and the father is gambling away all their worldly goods. Then there's the fortune-teller with her cards - when the family was still rich, they would never have let someone like that into their house. The whole opera begins with slapstick. Admittedly, it's not like in Elektra, there's no archaic, brute force. But in its inner structures it's far more wicked and more realistic!
What do you mean by that?
Strauss lays bare a phenomenon that is still topical today: the fact that the bourgeoisie can no longer be what it pretends to be with all its external conventions. And he shows that there are bores in all walks of life, among the bourgeoisie as well as among revolutionaries. Ultimately, behind the walls of the villas of Dahlem the same things are happening as in the prefab apartment blocks in Neukölln: People suffer, despair, hate and live immorally. When the bourgeois philistines go out to check if there's a scratch on their Porsche, it's in the end just as embarrassing as the putative revolutionaries who claim never to sleep with the same person twice - and yet are still overcome by jealousy in the end. Both groups are just pretending that their lives are a big party. And Strauss shows us that behind their façades, all people tick the same way. It's really brutal!
And for this, he utilises a musical Neoclassicism in Arabella that is often felt to be saccharine.
Klemperer once said that he had no desire to conduct the Rosenkavalier because he didn't want to touch sugar water - but later he did it anyway. Also, of course, because Strauss was very sophisticated. His excursion into the bourgeoisie is like a foray into the wild world of the animal kingdom. And what's best of all: He didn't have to wear torn jeans for it, but composed it dressed in his suit with his golden pocket watch. The big question was naturally what he could still do after Salome, Elektra and Frau ohne Schatten. Wagner was a choirboy compared to these three hellish women. The musical material was exhausted; after that, nothing would have been possible except twelve-note music - or maybe even fifteen-note music. But Strauss decided to take a different path. He had a far more brilliant idea: he wrapped up his wickedness in beauty. He never became atonal, he never exploded his forms, but instead used convention as a means of rebellion.
Christoph Eschenbach is the guest artist at the 2014 Salzburg Easter Festival, where he will appear as conductor and pianist. He spoke with Manuel Brug about his relationship to Mozart and Strauss and of his excitement about the upcoming Easter Festival.
In this lively and thought-provoking interview Christian Thielemann tells Tom Service why he prefers to be thought of as a "Kapellmeister" rather than a conductor, why tradition is an inspiration as well as challenge, and why flexibilty is the key to everything. He also explains why he believes music can't possibly be political, and what drives him to conduct.
You can read and download the 2014 programme brochure in PDF format here:
You can find a text only version of the 2014 programme (PDF) here:
An enthusiastic audience - and an enthusiastic Artistic Director Christian Thielemann. See our promotional film:
Stay updated about news by email:
Subscribe to our newsletter >>>
on our Facebook page: