After a winter of discontent, a glorious summer in Salzburg

SALZBURG, Austria – “Now is the winter of our discontent / Glorious summer made by this York sun. “These lines, perhaps the most famous...


SALZBURG, Austria – “Now is the winter of our discontent / Glorious summer made by this York sun. “These lines, perhaps the most famous opening of all English dramas, are not said in the new production of the Salzburg Festival”Richard the kid and the kingA chronicle from the cradle to the grave of the bard’s most ruthless monarch. Yet the monologue echoed in my ears as I left the theater after four hours of greed, betrayal, hypocrisy, infanticide, beheading and evisceration.

As Salzburg warmed up at the end of July, the arrival of ‘Richard’ was an electrifying theatrical jerk to kick off the second installment of the Pandemic Era event, which features four new dramatic productions, six fully staged operas. stage and dozens of concerts. Forsooth, the winter of our discontent has been made glorious in the summer by the Salzburg Festival.

Famous German theater director Karin Henkel was originally on board to direct “Richard III” in 2020. Postponed for a year by the coronavirus pandemic, production has been expanded and expanded for this year’s edition. Henkel and his creative team incorporated clips from “Slaughter! », A 12-hour compression of Shakespeare’s eight plays on the War of the Roses which was first performed in Salzburg in 1999.

In the first half of the evening, “Richard the Kid”, which is largely about York’s teenage sons, the production uses the “Slaughter!” mix of German and English gangster slang loaded with swear words.

Much of the colorful patois is rendered with vulgar hilarity by Kate Strong, a British actress and dancer who has been in German-language theater for 25 years. She is one of only four actresses on stage before the intermission, who share nine roles. The heroic Bettina Stucky (like Clarence and Elizabeth) and the fearless Kristof Van Boven (like the entire Lancaster house) demonstrate a similar agile dexterity to bring this most dysfunctional and tragic royal family to life.

Even though the show’s busier and more populous second half, “Richard the King,” is less captivating than the start, the glue that holds the dark production together is Lina Beckmann’s stunning performance as Richard. It’s as much a take on the charming psychopath as it is a treatise on the nature of acting itself, as Beckmann slips into Richard’s misshapen body and mind, allowing us to watch with unsettling intimacy. hidden, intriguing and savage ambition that animates the ark. -scoundrel.

Witnessing Beckmann’s cheeky performance reminded me of another captivating Richard III in recent memory: Lars Eidinger.

In 2015, the prolific Berlin-born theater and film actor – best known worldwide for his role in the hit television series “Babylon Berlin” – first performed the King without Conscience at the Schaubühne in Berlin , where he has worked since 1999. The earth-shattering production of Thomas Ostermeier, who hollowed out the bloody brain of the murderous monarch with overwhelming perversity, has been performed all over Avignon, France, Adelaide, Australia, and came to New York in 2017.

Today Eidinger, 45, has become the latest in a long line of great German and Austrian actors to tackle the lead role in “Jedermann”, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s 1911 version of a morality play medieval festival which is the oldest tradition of the festival and perhaps the strangest.

In August 1920, the first Salzburg Festival opened with an outdoor performance of this “Piece on the Death of the Rich Man” in a production by Max Reinhardt, who, along with Hofmannsthal, was one of the founders of the ‘event. It has been played almost every summer since, starring Maximilian Schell, Klaus Maria Brandauer, and most recently Tobias Moretti as a wealthy hedonist visited by death, who offers his victim one last chance at salvation.

The local enthusiasm for the play is difficult to explain to foreigners. To say that “Jedermann” does not have the popular appeal of “The Sound of Music”, another famous cultural export from Salzburg, is an understatement.

For such a deep-rooted tradition as ‘Jedermann’, the productions here tend to be, well, traditional. In view of this fact, the new manufacturing, from director Michael Sturminger, is practically avant-garde, or at least tries to be so: there’s largely abstract decor and eclectic costumes, comic-surreal moments, including a cleverly choreographed boxing match, and interpolated texts and songs. But the production fails to establish a coherent tone, and Sturminger’s varied theatrical effects are ill-suited to Hofmannsthal’s noble and archaic rhymed couplets.

I don’t mean to suggest that a ritualized parable like “Jedermann” resists bold approaches, just that a lot of the ideas in this production seem tentative or not fully thought out.

Eidinger approaches the long role with a focused sobriety that seemed intended to invest the character with unexpected psychological undertones, but the performance seemed to ignore, rather than engage with, the naivety inherent in Hofmannsthal’s text and the archetypal nature of its protagonist. (It seems wrong to treat Jedermann as such a richly drawn character as Richard III or Hamlet.)

The premiere of “Jedermann” was supposed to take place outside, but a persistent rain forced the show inside, at the Grosses Festspielhaus, the biggest opera house of the festival, where I saw the third of 14 scheduled performances. This cavernous venue seemed to have something to do with the loss of intimate and personal immediacy: I wondered how my experience of the show would have been different from the stadium-style bleachers set up in Cathedral Square, watching the the artists strut their time on a stage whose immensity does not threaten to eclipse them.

Eidinger is a distinctive actor whose ferocity and intensity are reflected in performances that are as gripping psychological as they are dazzling physical. Despite his pugilistic and choreographic exploits, much of his Jedermann had a note of studied, at times ironic, understatement. From my seat in row 15, a hundred yards from the stage, I felt that the subtlety of his performance was not transmitted.

Initially, the organizers of the Salzburg festival said they would leave it up to the public whether or not to wear masks during performances, as was the policy last year, during the socially distanced part of the festival. Last year, the festival halls were half full. In 2021, I was neck and neck with my fellow spectators.

But after one of the 2,179 spectators who attended the premiere of “Jedermann” tested positive for the coronavirus, the organizers reversed the course and imposed face covers for all indoor performances. (My impression of opening week is that festival-goers mostly comply, although I saw unusual ways of wearing a mask: a bald man sitting in front of me at “Richard” wore his mask on his head like a birthday hat.)

The ‘Jedermann’ infection and the festival’s swift response were a sobering reminder for Salzburg, which has now successfully opened not one but two slices of the pandemic era through thick and thin, of the health emergency. which continues to ravage the world outside this sheltered oasis In the Alps.

The Salzburg Festival continues until August 30.

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