SALZBURG, Austria — A go to to the Salzburg Competition has been a summer time custom for Jos Baeck for practically half a century.
“This 12 months we mentioned that even with Corona we’re coming to Salzburg,” mentioned Mr. Baeck, 71, on a current afternoon on this metropolis’s historic middle. He had traveled from Belgium with a buddy who has been attending the competition even longer.
“The competition is essential to us,” mentioned Mr. Baeck. “It’s worthwhile to admire Helga Rabl-Stadler,” Mr. Baeck mentioned, referring to the competition’s longtime president. “She persevered.”
As cultural occasions worldwide have been known as off due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Salzburg Competition surprised many onlookers in late May by announcing that it would go ahead with a scaled-down program to celebrate its centennial. The festival, which runs through Aug. 30, began last weekend with new productions of operas by Mozart and Richard Strauss, plus the world premiere of a play by the Austrian writer Peter Handke, who won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Visitors from 78 countries made up the festival’s audience in 2019, according to a festival spokeswoman; this year’s edition is smaller and less international in scope. Americans, Russians and visitors from many Asian countries, who usually make up a significant portion of the audience, are largely absent, because they are barred from entering the European Union or would have to quarantine on arrival.
But while the 2020 Salzburg Festival may not have such a global audience, it has commanded the world’s attention by forging ahead against all odds.
New regulations notwithstanding — including compulsory masks, half-full theaters and no intermissions — it often felt like business as usual: a bustling festival for a wealthy and elegant audience amid the grandeur of the Alpine landscape.
“Salzburg is like a rock in turbulent waters,” said Frank Sellentin, 57, who has attended the festival since 1993. He added that the event could serve as a model for cultural activities in Berlin, where he works. “Art must remain a part of life. If circumstances demand that it be presented differently, you need to at least try to figure out what that could look like.”
There was something gently surreal to the combination of opulent evening gowns and surgical masks. According to an announcement before each performance, masks can be removed while the show is in progress, although keeping your face covered at all times is recommended. Many audience members kept their masks on.
Even with a drastically reduced number of tickets — 80,000 instead of 242,000 — very few performances are sold out. In the festival venues, every other seat is left free. At one performance, a woman in back of me was furious that she could not sit alongside her partner. “This is a mistake,” she hissed before trying unsuccessfully to pry open the roped-off seat.
On Saturday, in 90-degree heat, the festival opened with a new production of “Elektra.” Richard Strauss’s one-act 1909 opera was given a visually bold and psychologically probing staging by the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski.
At the center of this “Elektra” were two remarkable Lithuanian sopranos. Ausrine Stundyte, making her festival and role debut in the punishing lead, was an uncommonly vulnerable Elektra; Asmik Grigorian, whose sensational Salome here in 2018 shot her to instant stardom, co-starred as her sister, Chrysothemis.
Along with the conductor Franz Welser-Möst, who has led the Cleveland Orchestra for the past 18 years, Mr. Warlikowski successfully explored the hidden layers in these characters. Instead of a shrill harpy, Ms. Stundyte’s Elektra was a broken, often insecure, figure. In a twist by Mr. Warlikowski, she assisted her brother Orest in killing their mother and her lover, then washed the bodies for burial.
Immediately after the premiere, all 110 performers in the Vienna Philharmonic, which had been accompanying “Elektra,” took tests for the coronavirus, a process they are undertaking regularly during their stay in Salzburg. All tested negative, according to Mr. Welser-Möst, who explained in an interview that his experience working at the festival has been instructive as he looks ahead to his next season in Cleveland.
“Elektra” was one of seven operas originally announced for the festival’s centennial this year (the other six have been postponed until next summer) and the production was well underway when the scaled-down 2020 festival got the go-ahead. Things looked wildly different for the festival’s second opera premiere, a hastily assembled “Così Fan Tutte” that came together in just one month.
Christof Loy, the director, worked with the conductor Joana Mallwitz to prepare a shortened version of the score that would work as an intermission-less performance. Sunday night’s premiere clocked in at little more than two hours.
Mr. Loy’s minimal production played out on a stark white set, but the direction was thoughtful and robust. Make no mistake: This was a fully staged production, one that both looked and sounded remarkable. Nothing felt like a compromise.
“Così’s” plot, in which two men disguise themselves to test their fiancées’ fidelity, can often come across as both improbable and cynical. But Mr. Loy amplified the emotional stakes by revealing the complex passions that animate the characters.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 4, 2020
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules known as antibodies, that are protecting proteins made in response to an an infection. These antibodies might final within the physique only two to three months, which can appear worrisome, however that’s completely regular after an acute an infection subsides, mentioned Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard College. It could be potential to get the coronavirus once more, however it’s extremely unlikely that it could be potential in a brief window of time from preliminary an infection or make folks sicker the second time.
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- The stimulus payments enacted in March supply assist for the thousands and thousands of American small companies. These eligible for assist are companies and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 staff, together with sole proprietorships, unbiased contractors and freelancers. Some bigger corporations in some industries are additionally eligible. The assistance being supplied, which is being managed by the Small Enterprise Administration, contains the Paycheck Safety Program and the Financial Harm Catastrophe Mortgage program. However a lot of people haven’t but seen payouts. Even those that have obtained assist are confused: The foundations are draconian, and a few are caught sitting on cash they don’t know learn how to use. Many small-business homeowners are getting lower than they anticipated or not listening to something in any respect.
What are my rights if I’m frightened about going again to work?
Ought to I refinance my mortgage?
- It could possibly be a good suggestion, as a result of mortgage charges have by no means been decrease. Refinancing requests have pushed mortgage functions to among the highest ranges since 2008, so be ready to get in line. However defaults are additionally up, so should you’re eager about shopping for a house, bear in mind that some lenders have tightened their requirements.
What’s college going to appear like in September?
- It’s unlikely that many colleges will return to a traditional schedule this fall, requiring the grind of on-line studying, makeshift baby care and stunted workdays to proceed. California’s two largest public college districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — mentioned on July 13, that instruction can be remote-only within the fall, citing issues that surging coronavirus infections of their areas pose too dire a danger for college students and academics. Collectively, the 2 districts enroll some 825,000 college students. They’re the biggest within the nation thus far to desert plans for even a partial bodily return to lecture rooms once they reopen in August. For different districts, the answer gained’t be an all-or-nothing method. Many systems, together with the nation’s largest, New York Metropolis, are devising hybrid plans that contain spending some days in lecture rooms and different days on-line. There’s no nationwide coverage on this but, so verify together with your municipal college system usually to see what is going on in your group.
Essential to the success of his idea have been the concerned performances he coaxed from a fantastic forged of thrilling younger Mozart singers. Elsa Dreisig and Marianne Crebassa have been radiant as the 2 sisters whose steadfastness is put to the take a look at by their boastful fiancés, compelling sung with each ardor and swagger by Andrè Schuen and Bogdan Volkov.
Leopold and Christine Sever had pushed from Klagenfurt, Austria, 125 miles away, to attend the premiere on Saturday. “As you see, we’re taking the mandatory precautions,” Mr. Sever, 72, mentioned, indicating a plastic visors that he and his spouse had simply eliminated to take a selfie.
“However we completely wished to see this,” he mentioned, including that they have been longtime Salzburg attendees. Neither expressed any concern about security. “Everyone seems to be respecting the distancing measures,” added Mrs. Sever, 69.
The Salzburg viewers skews towards the older crowd that is without doubt one of the demographics at highest danger from Covid-19. Nonetheless, the sense of safety expressed by the Severs mirrored the temper over the opening weekend.
“We’re right here and issues work,” mentioned Igor Levit, the German pianist who’s performing a whole cycle of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas all through the competition.
“Each single human being within the corridor is aware of the chance and duty that they’ve,” Mr. Levit mentioned after Monday evening’s live performance, the second of eight. He had tackled the wide-ranging program with attribute technical brilliance and emotional engagement.
“This may work in a society that takes the minimal of duty,” Mr. Levit mentioned, praising Germany and Austria’s method to dealing with the virus and taking intention at the USA for its bungled response.
He added that the Salzburg Competition was “a really privileged surroundings,” which appears past dispute. Nonetheless, the state of affairs right here, as on the planet at massive, stays extremely unsure. On Monday, Markus Hinterhäuser, the competition’s inventive director, appeared nonetheless to be holding his breath. There’s no assure that the competition will make it to the top of August, he mentioned in an interview: A flare-up of the virus might cease it in its tracks.
“However with out exaggeration,” he added, “this weekend is already written within the historical past of the Salzburg Competition.”
“No one believed that this was potential,” he mentioned. It’s exhausting to disagree.