Everyone who was present at Rolando Villazón’s first press conference in 2018 as the new artistic director of the Salzburg Mozart Week was captivated by the conviction with which he presented the programme and elaborated his ideas for the coming five years. “Mozart Lives!” is the overall theme and as a true Mozartian, Villazón stated that he wanted to go back to the roots of the Mozart Week when it was founded in 1956 when all the concert programmes contained music exclusively by Mozart. For Villazón a Mozart Week focusing entirely on Mozart is perfectly logical as there are so many facets of the man and musician to be explored, and as Villazón hopes, by as many people as possible, young and old.
The Mozart Week in January in Salzburg revolving around Mozart’s birthday on 27th, has a very loyal public who come from about 50 countries from far and wide but mostly from Europe. There was noticeably more Mexican-Spanish to be heard among audiences attending the concerts which actually take place over eleven days; Rolando Villazón obviously has many fans from his country of birth. Yet one of his main concerns and declared aims was to take theatre and music to young people and to those who would not normally find their way into an opera or concert house. To do this he involved venues and institutions more associated with so-called ‘off-theatre’ productions, a venture that was hugely successful, in particular Mozart’s Amazing Shadows, a shadow theatre production staged in the Oval Theatre at Salzburg’s major shopping centre known as Europark. Or the brilliant Australian mime artist Nola Rae who performed an enchanting 90-minute biography of Mozart in the venue known as the ‘republic’, home of the Szene Salzburg alternative festival. Without uttering a single word but with taped music and sound effects and a small selection of props she enthralled and amused audiences first with her portrayal of father Leopold’s astonishment at the genius of his little son who brilliantly elaborated the theme of a piano sonata he played to him, or as part of an exam played the keyboard blindfold, and on extended journeys delighted emperors, queens and princes at royal courts throughout Europe. Later on in the show, audiences experienced the adult Mozart with his beloved wife Constanze and how he was always keen to impress her with his appearance and his music. Of course only a few select scenes from Mozart’s biography were portrayed but Nola Rae’s sensitive and humorous performance prompted a spontaneous standing ovation.
This year’s Mozart Week also included a revival from 2006 of a production by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre of The Impresario / Bastien und Bastienne, a fascinating opportunity to see the world-famous marionettes interacting with human beings and performing with live musicians and vocal soloists.The idea of working the pastoral comedy of Bastien and Bastienne into the framework of The Impresario where the roles had to be cast, exemplified the skill and artistry of the puppeteers. The ‘audition’ consisted of walking across the stage, portraying a love-scene with a chair and an attempted suicide – all of which produced laughter among the audience. Next year the Salzburg Marionette Theatre will present a new production evolved especially for the Mozart Week.
The contrast between the simple and imaginative staging of the Marionette Theatre or the impact created by mime artist Nola Rae could hardly be greater when compared with the complex and spectacular production T.H.A.M.O.S. mounted in the Felsenreitschule by Carlus Padrissa and the Catalan troupe La Fura dels Baus. ‘Less is more’ was probably in the minds of many people in the audience who were baffled and even overwhelmed by an overdose of technology with astonishing video effects, 3D projections, laser show, pyrotechnics, figures flying through the air and running up and down the walls of the Felsenreitschule rather like an up-market circus. Instead of highlighting Mozart’s wonderful incidental music to the heroic drama Thamos, and showing that it contained many of the ideas he used later for The Magic Flute, as was the intention, it was submerged by superfluous stage effects.
Concerts by the Capella Andrea Barca with Sir András Schiff and mezzo-soprano soloist Cecilia Bartoli, the Vienna Philharmonic, or the Hagen Quartet can, however, be relied upon to reconcile even the most disgruntled members of the audience who may well have distinct ideas about how Mozart should sound. Their superb interpretations of Mozart’s symphonic, chamber and vocal music never fail to produce superlatives and above all smiling faces. During this year’s Mozart Week the Capella Andrea Barca – the ensemble András Schiff brought together in 1999 for the seven-year project of performing all Mozart’s Piano Concertos – was awarded the Mozart Medal for its services to music. Next year the partnership embarks on another major project: concert performances of the Da Ponte operas, starting with The Marriage of Figaro and scenically directed by Rolano Villazón.
The serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) is one of Mozart’s most frequently performed pieces and often misused for advertising and jingles. When played by the Vienna Philharmonic in their concert without a conductor it sounded completely new and fresh with perfect tempi and phrasing, allowing the work’s charming elegance to shine through. Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova has a loyal and huge following for her interpretation of opera roles in particular at the Vienna State Opera; here during the Mozart Week the close rapport between soloist and the Vienna Philharmonic was a highlight of her portrayal of roles from Figaro, Il re pastore and La clemenza di Tito.
Much discussion about the ‘right’ Mozart interpretation does go on during the Mozart Week – period instruments including Mozart’s own violin, viola and fortepiano, versus modern, and audiences have the chance to compare and hear the difference performed by the world’s leading Mozart ensembles and soloists. Combined with the unique opportunity to view autograph scores, in other words Mozart’s own handwriting, make the Salzburg Mozart Week the best festival in the world for trying to understand this unfathomable composer. Artistic director Rolando Villazón was present at most concerts, and in some cases in his inimitable way gave an introduction to the artists and works on the programme. He makes no secret of the fact that he regards Mozart as his best friend – he has read most of Mozart’s letters and biographies, and with his boundless enthusiasm is well on the way to gaining many more friends for Mozart and for the Mozart Week in Salzburg.