Somber and Somber Proposals at Two Summer Festivals


ESSEN, Germany — Few in Europe’s constellation of performing arts festivals make a more contrasting couple than the Salzburg Festival and the Ruhrtriennale.

The differences start with the settings of the events. Mozart’s picturesque hometown of Salzburg, located in the Alps, is located in the geographical center of Europe. The Ruhr region, Germany’s rust belt, is relatively isolated. Salzburg boasts stunning mountain views, an old town and a fairytale castle. The Ruhr area is a connected web of boring post-industrial cities.

The Salzburg Festival often hosts well-heeled visitors from over 80 countries, while the Ruhrtriennale heavily caters to locals with subsidized tickets.

But despite all their differences, the two festivals share a bit of DNA.

When Flemish impresario Gerard Mortier founded the Ruhrtriennale in 2002, he had been rocking for a decade as artistic director of the Salzburg Festival. While his time there is now seen as a golden age, Mortier’s attempts to push the festival in a more artistically audacious direction have proven. wildly contentious at the time. When Mortier arrived in the Ruhr region, his new festival gave him the opportunity to carry out large-format experiments that he would never have been able to achieve in Salzburg.

Twenty years later, the Salzburg Festival’s opera and concert roster has recaptured the boundary-pushing and avant-garde mood of the “Mortier era”. However, the festival’s dramatic schedule struggled to keep up.

Salzburg’s outdoor production “jederman”, a morality play written by the festival’s co-founder Hugo von Hofmannsthal, is the event’s oldest tradition. In recent years, very little of the other works of the Austrian poet and playwright have been staged there. But this summer, as part of the festival’s ongoing centennial celebrations, Hofmannsthal’s “Falun Mine” took center stage.

Written in 1899 but never performed during its author’s lifetime, “The Falun Mine” is a ghost story written in the sharp lyrical language of Hofmannsthal’s best early work. It tells the story of a miner besieged by strange ghosts and swallowed by a mountain on his wedding day, and is overwhelmed with symbolism, much of it enigmatic in Swiss director Jossi Wieler’s somber production.

From a revolving stage filled with cinder blocks, the actors proclaimed their lines in a very decent tone. It was often seen that the game itself was buried alive under the rubble.

A theatrical death knell also rang for Salzburg’s new production by Friedrich Schiller.Maria StuartDespite some strong imagery, the stripped-down staging of Martin Kusej’s co-production with Vienna’s Burgtheater (of which Kusej is artistic director) failed, thanks to a silent chorus of 30 nude male artists or a single swinging light bulb, sabotaged by excessive acting was done. from almost every member.

The atmosphere of gloom and apocalypse seemed to radiate like a fog from Salzburg to the Ruhr, where a number of the region’s “industrial cathedrals” – disused factories repurposed as theatres. At the beginning of the Ruhrtriennale it had a haunted quality.

This summer’s show is the second woman to run the festival after Stefanie Carp and the first of three programs overseen by Swiss director Barbara Frey. problematic tenure It was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Building on Frey’s work thus far, he seems determined to bring the Ruhrtriennale back to the provocative and artistically unpredictable spirit of its founder.

In its own productionfall of the House of Usher,“The building in question Maschinenhalle Zweckel, the powerhouse of a former coal mine in the city of Gladbeck. In this ominous spectacle, another co-production with Burgtheater, consisting of eight connected artists, told five chilling stories of Poe in German, English and Hungarian. They took delight in the melancholy prose of the American writer with ceremonial precision.

This suffocating atmosphere of sadness is turned cheerfully eerie with “Feast of the Lambs,” a musical theater piece written by Nobel Prize-winning author Elfriede Jelinek and composer Olga Neuwirth. Based on a play by British writer Leonora Carrington, this is a tale of madness and familial collapse, just like “Usher.”

Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd, directors of Dublin-based theater company Dead Center, filled the cave. Jahrhunderthalle, an old gas power plant in the city of Bochum, with a dazzling production, trippy video projections complete with falling snow and a blood-red lake, effectively blurring the boundaries between human and human as well as the boundaries between internal and external fears. animal brutality. (one can watch streaming performance on the festival website).

As with “Usher,” the whimsical spirit of “Lambs” was tied to artistic seriousness and skill. Things looked very different for “.a divine comedyBy Florentina Holzinger. This young Viennese choreographer, extreme performances Those who deconstruct the history of dance and sexualized representations of the female body.

His latest Dante-inspired outing combines onstage hypnosis, athletic performances, slapstick routines, action painting and pornographic situations with a visible ending. To use Kraftzentrale, a huge old power station in the city of Duisburg, Holzinger and a bunch of nude female artists stood up for the better part of two hours, often to thunderous music.

Holzinger is part of the new artist team at Berlin’s Volksbühne, where “A Divine Comedy” will transfer in late September. A full three-ring horror circus that is mostly boring. I didn’t buy Holzinger’s willfully overkill show, but I was apparently in the minority: the only thing that really shocked me about “Divine Comedy” was how much the audience loved it.

I felt there was a work of art connected to humanity in the Ruhrtriennale – and it wasn’t in a theatre.

Over the past decade, Swiss artist Mats Staub has conducted hundreds of interviews with people of various ages and backgrounds.21 — Memories of GrowthIt was installed in a turbine hall in Bochum. The video interviews spanning 50 different stations offer various reflections on maturity, independence and happiness. The project feels like an archive of human efforts and the possibility of rebirth.

Renovation was the motto of founding both the Salzburg Festival and the Ruhrtriennale. In 1920 this meant restoring and preserving European culture after the Great War and the loss of the Habsburg Empire; It meant reviving a depressed, post-industrial corner of Germany at the turn of the millennium.

While the offerings presented on stage at both events this year may seem brutally brutal, they at least reflect the struggles of our time. Yet we can also desperately use a refresh as we cautiously adapt to living with a pandemic in the foreseeable future.

The Salzburg Festival continues until 31 August.

The Ruhrtriennale runs until 25 September.


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