NEW! Bregenz Festival 2016: a preview


Bregenz Festival 2016: a preview

Seventy years after the Bregenz Festival was founded, this internationally-renowned Festival will present a wide selection of events this summer, including world and Austrian premieres, the return of Turandot to the impressive stage on the lake and a restaging of the work that began the tradition of the opera on the lake stage in 1946. The nearly five-week-long festival will open on 20th July with the first performance in Austria of Faccio’s opera Hamlet (see below) at the Festspielhaus.

Princess Turandot remains very much in demand in her second season (of 23 performances) on the Bregenz stage. The first night is on 21 July. There are 3 sopranos singing the title role, Katrin Kapplusch, Mlada Khudoley and Erika Sunnegardh.  The role of Calaf will be sung by three tenors (not The Three Tenors sadly), Riccardo Massi, Arnold Rawls and Rafael Rojas. Paolo Carignani and Giuseppe Finzi conduct the Vienna Symphony Orchestra with the Prague Philharmonic Choir and Bregenz Festival Chorus.

An operatic rarity at the Festspielhaus

The opera to be staged at the Festspielhaus is a long-forgotten work, Hamlet, by the Italian composer Franco Faccio. Premiered in Genoa in 1865, the opera received only one further performance, at La Scala Milan in 1871. It was not till 2014 that it finally returned to the stage, at Opera Southwest in Albuquerque and the Bregenz Festival will be bringing it to Europe this summer. The Austrian première of the opera – based on the Shakespeare’s play– will be directed by Olivier Tambosi and the musical director will be Paolo Carignani. Tenor Pavel Černoch from Brno has been engaged for the title role.

An “Austrotragedy” at the Workshop Theatre

A new piece of music theatre, Staatsoperette – Die Austrotragödie, will be given its world premiere at the Festival. It draws on a film with the same title that was screened on Austrian TV in 1977 and touched on what was then a “national taboo” (Club2). It caused such a scandal that it was never broadcast again. In the film, composer Otto Zykan and TV producer Franz Novotny cast a harsh light on the period between the two world wars and the emergence of Austrian fascism. The film has now been adapted for the stage by Michael Mautner and Irene Suchy and will be directed at the Workshop Theatre by Bregenz-born Simon Meusburger. The leading political figures of the period will all be represented by puppets made by Nikolaus Habjan, winner of the Austrian theatre prize Nestroy. The show premieres on 2nd August and will have a second performance.

Young voices and an opera in the making

The Opera Studio, established last season by artistic director Elisabeth Sobotka, returns this year. Together with conductor Hartmut Keil and director Barbara Wysocka, the young singers in the Opera Studio will work on a production of a second opera by Mozart and his librettist da Ponte, Don Giovanni. And they will receive first-class instruction in a master-class once again directed by Brigitte Fassbaender. The project is in cooperation with the international singing competition NEUE STIMMEN, an initiative of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. How an opera comes into being is a question that the Opera Workshop – also set up last season – will continue to explore. A new work of music theatre is being created by composer Zesses Seglias and librettist Ernst Binder, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. The work is scheduled to premiere in 2017. Over the next few months the general public has a chance to follow developments at several “insight sessions” at the Kunsthaus Bregenz. The next one is on 3 December.

Music & Poetry offers tango, cabaret and a world premiere

Nikolaus Habjan will not only be appearing as the puppeteer in Staatsoperette. On the first Sunday during the festival he will present a show where he whistles opera arias artistically and humorously, supported by his puppets. The following Sunday, Music & Poetry presents its second of four concerts: the Altenberg Trio Wien will play Beethovens Pferd as well as the world premiere of the late Otto Zykan’s Triotheater. On 14 August the tenor who sings Calaf on the lake stage, Rafael Rojas, will share his passion for tango. Acclaimed at last year’s festival, soprano Measha Brueggergosman returns with a programme of cabaret songs on 7 August.

Two damaged people begin a relationship

Measha Brueggergosman can also be seen and heard in the main role of Hanna in Miroslav Srnka’s chamber opera Make no noise, which will be given its first performance in Austria at the Workshop Theatre. The opera is based on Isabel Coixet’s film The secret life of words from 2005, in which two traumatised individuals, scarred both physically and psychologically, tentatively begin a relationship. Holger Falk plays the male lead role of Joseph. The opera will be performed by Ensemble Modern. Make no noise plays on two dates, 17 & 19 August.

Orchestral concerts: an Austrian première, a first and lots of Italy

Another first performance in Austria is on the bill of the matinée concert by the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gérard Korsten: Miroslav Srnka’s Eighteen Agents. This will be followed by another first – the celebrated, locally born, young pianist Aaron Pilsan will be giving his first orchestral concert at the festival, as the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 in the Great Hall. The matinée concert concludes with Richard Strauss’s symphonic fantasy Aus Italien. There’s an all Italian programme in the third concert by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, with the overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino, Donatoni’s Duo pour Bruno and Donizetti’s Messa di Requiem, conducted by Enrique Mazzola. The orchestra’s first concert, under the baton of chief conductor Philippe Jordan, features Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The second concert, also a matinée concert, is conducted by Susanna Mälkki. The programme comprises Beethoven’s overture to Fidelio, Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 and Otto Zykan’s Violin Concerto Da drunten im Tale, played by Patricia Kopatchinskaja.

Flashback to 1946

The beginnings of the Bregenz Festival will be remembered with a performance of Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne at the very same place where, 70 years earlier, the comic opera inaugurated what was to become the opera on the Bregenz lake stage. Exactly as in the original 1946 performance, the opera will be staged on two gravel barges in the Gondelhafen marina not far from the festival grounds. An awareness of history also informs the choice of orchestra: the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra, the indirect successor of the Vorarlberg Radio Orchestra which played in that inaugural performance. The singers will come from the festival’s Opera Studio, which was set up last summer. Perhaps the most striking difference from the 1946 show will be the admission price – instead of the original price categories of 4, 9 and 12 shillings, admission to the 70th anniversary revival will be free. An opportunity to reflect on 70 years of festival history at Bregenz will be provided by an exhibition of lake stage set models from the years 1985 to 2016. The exhibition, organised in cooperation with Vorarlberg Museum, will give an insight into the evolution of the popular cultural festival since it was founded.

Colourful, creative and above all young

“Crossculture” has a wide programme of events for children and young people. In June, it will create a stage a musical story entitled Lollo about rubbish and recycling in association with the Bregenz tourist office, Vienna’s ZOOM Kindermuseum and Cologne Opera. In addition there will be workshops, tours, a week of music-making, not forgetting the highlight – the principal orchestral rehearsal of Turandot with accompanying events for youngsters. For the youngest of all Bregenz Festival fans there’s the Children’s Festival, in which playmates put together a theatre show of their own with guidance by teachers and have lots of fun in the process.

In 2017 the opera on the stage on the lake will be Carmen and the opera in the Festspielhaus will be Rossini’s Moses in Egypt.

The Bregenz Festival runs from 20 July to 21 August 2016. For tickets and information, visit or call  0043 5574 4076.

Some touristic tips: If you are considering open-air opera in the centre of Europe this summer (I’m not talking about Verona) then do consider a visit to Bregenz which nestles on the beautiful eastern shore of Lake Constance. Accessible from either Zurich (1 hour) or Munich (2 hours) Bregenz can be a spring-board for a delightful summer break or longer holiday either in the Austrian region of Vorarlberg (with a visit to Hohenems, home of the Schubertiade and its excellent Jewish Museum), or in the charming Appenzell region of Switzerland (with nearby St. Gallen and its Abbey Library – a UNESCO World Heritage site) and/or around Lake Constance itself. The nearby German town of Lindau is a gem, as is Insel Mainau near Constance, an explosion of flowers.

John Rhodes

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