ROMA ÆTERNA: Salzburg’s Whitsun Festival from 21 to 24 May 2021  

Rudolf Hradil, Porta Flaminia, watercolour, c. 2000


In 2021 Cecilia Bartoli and the Salzburg Whitsun Festival (21 – 24 May 2021) pay homage to Rome, the eternal city and her hometown. Rome has long inspired poets, composers, film-makers and painters as a metropolis of many faces: for 150 years Rome has been the capital of modern Italy and has retained its contradictory identities, of proud splendour on the one hand and decadence and decay on the other.

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‘As someone born in this city, I have always been exposed to these contrasts. When you leave your apartment in the morning in Rome, you never know when your bus will arrive or whether it will arrive at all. Nor can you foresee anything the day will bring. When I was young, I was not aware of the particular fascination Rome has for visitors. For me, it was normal to walk my dog in the park of the Villa Doria Pamphili, to drive my red Fiat Cinquecento around the Colosseum on my way to the Conservatoire, to pass an ancient aqueduct when my train left Termini station. I did not notice the pieces of white marble set into an ancient red-brick wall near my house. Nor did it cross my mind as a ten-year-old singing the shepherd in Tosca at the Rome Opera that each of the three acts was set in an actual building I had passed on my way to the theatre. Or rather, I had realized it but did not think of it as anything unusual. The awareness grew when I started to leave Rome for longer periods to follow my profession and as I deepened my knowledge of the arts and music. Suddenly, I felt the intensely moving frisson of being in touch with history when leafing through the autograph manuscript of Bellini’s Norma at the Santa Cecilia library, when first meeting living members of the Pamphili family, when singing at a church located literally in the Forum Romanum, or when I became the first woman to work with the Sistine Chapel Choir,’ says the artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival, Cecilia Bartoli.

George Frideric Handel composed his first oratorio, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, during a voyage to Italy, which brought him to Rome in 1707. The libretto was written by the influential Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili. Handel set the feelings, thoughts and actions of four allegorical persons to music in this oratorio: Beauty (Bellezza), sung by Mélissa Petit – Pleasure (Piacere), sung by Cecilia Bartoli – Disappointment (Disinganno), embodied by Lawrence Zazzo – and Time (Tempo), sung by Charles Workman. Despite the religious and allegorical concept, Pamphili tells the story of Bellezza with psychological realism. Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno is a moving, profoundly human Jedermann drama.

The new production of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio will be staged by Robert Carsen, who was responsible for the 2004 production of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier at the Salzburg Festival. Gianluca Capuano conducts, having enjoyed great acclaim for the opera Alcina at the 2019 Whitsun Festival. The orchestra, Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco, was founded by Cecilia Bartoli. The premiere takes place on 21 May at 7 pm at the Haus für Mozart; the second performance on Sunday, 23 May, at 5 pm.

Poema sinfonico is the title of the orchestral concert at the Großes Festspielhaus on Saturday at 11 am, featuring works by Ottorino Respighi and Felix Mendelssohn. Ottorino Respighi paid homage to his adopted hometown Rome: Pini di Roma – Poema sinfonico of 1924 is part of his “Roman trilogy” alongside Fontane di Roma and Feste Romane, and one of his most important works. In four movements, the symphonic poem tells a programmatic tale of the city’s silent witnesses, the Roman pines. The “Italian”, Felix Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony which he composed during a tour of Italy, will also be performed during this matinee, just like his Violin Concerto Op. 64 of 1833. Maestro Zubin Mehta conducts the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; Maxim Vengerov plays the solo part.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera seria La clemenza di Tito will be performed in concert at the Haus für Mozart on Saturday evening. The opera is set in Rome in AD 79. When the false news of the death of Emperor Tito makes the round at the beginning of the opera, the Capitol is in flames. After Mozart’s music allows the listeners to empathize with the protagonists’ painful inner processes for two acts, during the finale they witness the Emperor’s decision to remain true to his maxim of goodness and mercy. Gianluca Capuano conducts Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco. The role of Emperor Tito Vespasiano is sung by Charles Workman. Sesto, whose subservience toward the much-desired Vitellia is so blind that he is prepared to have his closest friend Tito killed, is portrayed by Cecilia Bartoli. Alongside the artistic director of the Whitsun Festival, Mélissa Petit appears as Servilia, Lea Desandre as Annio and Peter Kálmán as Publio.

Entitled Dixit dominus, a sacred concert at the Felsenreitschule on Whitsunday features works by Arcangelo Corelli, George Frideric Handel and Domenico Mazzocchi. Arcangelo Correlli, who worked in Rome, invented the Concerti grossi, in which the principle of duets between the group of soloists and the large ensemble offered an entirely new form of chamber music. Shortly before his death, Corelli encountered a young composer from Saxony who hoped to gain new inspiration from Rome, the metropolis of the arts: George Frideric Handel. He arrived in the Holy City bearing sketches of his first Italian composition, a setting of the psalm Dixit Dominus, in his luggage. His Marian cantata Donna, che in ciel was presumably commissioned by the Senate of Rome. Domenico Mazzocchi enriched Roman oratorio practice with his Sacrae concertationes – including the last of his 19 settings of Biblical texts, Concilio de’ Farisei. John Eliot Gardiner conducts his English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir.

Heinz Beck – chef at the restaurant La Pergola in Rome and winner of three Michelin stars – and the winery Ômina Romana owned by the Börner family in Velletri near Rome invite guests to a Gala Dinner with the artists of the 2021 Salzburg Whitsun Festival at the Felsenreitschule on Sunday at 8 pm.

For the Palermo-born Alessandro Scarlatti, Rome became the main centre of his working life early on in his career. Opera and theatre performances had been banned in Rome by a Papal decree in 1698, so that dramatic subjects could only be set to music if they were camouflaged as oratorios. Thus, Scarlatti’s oratorio output flourished between 1703 and 1708 and was supported by Roman cardinals. With his Cain, overo Il primo omicidio, written in 1707, Scarlatti created a masterly interpretation of the Old Testament story of the first murder in the history of humankind. Set in Italian, the language of opera, instead of the customary Latin, it renders the human drama of fraternal resentment, remorse and redemption as the consequence of the expulsion from Paradise.

This oratorio in concert is performed on Whitsun Monday at the Mozarteum Foundation’s Main Auditorium at 11 am, under the baton of Philippe Jaroussky. He conducts the Ensemble Artaserse. Kresimir Spicer sings the role of Adamo, Inga Kalna that of Eva. Bruno de Sá is heard as Abelle, Filippo Mineccia as Caino, Paul-Antoine Bénos-Dijan as Voce di Dio and Yannis François as Voce di Lucifero.

The 2021 Salzburg Whitsun Festival ends with another opera in concert, Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, performed at the Großes Festspielhaus on Monday at 3 pm. Hardly any other opera is so closely bound up with the city of Rome as Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca. Embedded in the contemporary historical background of Napoleon’s victory at the battle of Marengo in June 1800, a fictive intrigue plays out at the heart of Rome. The drama of love, jealousy and abuse of power is located in three real settings: in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese, and in the Castel Sant’Angelo. Puccini contents himself not simply with a description of the external milieu but also gives the music touches of local Roman colour: the melody of the Te Deum in the finale of Act I follows Roman liturgical use; the original pitches of the church bells around the Castel Sant’Angelo were incorporated into the prelude to Act III, and Puccini had the text of the shepherd boy’s folksong specially written in the dialect of the Campagna, the hilly region around Rome. Alongside all the opera’s extensive references to Rome it is often forgotten that it also premiered in the city, at the Teatro Costanzi on 14 January 1900. Zubin Mehta conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor. Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel appear in the main roles of Floria Tosca, Mario Cavaradossi and Barone Scarpia. In further roles, Francesco Milanese (Cesare Angelotti), Alfonso Antoniozzi (Sagrestano), Francesco Pittari (Spoletta), Giulio Mastrototaro (Sciarrone), Ernesto Panariello (Carceriere) appear, as well as Cecilia Bartoli as Un pastorello, a role she first performed at the age of ten at the Opera in Rome.

As a multi-faceted metropolis, Rome inspired not only poets, composers and painters, but also film-makers, and many important cinematic productions were set in the city. The film series Roma Amor – a collaboration with DAS KINO and the Austrian Film Museum – allows the viewer to explore many different traces the city left in cinematic masterworks. The detailed programme will be announced at a later time (click here). Tickets will be sold exclusively by DAS KINO.

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