Salzburg Festival Explores Music of Human Passion

Posted July 17, 2018 4:11 p.m. EDT

The Salzburg Festival transforms the baroque city with everything from star-studded chamber evenings to experimental theater productions. This year’s program (Friday to Aug. 30) revolves around human passion, both religious and worldly.

Krzysztof Penderecki’s modern oratorio “St. Luke Passion” opens both the festival and the concert series “Ouverture Spirituelle,” with Kent Nagano leading the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Krakow Philharmonic Chorus and Warsaw Boys Choir. The series will go on to rediscover the Shostakovich protégé Galina Ustvolskaya.

The festival’s artistic director, Markus Hinterhäuser, champions her music solo at the piano and in duets with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, which are juxtaposed with Liszt’s “Via Crucis,” for which pianist Igor Levit joins the Bavarian Radio Chorus.

On the opera stage, the Vienna Philharmonic appears in four new productions. Nagano returns for Hans Werner Henze’s “The Bassarids.” Originally commissioned for the festival, it had its premiere in 1966. Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski presides over the drama about the fatal struggle of King Pentheus (Russell Braun) to resist Dionysus (Sean Panikkar).

Carrying on Salzburg’s Mozart tradition, young American director Lydia Steier takes on “The Magic Flute,” in which beauty and wisdom triumph over darkness. The cast includes emerging star Mauro Peter as Tamino and international soloist Matthias Goerne as Sarastro, while Klaus Maria Brandauer, a festival veteran, steps into the newly created role of narrator.

Artist-turned-director Romeo Castellucci brings what he describes as a “minimal” aesthetic to Strauss’ “Salome” under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst, while veterans Hans Neuenfels and Mariss Jansons join for Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades.” Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” brings ensemble Les Arts Florissants under William Christie together with director, set designer and choreographer Jan Lauwers, who seeks to connect the ruthless sexual politics of Roman mistress Poppea (Sonya Yoncheva) with contemporary society.

Among the guest orchestras, the London Symphony Orchestra appears with its recently installed music director Simon Rattle in a program of Bernstein, Dvorak and Janacek, while the Berlin Philharmonic flexes its muscles in Beethoven and Strauss under Kirill Petrenko, who will soon be its artistic director. The Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra performs Webern, Dvorak and Stravinsky under Lorenzo Viotti, winner of the 2015 Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award.

Complementing “The Queen of Spades,” the music of Tchaikovsky appears in three chamber concerts including members of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Modigliani Quartet as well as a song recital with soprano Christiane Karg. A miniseries devoted to Swiss-Austrian composer Beat Furrer features the ensemble Klangforum Wien in chamber and dramatic works such as “Begehren” (Desire), which explores the Orpheus myth.

There is also no lack of early music, from Schütz’s “Musical Exequien” (Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale Gent) to sacred chants by Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria.