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The last absolutist ruler and his world famous stars

Herbert von Karajan opened the newly built Grosses Festspielhaus on 26 July 1960 with a performance of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and inaugurated a new era: from then onwards a huge auditorium was able to seat a capacity audience of over 2,200 visitors. Excellent sight lines were guaranteed from all seats, the proscenium measuring 32 metres and the total width of the stage measuring over 100 metres was at the time the largest in the world. It was not primarily intended to perform the Mozart repertoire in the Grosses Festspielhaus but the most popular 19th century operas with of course the world’s best singers. Verdi’s Il Trovatore (1962), Otello (1970), Don Carlo (1975), Aida (1979), Falstaff (1981), Macbeth (1984) and Un ballo in maschera (1989) were performed here as well as Bizet’s Carmen (1966, 1985), Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (1965) and Les contes d’Hoffmann by Offenbach (1980). Even though from the autumn of 1960 Karajan was no longer the sole artistic director but from 1964 a member of the directorate, it was nevertheless he who always pulled all the strings and took the most important decisions, like “the last absolutist ruler”, as stated in an obituary after his death in 1989. Karajan made the Salzburg Festival much more international. Whereas in the previous decades the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera had dominated the cast lists, Salzburg now became the meeting point of the polyglot stars who were at home on the world’s major stages from Milan to New York: Giuseppe Taddei, Ettore Bastianini, Franco Corelli, Leontyne Price, Jon Vickers, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Mirella Freni, Plácido Domingo, Agnes Baltsa, José Carreras and Anna Tomowa-Sintow. This attracted many guests from abroad, whereby the presence of the international jet set as reflected in the media made its mark on the image of the festival and indeed characterised it despite the fact that music enthusiasts and true opera devotees still made up the majority of visitors. The Salzburg Festival progressed not least to become one of the most important economic factors in the region – the multiplier effect was the new magic formula.

Details of the several years:

1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989,