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With El Sistema during the summer of 2013, Artistic Director Alexander Pereira brought a project to Salzburg which is unique throughout the world in its social and artistic success. Similar to the Festival’s founder Max Reinhardt, whose intention was to create a festival “not as a luxury for the rich and sated, but as food for the needy”, one conviction stood at the beginning of the project of José Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema and speaker of the Festival’s 2013 keynote address: “Physical poverty is vanquished by the spiritual richness of music.”  The movement which began in 1975 has enabled more than two million children in Venezuela so far to learn an instrument and play in the country’s ensembles and orchestras, giving them new perspectives on life. 1,400 children and teenagers travelled to Salzburg to make music in 14 concerts with conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel – presumably the most famous student of El Sistema – and Sir Simon Rattle.

The 2013 opera programme was dedicated to the anniversaries of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. Concert performances of early works by both, Wagner’s Rienzi and Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco and Nabucco, demonstrated parallels between these competitors born during the same year: all three works deal with mankind’s striving for liberty, with hubris and destruction. Decades later, Friedrich Schiller, whom both composers admired, provided Verdi with the tale of his Don Carlo. Director Peter Stein and conductor Antonio Pappano, who collaborated on a new version including chorus scenes never before performed, made this opera the incomparable Festival event of the 2013 season.  Richard Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was written at the same time as Verdi’s Don Carlo. Stefan Herheim’s production invited Festival visitors to enter a fantastic world of German 19th century romanticism; Daniele Gatti conducted the Vienna Philharmonic. The 2013 season’s fourth Verdi opera was his mature work Falstaff, directed by Damiano Michieletto and conducted – with an instrumentation reminiscent of chamber music – by Zubin Mehta.

2013 also saw the launch of a new cycle of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s and Lorenzo da Ponte’s operas. Christoph Eschenbach and Sven-Eric Bechtolf began their cycle with the last of the three operas, Così fan tutte. The summer playbill also included a co-production with the Mozarteum Foundation, Lucio Silla. Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, a revival from the Whitsun Festival featuring Cecilia Bartoli, repeated its success and was widely celebrated during the summer. The opera programme opened with a work of timeless modernism – Harrison Birtwistle’s Gawain. This production at the Felsenreitschule was the opera’s first staging since its world premiere at the Royal Opera House in London in 1991. Heading the leading team, Ingo Metzmacher and Alvis Hermanis here continued their groundbreaking work on Die Soldaten in 2012, for which they had won overwhelming acclaim from audience and press.

The centrepiece of the Salzburg Festival, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann, was performed in a new production during the summer of 2013 – only the eleventh since 1920. Sven-Eric Bechtolf thinks that the reluctance to refurbish the piece has much to do with the overpowering model provided by Max Reinhardt and the lack of success of previous attempts at renewal, for example Bertolt Brecht’s. Sven-Eric Bechtolf, on the other hand, promulgates ever-new readings of the Jedermann fable: “Even at its premiere at Circus Schumann in 1911, Jedermann was not timely – this lack of timeliness is what makes it attractive. Not because of Hofmannsthal’s anti-modernist, restorationist and Catholic as well as nationalist outlook, but because of the simplicity of his original. […] Jedermann stood at the beginning of the Salzburg Festival. Max Reinhardt and Hofmannsthal bequeathed it to us. We must explore this heritage and form a relationship with it, trying to evaluate and prove the validity and suitability of the tale, both of which I believe in, personally.” The directors Brian Mertes and Julian Crouch, whose roots lie within the American and British theatre tradition, have offered such proof of the tale’s validity in a breathtaking manner. Inspired by medieval mystery plays and making reference to the world premiere in Salzburg and the Festival founders’ ideas, they have created an interpretation of the work which emphasises the tale’s simplicity and direct appeal without reducing the play’s fundamental themes. The Jedermann ensemble’s procession from the Festspielhaus to Cathedral Square before each performance has added a unique homage to Max Reinhardt’s motto “All the city is a stage”.

Following another tradition initiated by Max Reinhardt, who donated the net proceeds of the first Jedermann performances in 1920 to Salzburg’s organization for aid to war invalids, the dress rehearsal of the 2013 Jedermann was opened to Salzburg’s citizens and Festival visitors. On that day, the artists performed without a fee, and the net proceeds of € 95,000 were donated to the “ORF Direct Flood Aid”.

In the drama department, Friedrich Schiller’s play Die Jungfrau von Orleans offered a dramaturgical link to the opera programme. Nestroy’s Lumpazivagabundus was performed at the Perner-Insel in 2013 – the “dissolute threesome”, Nicholas Ofczarek as Cobbler Knieriem, Michael Maertens as Tailor Zwirn and Florian Teichtmeister as Carpenter Leim, won storms of applause from audiences and critics alike. Director Henry Mason combined Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s incidental music at the Residenz Courtyard – an impressive symbiosis of acting, singing, dance and music. 

Launching the concert programme, the 2013 Ouverture spirituelle gave listeners insight into the Shinto-Buddhist world view. Suffice it to name the cycle of Mahler Symphonies and the oratorios of Joseph Haydn under the baton of Nikolaus Harnoncourt – two highlights of the summer’s concert programme.

The 2013 programme of the Salzburg Festival offered 280 events on 45 days at 14 performance venues in the genres opera, concerts and drama; drawing 286,301 visitors, it broke all previous attendance records.