As I already wrote about, the major traditional opera this year will be Rigoletto, directed by festival intendant Luc Bondy and conducted by Omer Meir Wellber. This will be the first part of a Rigoletto/Traviata/Trovatore trilogy that will unfold in coming years. The other big music-theater work is a new work of unclear genre by Beat Furrer, Wüstenbuch (Desert Book), with a libretto after texts by a variety of authors (including "the ancient Egyptian Papyrus Berlin 3024") and directed by Festwochen regular Christoph Marthaler. This is a coproduction with the Theater Basel and Berliner Festspiele, and has already been performed in Basel, you can read lots about it in German here. Sounds quite interesting.
A quick look at the theater program and a more detailed one on the music component ("Mahler and America") ahead. But first... the expected programming controversy.
Last week in Der Standard, director Kurt Palm wrote an opinion piece criticizing Bondy's program for focusing on the same small group of directors every year (such as Marthaler, Kriegenburg, Chéreau, Sellars, and Lepage), a group that most prominently includes the work of one Luc Bondy, productions Palm describes as originating in "Paris, Paris, or Paris." He quotes Bondy:
Unlike the essential theater routine, whose exciting products you will also be able to enjoy, the Festwochen can travel far in mind and body. It can address themes that rarely are found in our Europe, protected as it is by democracy and affluence, and can show us new forms of theater.Look to your own house, Palm says, and the statement does suggest Bondy has a somewhat restricted idea of both the state of the European populace and the range of work offered by European artists. But that doesn't mean that seeing international theater is bad, either.
The theater section is indeed dominated by the directors mentioned above. In the English-language section, Peter Sellars's entry contributes two things obligatory to any self-respecting theater festival: strange capitalization and the word "project," with the Desdemona project, to a text by Toni Morrison with songs by Roika Traoré. New York darlings the Elevator Repair Service bring The Select, their version of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Simon Stephens's English version of Jon Fosse's I Am the Wind is directed by Patrice Chéreau while Katie Mitchell directs Stephens's Wastwater. And from Canada Met "favorite" Robert Lepage has The Far Side of the Moon.
In German, Frank Castorf directs Dostoyevsky's The Gambler, Dea Loher's Diebe (Thieves) gets the Andreas Kriegenberg treatment, and director David Marton brings his "boundary-less" Rheingold from the Staatsschauspiel Dresden. And in French we have the annual Bondy production from Paris, namely Les Chaises (The Chairs) of Ionesco. That's only a quick survey, though, and completely leaves out an interesting array of Asian productions, dance events, and the festival sidebars "Into the City" and "forum festwochen ff." You can check out the full program here (though attempts to download the program book are currently met with a 404 error).
The title of the music program, "Mahler and America" seems to mean a focus on Mahler and a focus on America, not a focus on what Mahler did while he was in America. This is understandable, because Mahler wasn't Dvorák when it came to Americana. And the "festival" seems to entail calling a month of the usual stuff at the Konzerthaus a festival, though the theme is somewhat in evidence. Mahler performances include the Wiener Philharmoniker and Daniel Harding in the Symphony No. 4, Jonathan Nott's Bamberger Symphoniker in the rare Symphony No. 7, the Wiener Symphoniker and Fabio Luisi in the Symphony No. 3, and Ian Bostridge with the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.
American performances are fewer, but include the Pacifica Quartet with Elliott Carter, George Crumb, and the expected appearance of Dvorák's "American" Quartet. The Wiener Klaviertrio is playing some Copland, who is very, very rarely heard in Vienna. Violinist Carolin Widmann includes some Morton Feldman in her accompanist-less recital.
Performances both Maherlian AND American include the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas playing Mahler's Symphonies No. 2, 6, and 9 as well as Henry Cowell and the Berg Violin Concerto. Because Berg, why not!
Performances involving nothing by Mahler nor anything American include the Wiener Symphoniker in Liszt's Faust-Symphonie (cool!), later in the Rach Symphony No. 2 and Ravel Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Hélène Grimaud, cooler!), the Quatour Mosaïques with a string quartet by Ambroise Thomas (nooooo!), and the Hagen Quartett and Kirill Gerstein with Brahms's Piano Quintet. Piano recitals are particularly strong with two Liszt-centric recitals by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, a Schubert program by András Schiff, and Chopin and Schubert (including the Sonata in B-flat) by Maurizio Pollini. You can bet I will be using my member privileges for an early ticket to that last one. And a lot of the rest of the program includes no Americana or Mahleriana either, you can see it in full here.
Tickets go on sale for the theater events on February 2, though presale orders are already being taken. Musikfest events are handled along the Konzerthaus's usual ticket policies.