MUSIC / A change for the better?: David Patrick Stearns on tradition and innovation at the Salzburg Festival

THOUGH few would dispute that the tradition-encrusted Salzburg Festival needs changing, far fewer would have ever predicted artists such as Peter Sellars, Pierre Boulez, Luc Bondy and other perpetually forward-looking artists would appear on the hallowed soil once trodden by Mozart, Karajan and Furtwangler. But despite all the talk of cancellations - Riccardo Muti, Marilyn Horne and Edita Gruberova withdrew for artistic reasons, while Jessye Norman and Cheryl Studer had health problems - Salzburg audiences have seemed reasonably receptive to the innovations brought in by the Festival's controversial new director, Gerard Mortier.

And there is a lot of novelty to take in. Besides relatively recent works, such as Boulez's still-in- progress Repons and Messiaen's 1983 St Francois d'Assise, there are older works that never cease to challenge listeners, such as Janacek's From the House of the Dead and the programme of volatile Gesualdo and Monteverdi madrigals by Les Arts Florissants.

The only thing that seemed to really upset anybody was Peter Sellars' staging for St Francois, which was greeted with boos and cheers - but that's to be expected. And though the Los Angeles Philharmonic was critically castigated in the first concert of its month-long residency for daring to play the 'Emperor Waltz' on the Hallowed Soil - the conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, admitted that it was something of an irreverent gesture - all seemed forgiven at the close of St Francois, when Salonen and the orchestra received roaring approval. And with good reason: far swifter and more cogent than Seiji Ozawa at the 1983 Paris premiere, Salonen revealed the music's clarity, simplicity and open-heartedness as no one before. Jose van Dam sings the title role with greater eloquence than nine years ago, and Dawn Upshaw was born to play the Angel.

The opera is often thought of as an oratorio in disguise, but Sellars showed how dramatic it can be, even in the most contemplative moments. He didn't always know how to use Georges Tsypin's stage designs (a skeletal cathedral, a huge grid of fluorescent lights and dozens of video monitors), but there were unforgettable moments: when St Francis received the stigmata, he lay with blood dripping down the stage, illuminated by pulsating lights and with the monitors stacked like crosses with fire on their screens.

Bondy's production of Strauss's Salome also provoked the eye and mind, but in a more consistently brilliant way. He freely mixed periods - Hanna Schwarz's Herodias looked like Joan Collins in Dynasty, while Bryn Terfel's Jokanaan wore animal skins - but did so purposefully. The characters were so vividly etched that you hardly remember what the production looked like. Catherine Malfitano's agonised Salome was nothing like her performance on the Teldec video from the Deutsche Oper Berlin; though still not vocally lustrous, she has discovered tremendous power in restraint and detail, especially in a heartbreaking 'Dance of the Seven Veils', choreographed by Lucinda Childs.

The only real flaws in the festival were the more traditional offerings - Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten, conducted by Sir Georg Solti and produced by Gotz Friedrich, and Janacek's From the House of the Dead, conducted by Claudio Abbado and produced by Klaus Michael Gruber. In both cases, the Vienna Philharmonic seemed determined to show off its loud, glorious self, to the detriment of a total artistic statement. In an extravagantly written piece such as Die Frau ohne Schatten, that's not so bad, particularly with Solti finding so many new colours in the score and drawing literate, refined performances from singers such as Marjana Lipovsek (the Nurse), Ellen Shade (The Empress) and Robert Hale (Barak). Friedrich also delivered a refreshingly spacious, uncluttered production that allowed the singers to tell the story.

However, From the House of the Dead was a mistake. Abbado tore through the score, missing much of its dramatic underpinning, while Gruber's static staging ignored much of the story's grit and terror. As Goryanshikov, Nicolai Ghiaurov calmly sauntered offstage to receive a whipping; Philip Langridge, as Shishkov, sang confession of his wife's murder as though it were a Hugo Wolf Lied. Of course, mixing progressive and traditional artists and repertoire must continue if the festival is to be strong and varied, but this Janacek production illustrates the crucial importance of knowing who belongs in what camp.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas