History of Bregenz Festival
Origin an Genesis
After an interval of one year necessitated by the corona pandemic, the Bregenz Festival brought Rigoletto back to the lake stage. This decision went down well with the festival audience. With tickets selling to 99% of capacity, the management were delighted by a successful second run for Philipp Stölzl’s production.
The summer festival opened with a rarely performed work, Nero by the composer and librettist Arrigo Boito. The opera, about one of the most notorious figures in history, had a three-evening run in the Festspielhaus. Olivier Tambosi’s spectacular production was seen by 3,840 visitors, which corresponds to 83 percent capacity.
An interdisciplinary film opera entitled Upload – an international co-production – received its first performance in Austria at the Werkstattbühne. In it the composer, librettist and director Michel van der Aa explores the question of uploading one’s consciousness in order to carry on living after death, and probes what implications that might have.
In July, Festival-goers were able to discover a new perspective on Heinrich von Kleist’s historical novella Michael Kohlhaas. The production by Andreas Kriegenburg was experienced by a total of 1,280 visitors.
The latest play by the Vienna-born author Bernhard Studlar links up characters and places in a fast-paced, witty and surprising way. The play, Lohn der Nacht (“wages of the night”), was named winner of the Austrian Theatre Alliance competition and was very positively received in Bregenz.
The all-round audio-visual experience was presented in the Werkstattbühne in a performance space designed by artist Flaka Haliti with 172 organ pipes. Alexander Moosbrugger's opera Wind was premiered in this setting.
Standing ovations plus a polka as an encore brought to a close the eight-day series of artistic events called Festtage im Festspielhaus on 22 August. The final concert by the Vienna Philharmonic under conductor Philippe Jordan was enthusiastically received by the audience in the sold-out Great Hall of the Festspielhaus.
After cancellation of the 2020 Bregenz Festival on 15 May the management decided to send out a “strong artistic signal” by presenting a short programme of events, the Festtage im Festspielhaus. The Festival proper was called off on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this there’s good news for Bregenz Festival fans: the hugely popular Rigoletto will be returning for a second run on the lake stage in summer 2021.
The nine events of the Festtage drew a total audience of 3,422. The programme offered a wide artistic range, comprising concerts with four different orchestras, a concert at the KUB, two events in the Musik & Poesie series and the world premiere of a new piece of music theatre, Impresario Dotcom. The comic opera composed by Ľubica Čekovská, which had been scheduled for the Theater am Kornmarkt, was given its premiere in a “version for Bregenz 2020” in the Great Hall of the Festspielhaus.
Apart from these events the Bregenz Festival offered guided tours behind the scenes on the lake stage. There was also a sequence of audio recordings broadcast on the lake stage auditorium three times a day. Entitled “Denk ich an Rigoletto…” (“If I think of Rigoletto”), it featured the thoughts and feelings of people involved in the Bregenz production of the opera.
The 74th festival season ended with total audience figures of approx. 250,000 visitors. Approx. 180,000 people have seen the sold out Bregenz production. Rigoletto has played indoors in the Festspielhaus three times.
On the second evening of the festival the curtain went up on Don Quichotte, the opera at the Festspielhaus. Mariame Clément's dazzling production cast new light on what may be the best known figure of world literature, probing what heroism is in today's world as well as exploring masculinity and new gender roles. The opera was seen by 4,603 people, playing to a 99 per cent capacity audience.
Cervantes' famous figure also appeared at the Kornmarkttheater in a genuine premiere – a spoken theatre adaptation of the classic novel Don Quixote. This co-production with Deutsches Theater Berlin was directed by Jan Bosse and starred Ulrich Matthes and Wolfram Koch. They demonstrated how unconventional, how entertaining and how compelling dramatic art can be even without elaborate stage decor and props.
In the popular series Musik & Poesie Michael Köhlmeier, a writer from Vorarlberg, presented a gallery of fools and jesters, with particular reference to the figures Rigoletto and Don Quixote. Also in the Lake Studio, two other soirées offering literary-musical gems were very well attended, with 98 per cent of tickets sold.
In its fifth year the Bregenz Opera Studio has transformed the stage of the Kornmarkttheater into an inhospitable natural landscape of marsh, moor and grassland. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin is being staged here by Jan Eßinger as an investigation into emotional states and interpersonal relationships, set in a place that doesn't necessarily have to be in Russia.
Both Philippe Jordan and Fabio Luisi – the current chief conductor and his predecessor – stood on the rostrum in the three traditional orchestral concerts with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. All four symphonies by Johannes Brahms were played on two successive days. The orchestral concert series was launched by a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's opulent Requiem.
The Workshop Theatre has once again hosted contemporary music theatre. La Ronde, based on the play by Arthur Schnitzler, received its first performances in Austria on the two last days of July. It was a co-production of the Bregenz Festival and Neue Oper Wien. Also a world premiere took place on two consecutive evenings and with different performances: Wunderwandelwelt, a music theatre installation created by François Sarhan.
The season began at the end of May with a Carmen for Kids in the Great Hall of the Festspielhaus, where more than 3,000 school pupils took part in a hands-on opera production that was virtually sold out for all three performances.
The enthusiasm of the smalls in the Festspielhaus was more than matched by the grown-ups in the open-air auditorium, who enjoyed Kasper Holten's staging of Carmen on a set by Es Devlin. Nearly 206,000 visitors saw the 2018 opera on the lake – more than ever before in one season (including dress rehearsal and crossculture night).
For the second time only since the festival was founded in 1946, there were 29 performances of the lake show in a single summer season. Only the productions of The Magic Flute in the years 2013 & 2014 and West Side Story in 2003 & 2004 were seen by more people. One performance was cancelled due to rain.
The summer festival opened with the Austrian premiere of Beatrice Cenci by composer Berthold Goldschmidt as the opera at the Festspielhaus. Based on a true story of human violence and church corruption, the opera was staged by Johannes Erath and was seen by a total of 4,135 people over three evenings, playing to a capacity of 89 percent.
The Workshop Theatre staged the world premiere of a piece of music theatre that was almost six years in the making: The Hunting Gun, composed by Thomas Larcher. The production, by Karl Markovics, was seen by 1,133 visitors.
There were standing ovations after the premiere of The Barber of Seville at the Kornmarkttheater in Bregenz, venue for the fourth year running of the Opera Studio established by artistic director Elisabeth Sobotka in summer 2015. The young ensemble was directed by Brigitte Fassbaender, the celebrated kammersängerin, who once again worked as coach during the Opera Studio masterclass in Bregenz.
Also at the Kornmarkttheater, a few days after the festival opened, director and puppet maker Nikolaus Habjan shed light upon the contradictory personality of Karl Böhm, who was represented on stage by a puppet along with virtually all the other characters.
At the Workshop Theatre there was a revival of María de Buenos Aires. The tango operita sold out on both evenings, playing to a total audience of 780. The three traditional concerts by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra together with the matinee concert by the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra (SOV) were attended by 5,652 guests in all. Gérard Korsten bowed out this summer as chief conductor of the Vorarlberg orchestra. The two events in the Musik & Poesie series (instead of the three originally planned) drew a combined audience of 453 people.
In early April, the first Insight session of the second Opera Workshop cycle took place at the Kunsthaus Bregenz. It offered an opportunity for the general public to follow the creation of a new work of music theatre with the composer Alexander Moosbrugger and others involved in the project. The as yet untitled opera will be premiered at the festival in the summer of 2020.
The 2017 season ended with total audience figures of approx. 257,000. The lake stage production of Carmen played to a 100% capacity and was seen by 193,642 people in all (including the dress rehearsal and crossculture night).
The festival began earlier than ever this year, with a public masterclass in February offered by Brigitte Fassbaender in the Festspielhaus, Bregenz. The award winning Kammersängerin coached the young singers of the Opera Studio – now in its third year – in preparation for their roles in The Marriage of Figaro. Staged in August, the opera concluded the Da Ponte cycle begun in 2015.
This year’s Festspielhaus production, Moses in Egypt, staged by director Lotte de Beer with the theatre company Hotel Modern, played to capacity audiences of over 4,600. Gioachino Rossini’s biblical opera now transfers to Oper Köln, opening on 8 April 2018.
There was exotic opera on a totally different scale in The Ring in 90 Minutes, which was created by the same Dutch theatre company and performed by puppet insects. The Workshop Theatre performances were seen by 714 people in total.
After a four-year absence, spoken theatre returned to the festival, with a guest appearance by Berlin's Maxim Gorki Theater. The Situation, voted Play of the Year in 2016, was performed on two evenings at the Kornmarkttheater, with 87 per cent of tickets sold and a total audience of 930. The play inaugurated a series of spoken theatre productions to be staged annually over the coming years.
More than three years in the making, the opera To the Lighthouse, commissioned by the festival, received its world premiere in the Opera Workshop. The two performances were sold out. The Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s concerts and the matinee by the SOV were seen by a total audience of nearly 6,000. In all, 847 people attended the four evening events in the Music & Poetry series.
Unprecedented in its 70 year history, the curtain went up on the jubilee season of Bregenz Festival the evening before the official opening ceremony. For the first time, also, two lake stages were vying for visitors' attention, though they were very different in scale. There was the towering set for Turandot ready for the second season premiere, and located right next to it, a floating stage of more modest proportions. On a barge in the municipal marina, the festival mounted a performance of Mozart's singspiel Bastien und Bastienne to commemorate the founding of the opera on the lake at Bregenz back in 1946, when the same work was staged at the same location. The opera was performed free of charge and drew a large audience estimated at 1,800.
Turandot, Puccini's opera with the world-famous aria Nessun dorma, sold 159,172 tickets, corresponding to 94 per cent of capacity; one performance was transferred to the Festspielhaus owing to bad weather. Total visitor figures for the 2016 festival stood at 211,314.
On the evening the festival opened, the long-forgotten opera Hamlet received its first ever performance in Austria. It was greeted with lengthy and sometimes frenetic applause at the Festspielhaus. On its three-evening run Hamlet played to 100 per cent capacity and was seen by a total of 4,612 opera fans. There was also high attendance and enthusiastic applause for the three orchestral concerts given by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Ticket sales for the concert series reached 5,711.
The Kornmarkt Theater was once again sold out for the performances by the Opera Studio in the second year of its existence. It staged Don Giovanni. The small but high-carat series Music & Poetry also met with an enthusiastic response in its new venue, the Lake Studio in the Bregenz Festspielhaus.
The contemporary music programme at the Workshop Theatre demonstrated that a modern theatre premiere can attract a large audience. Demand for tickets to Staatsoperette - Die Austrotragödie was so strong that the dress rehearsal was opened to the public at short notice. In the end nearly 1,000 people saw the stage adaptation of the TV film Staatsoperette. Audiences were also enthralled by Make no noise, a chamber opera about two traumatised individuals which was staged for the first time in Austria. At a concert in the Kunsthaus Bregenz, the Opera Workshop offered its fourth successive insight into the process of creating an opera that will be given its world premiere at the 2017 festival in the Workshop Theatre, To the Lighthouse.
A retrospective of 70 years of the Bregenz Festival was offered by an exhibition of stage set models from the period between 1985 and 2016. The exhibition charted the evolution of the major cultural festival in Vorarlberg and was organised in association with Vorarlberg Museum. It was accompanied by publication of a 76 page booklet detailing the genesis of the festival, above all the early years leading up to the mid 1980s, the time of the festival's artistic reorientation, which is still being adhered to today.
The Bregenz Festival's 70th season ended with 98 per cent of tickets to the lake stage production sold. More than 171,000 of the total audience figure of 228,000 attended a performance of Turandot, the final opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. Directed and designed by Marco Arturo Marelli and conducted by Paolo Carignani and Giuseppe Finzi, the production was well received by audiences and critics alike. The opera in the Festspielhaus was The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach, directed by Stefan Herheim with Johannes Debus as the music director. The opera was seen by over 7,500 visitors, corresponding to 98 per cent of capacity.
The composers of the two operas staged in the 2015 season were also represented in the concerts given by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra: Giacomo Puccini with his Messa di Gloria, Jacques Offenbach with his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Miroslav Srnka's latest work for orchestra, No Night No Land No Sky, received its first performance in Austria, having premiered in Cologne in May 2014. The concert series additionally included works by Luciano Berio, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Franz Schubert. The Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra played Richard Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder and Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E minor.
New: Opera Studio and Opera Workshop
In the newly established Opera Studio, six young singers performed in the debut production of Così fan tutte at the Bregenz Kornmarkttheater. Another novelty was the festival's Opera Workshop, which took place in May at the Kunsthaus Bregenz and afforded inspiring insights into the process of creating a new work of music theatre. The new work is scheduled to have its world premiere in summer 2017. The programme of the 70th season of the Bregenz Festival also included events in the Music & Poetry section and the first performance in Austria of The Golden Dragon.
Crossculture, the programme for children and young people, was 20 years old this summer. The participants, numbering around 2,000, enjoyed a wide selection of events comprising crossculture night at Turandot, workshops, the Children's Festival, Brass meets Banda and other events in which they were encouraged not only to look and listen but also to get involved.
One million TV viewers
There was a special kind of premiere when the Bregenz Festival's staging of Turandot was broadcast live on television in three countries: Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The channels SWR, SRF and ORF not only broadcast the opera simultaneously but also took viewers behind the scenes and spoke to people involved in the production. In addition, there was live transmission of the stage action on the channel 3sat. More than one million viewers watched the event. Never before have so many people watched a Bregenz opera production on television.
2014 was record season at the Bregenz Festival with audience figures totalling approximately 264,000. Of those, around 204,000 people attended a performance of the opera on the lake stage, The Magic Flute, which played to 100 per cent capacity. The Mozart opera, shown in a staging by the festival's artistic director David Pountney, is consequently the most popular opera production since the festival was founded in 1946. Attracting a total of 406,000 spectators in its two-season run, it even outstripped the musical West Side Story, which was seen by 405,314 people in 2003 and 2004. In total, about 523,000 tickets to Bregenz Festival events were sold in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, more than ever before.
After eleven years at the helm David Pountney took his leave as artistic director of the Bregenz Festival with a multifaceted programme that included four music theatre and three chamber music world premieres. Under the motto Vienna bitter-sweet the festival presented a showcase of the Austrian composer Heinz Karl Gruber, staging the specially commissioned opera Tales from the Vienna Woods at the Festspielhaus and the satirical opera Gloria von Jaxtberg (Gloria - A Pig Tale) at the Kornmarkt Theater. In addition to that there was a new opera genre and lots of contemporary music: the newly inaugurated Family Opera consisting of two operas played back to back, Le Rossignol ('The Nightingale') and L’Hirondelle inattendue ('The Unexpected Swallow'), was jubilantly received by a multigenerational audience in the virtually full stalls of the Great Hall.
Meanwhile at the Werkstattbühne, the Lake Studio, Kunsthaus Bregenz and Theater Kosmos, the contemporary arts section KAZ showed that contemporary music theatre, concert music and puppetry was capable of drawing an audience this summer too. Ticket sales stood at 94 per cent. There was widespread acclaim for the concert series by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, which opened with Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, and also for the Music&Poetry events in the Lake Studio of the Festspielhaus. For his own farewell concert performed by the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra David Pountney chose works by Leonard Bernstein as well as Der Schauspieldirektor ('The Impresario'), a singspiel by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in an adaptation by Pountney himself.
"David Pountney's final season is the highly successful close of a sensational eleven-year era as artistic director, in which the festival has developed substantially and has created many artistic achievements and magic moments. My thanks go not only to David Pountney, however, but to all the artists and the personnel too," said the president of the festival, Hans-Peter Metzler.
Festival book Der fliegende Engländer
The past eleven years of the festival are the subject of a new festival book published a few weeks before the 2014 season opened. Entitled Der fliegende Engländer ('The Flying Englishman'), the 360 page book offers an illuminating review of David Pountney's term as artistic director and reveals a number of unknown details from behind the scenes and in front of them too. Edited by Axel Renner and Dorothée Schaeffer, the book consists of 103 episodes in which artists or other people directly associated with the festival have their say, affording some fascinating insights into the inner life of the cultural institution. David Pountney is not only frequently discussed, he is also the contributor of many of the book's articles. The book's 291 illustrations offer a visually lavish retrospective of the festival's productions.
The performances on the lake stage were completely sold out and there was not one cancellation due to rain. The 68th season of the Bregenz Festival was an exceptional success, with audience figures totalling 259,425. The opera on the lake stage, The Magic Flute, was virtually sold out shortly after its premiere on 17 July and attracted in all 202,663 spectators at its 28 performances. This puts the Mozart opera more or less on the same level as Aida from 2009 as the most often visited opera. Only the musical West Side Story drew a larger total audience back in 2003.
And it was not only the opera on the lake stage that met the high expectations in both artistic and economic respects: another highlight of the festival programme, under the motto Towards the Light, was the world-premiere staging of the opera The Merchant of Venice, continuing the Bregenz Festival's series of mounting productions of never played works at the Festspielhaus. In all, 3,795 people attended a performance of the opera, which was written by the Polish composer André Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) in the 1970s and 80s.
Beside the traditional operas on the lake stage and at the Festspielhaus, the festival staged the world premiere of The Wasp Factory and the first performance in Austria of American Lulu, each with two sold-out performances, in addition to enthusiastically received orchestral concerts and an extensive programme of events for children and young people.
The season was an all-round success, as many print media commentators agreed: "At the Bregenz Festival, David Pountney fills the coffers with Mozart's Magic Flute, while with André Tchaikowsky's The Merchant of Venice he gives a further demonstration of his keen instinct for worthwhile rarities," wrote Opernwelt magazine. Above all it was the impressive stage set with its technical wizardry and the highly original production that stayed in the minds of the visitors: "The Bregenz Festival's Magic Flute musters a fabulous array of materiel. And the spectacle makes good sense too," the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau commented. "Hi-tech stage" was the title of a review in Vorarlberger Nachrichten and "a child's dream made into opera: the marvellous Magic Flute of the Bregenz Festival," wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung.
"Grandiose production", "a realm of operatic magic that can hardly be copied" and "encore, please!" were just a few of the many accolades that appeared in press coverage of the Bregenz Festival in its 67th year. The 2012 season of the festival ended with a total of approx. 147,000 visitors. Of those, 108,338 attended a performance of the opera on the lake stage, André Chénier.
Courageous and innovative: in two years, around 230,000 visitors saw the opera André Chénier by the Italian composer Umberto Giordano. No opera house or festival has ever presented this work to so many visitors in a comparable span of time. The Bregenz Festival has thus demonstrated that even less well known operas can draw large audiences.
Under the motto "Memories of the Future" the 2012 Bregenz Festival not only dazzled and delighted audiences and critics with André Chénier, but also impressed with its world premiere staging of the opera Solaris by contemporary composer Detlev Glanert, whose works also featured prominently in other sections of the festival programme.
Highlights of the contemporary arts programme "KAZ" were two concerts at the Kunsthaus Bregenz and in the Lake Studio of the Festspielhaus as well as a repeat visit by the Berlin theatre group Nico and the Navigators. In the drama section, the Vienna Schauspielhaus returned to Bregenz, giving guest performances of the play Makulatur by the well-known Austrian child psychiatrist and prose author Paulus Hochgatterer.
In the crossculture project 2012, Smetana's Die Moldau (Vltava) was crossed with a masterclass of young composers as well as an open community dance project, Panta rhei – everything flows! The Werkstattbühne production was a big hit for the amateur dancers and the musicians and was completely sold out.
André Chénier, the most famous work by the Italian composer Umberto Giordano, appealing both as a passionate love story and a historical thriller, was performed at Bregenz for the first time on the Seebühne stage in the summer of 2011.
The first in a series of new compositions to be performed at the Festspielhaus was the opera Achterbahn / Miss Fortune by the well-established British composer Judith Weir, whose work was showcased in summer 2011 in a programme section entitled "Creation".
In summer 2009, director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown decided to set Verdi's monumental opera Aida not in a desert but on and in the water of Lake Constance and their original interpretation earned them the enthusiastic acclaim of audiences and critics alike. Aida returned for a second season to the Floating stage in summer 2010.
A unifying theme of the remainder of the festival programme was "In Foreign Lands". Central to that was a retrospective of the forgotten Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996), which also included a Weinberg Symposium.
The opera in the Festspielhaus in 2010 was Weinberg's The Passenger. The opera is based on a novel with the same title by a Polish Auschwitz survivor, Zofia Posmysz, and it tells of the chance re-encounter of a former concentration camp guard (Lisa) with a former inmate (Martha). Completed in 1968, the opera was not premiered until a concert performance in 2006. The Passenger is regarded as a work of extraordinary originality and giant dimensions.
It's one of the most performed operas in the entire repertoire. A tale of a legendary love stronger than death, and a very modern parable about nationalism, belligerence and hatred of the enemy: Giuseppe Verdi's monumental opera Aida was to receive its first performance on the spectacular Bregenz Floating Stage in the summer of 2009.
King Roger, the Festival Opera House production in 2009, brought to the stage a conflict often explored in the literature and art of the European modernist period: namely the clash between reason and sensuality. Polish composer Karol Szymanowski set early Christian asceticism against the joyous affirmation of life characteristic of late antiquity, evoking the antagonism very effectively by means of exquisitely rich orchestral colours and often oriental-sounding melodies.
The opera on the Lake Tosca proved to be a great success with audiences in its second season revival. After being used in the filming of a James Bond movie and in live TV broadcasts of the football championships, the striking stage sculpture with the big blue Tosca Eye was able to revert to its original form as an opera set. The production sold 140,128 seats in 2008, making Tosca the most-seen revival of the past ten years with 93 percent of capacity sold.
The music of the Austrian composer Ernst Krenek was showcased in summer 2008, with a number of his works appearing on the festival programme. The orchestral concerts of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra revolved around the theme of "Power and Music" and featured gods, kings and party chairmen. In its second year at the festival, spoken theatre received some rave reviews: the highlights were two sold-out theatre productions – Buddenbrooks at the Kornmarkt, a dramatisation of the Thomas Mann novel by John von Düffel staged by Vienna's Theater in der Josefstadt, and René Pollesch's Die Welt zu Gast bei reichen Eltern in Shed8, a production by Hamburg's Thalia Theater. Three world premieres were staged at the Workshop Theatre as part of the contemporary programme KAZ, while the young people's programme crossculture set new records in the number of visitors and participants with its most extensive programme of events since its inception.
James Bond in the Eye of Tosca
Not only audiences at Bregenz were enthusiastic about the spectacular staging of Puccini's opera Tosca last summer. In July 2007 a team from EON Productions, the production company responsible for the James Bond movies, visited one of the last rehearsals for Tosca. Producer Barbara Broccoli and director Marc Forster were impressed – by the unique location on the shore of Lake Constance, the imposing stage set with its hi-tech capabilities, and by the modern architecture of the Festspielhaus. In the first week of May a film crew came to shoot scenes for the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace and stayed for ten days. In the film Bond discovers his adversary for the first time during a performance of Tosca during a seven-and-a-half-minute, high-action sequence shot in the Festspielhaus and on the Seebühne. Director Marc Forster has incorporated the opera intriguingly into the action of the film: the chase through the Festspielhaus is at the end like an apocalyptic silent film – interspersed with dramatic scenes from the Bregenz Tosca.
Seebühne - "9th stadium" of the EURO 2008
The Tosca Eye coloured orange instead of blue, the Mexican wave sweeping across the lakeside auditorium, a sea of flags, and peaceful fans - that was the 2008 European Football Championships in Bregenz. The three-week festival of football was attended by more than 160,000 supporters in the auditorium, which had been converted into a public viewing "stadium" in front of the TV studio on the Seebühne, while the plaza in front of the Festspielhaus had been made into a yard with goal walls for fans to practice at. The Baden-Württemberg soccer exhibition was also well attended. The TV studio, dubbed the "ZDF arena", was used for live broadcasts hosted by Johannes B. Kerner with expert commentary by Jürgen Klopp and Urs Meier. "That was grand opera for great sport," as Franz Salzmann, commercial director of the Bregenz Festival, commented about the highly successful event.
The 62nd season of the Bregenz Festival achieved very positive results: in all, around 200,000 seats were sold for the sixty scheduled events. The opera on the Lake 2007/08, Giacomo Puccini's opera thriller Tosca, was seen by about 164,000 people. The production is therefore one of the most successful of the past ten years. As Franz Salzmann, the commercial director of the Bregenz Festival, commented, "Tosca has turned out to be an ideal choice for the Seebühne. Not only the exciting production by Philipp Himmelmann and the spectacular set design by Johannes Leiacker, but also the emotional climaxes of this opera have cast a spell over audiences night after night." The new sound system BOA (Bregenz Open Acoustics) was widely praised: "For the first time the sound on the Seebühne is every bit as spectacular as the set," wrote the Münchner Merkur. The Mannheimer Morgen commented that the Te Deum scene was an "operatic high mass of supreme power", adding "whoever doesn't get goose-bumps here doesn't like opera."
In summer 2007 the festival very much bore the signature of English composer Benjamin Britten, with both his first and his last work for the stage being performed in addition to several orchestral pieces. Yoshi Oida’s elegantly austere production of Benjamin Britten’s late work Death in Venice was hailed by critics. Tenor Alan Oke was singled out for special praise for his magnificent performance in the role of the author Gustav von Aschenbach. "I am very happy that the Britten and Britain showcase went down so well," said artistic director David Pountney. "England for a long time was seen as the land without music. And so it's all the more satisfying for me that this great composer has enthralled festival-goers in Bregenz."
There was also an enthusiastic reception for the second Britten rarity this season, the operetta Paul Bunyan staged at the Kornmarkt Theatre. In particular the playing of the Vorarlberg Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the Britten specialist Steuart Bedford received positive reviews. The idea of reintroducing spoken theatre more centrally to the festival programme with guest performances by the Theater in der Josefstadt of Vienna (Dangerous Liaisons) and the Thalia Theater of Hamburg (A Midsummer Night's Dream) was clearly appreciated by festival-goers.
"Made in Britain" was also the motto of KAZ, the contemporary programme of the Bregenz Festival. In addition to performances by the Gob Squad and four concerts which spotlighted contemporary British composers, two opera were particularly well received - The Shops, being given its first performance in Austria, and the football opera Playing Away, directed by David Pountney.
The opera on the Lake in 2005 and 2006, Il trovatore, took its place as one of the most successful operas produced there in the past ten years. A total of 301,573 people saw the spectacular production by Robert Carsen and Paul Steinberg in its two-season run. Therefore in the popularity stakes, Giuseppe Verdi's masterpiece proved to be equal to A Masked Ball (1999/2000) and next behind La Bohème (2001/2002). The contemporary programme KAZ and the orchestral concerts achieved record spectator numbers. In total the Bregenz Festival attracted 175,819 visitors in 2006.
For festival president Günter Rhomberg the refurbishment and enlargement of the Festspielhaus, completed in time for the 2006 festival, was a landmark event. "The most beautiful present on our 60th anniversary was without doubt the renovated Festspielhaus. This summer it was at last possible to present our programme to audiences in an infrastructure that is commensurate with the quality of the performances. As a result, the Bregenz Festival can now further consolidate its leading position on the European festival scene. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks once again to all those who supported us in the financing of the renovation project and thus made possible such an exceptional festival season as this last one was," Rhomberg said.
Artistic director David Pountney was highly satisfied by the record number of people who attended the events of the contemporary arts programme KAZ and the orchestral concerts. "In a year when the entire country was celebrating Mozart, our intention was to give due attention not only to one, but to a whole range of Austrian artists by showcasing Austrian music in the orchestral concerts and in Art Of Our Times. And our purpose has been emphatically endorsed by the festival audience, with new visitor records. For me personally, though, the highlight of this Austrian summer, as it were, was Friedrich Cerha’s epic orchestral cycle Spiegel as the opening concert of the Bregenz Festival. That evening was not only a tribute to one of the finest living Austrian composers. In addition to that, the fact that the Bregenz Festival opened with a KAZ production for the first time was meant to be symbolic of the significance that the contemporary arts now have in our programming," Pountney said.
There was unanimous acclaim among critics and audience members for the Festspielhaus production, The Fall of the House of Usher by Claude Debussy. In what was the first opera production on the stage of the newly refurbished Festspielhaus, the recently completed one-act opera The Fall of the House of Usher was staged in a fascinating triple bill with Debussy's ballets Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Jeux. In 2006, too, the operetta at the Kornmarkt was sold out before the first night: 3,053 visitors watched Jacques Offenbach's lively work Bluebeard in which the fairytale nobleman is transported by director Stephen Langridge and set designer George Souglides into a James Bond world and becomes a "serial monogamist".
David Pountney's decision to return to epic opera on the Lake after the musical West Side Story was endorsed by the great success of the selected production, Giuseppe Verdi's Il trovatore: the first opera on the Lake under his artistic direction and the most-seen opera since 1998, surpassing even the hugely popular A Masked Ball (1999) and La Bohème (2001). A total of 172,862 people attended a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's masterpiece directed by Robert Carsen in the spectacular refinery-cum-fortress set designed by Paul Steinberg. The Festspielhaus production and the orchestral concerts reflected the Carl Nielsen showcase at the festival in summer 2005. The Danish composer's opera Maskerade was very well received as the Festspielhaus production, confirming Pountney's concept of showcasing a single composer throughout the four weeks of the festival. There was praise not only for the choice of works, but also for David Pountney's spirited staging of Nielsen's humorous opera about a masked ball.
Having got off to such a good start in 2004 with Weill's Der Kuhhandel, the operetta at the Kornmarkt managed to replicate its success in 2005 with Johann Strauss's forgotten operetta Der Lustige Krieg. All performances were completely sold out, showing how enthusiastically the festival audience welcomed artistic director David Pountney's original idea of using the Bregenz Kornmarkt Theatre for the rediscovery of rarely performed operettas.
The contemporary arts programme KAZ was consolidated and expanded in Pountney's second year, and an impressive number of tickets were sold - 3,751. This corresponds to 92 percent of capacity in the Kunsthaus Bregenz and 86 percent at the Workshop Theatre. The KAZ Pass, allowing reductions to all KAZ events, sold like hot cakes. Because of high demand, twice as many had been printed in 2004 as in the previous year, and in 2005 the number available had to be further increased by 40 percent; in July they were already sold out.
'Continuity and renewal' was our credo for the era which began with David Pountney's first season new artistic director. Bernstein's West Side Story a runaway success returned for a second season on the Lake. A wind of change was immediately apparent in the newly designed opening ceremony. "Presenting serious, interesting ideas in a popular format is what has made the Bregenz Festival such a unique festival. Continuing on this path and broadening it was and still is my declared goal," commented artistic director David Pountney about his first season. Among other innovations was the idea of a showcase, which was introduced in 2004: Kurt Weill was the featured composer. Two of the composer's rarely performed, early works for the stage, The Protagonist and Royal Palace, were staged together at the Festspielhaus, while the satirical operetta Der Kuhhandel was the inaugural production in a new programme of operettas at the Kornmarkt Theatre; the director was David Pountney. The number of visitors to events of the contemporary arts programme KAZ (Kunst aus der Zeit) exceeded all expectations in summer 2004. Expanded and enhanced by David Pountney, KAZ presented a number of premieres and first performances, including The Story of Io by the renowned British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Hoffmanniana by a young composer from Vorarlberg, Thomas Dézsy. Hamburg's Thalia Theater had a great success with guest performances of its satirical comedy about pensioners Thalia Vista Social Club.
In what was Alfred Wopmann's final season as artistic director after many years, the Bregenz Festival staged Leonard Bernstein's hit musical West Side Story on the world's largest floating stage. Spectators were captivated by unforgettable songs like 'Maria', 'America' and 'Tonight' coupled with breath-taking dance sequences. The musical was directed by the American Francesca Zambello, choreographed by Richard Wherlock, and the stage set designed by George Tsypin. The Festspielhaus showed Leos Janácek's The Cunning Little Vixen. As in Mozart's Magic Flute, the natural world and its eternal regenerative cycle play an important part in this popular opera, too. It was directed by Daniel Slater with sets and costumes by Robert Innes Hopkins. The festival's contemporary arts programme, KAZ, featured the world premiere of a new opera by Georg Friedrich Haas, Die schöne Wunde. At its guest appearance in summer 2003 the Thalia Theater company of Hamburg presented a premiere for the first time, an adaptation of Samuel Beckett called Nacht und Träume.
Following the great success of Giuseppe Verdi’s A Masked Ball on the Lake, the Bregenz Festival engaged the formidable British duo Richard Jones and Antony McDonald for another production. The opera was Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème, which focuses on the lives, emotions and aspirations of a group of young artists in Paris. The work staged in the Festspielhaus, Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men based on the famous novel by John Steinbeck, is also about dream worlds, the hopes and disillusionment of two outsiders. In summer 2001 the Bregenz Festival also mounted contemporary art events: the programme Art Of Our Times brings contemporary theatre to the Workshop Theatre in a collaboration with Hamburg’s Thalia Theater, while a new collaboration with the Kunsthaus Bregenz was concerned with the theme of "America of the 20th century".
Verdi's A Masked Ball was produced in 1999 on the Lake for the first time in the history of the Bregenz Festival. The opera, which unites antitheses like Dance and Death, was staged so spectacularly at Bregenz that pictures of it went round the world in the summer of 1999. Further highlights were provided by the operas staged in the Festspielhaus – in 1999, Bohuslav Martinů’s Greek Passion, in 2000 The Golden Cockerel by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – as well as Workshop Theatre productions such as the mono-opera Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank (‘The Diary of Anne Frank’) by Grigori Frid, the fringe-festival and in the year 2000 Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Tango Operita’ Maria de Buenos Aires.
The Bregenz Festival departed for new shores. This was visible not only in the giant highway jutting out of the lake, scenery for a production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; the new departure was also signalled by the opening of the Workshop Theatre (Werkstattbühne), conceived as an experimental theatre. With the Workshop Theatre added to the two existing venues, the Seebühne and the Great Hall of the Festspielhaus, the Festival in 1998 had a total capacity of 12,000 seats at its disposal. 1998 saw the world premiere of Georg Friedrich Haas’s opera Nacht (‘Night’) in the Workshop Theatre. The Bregenz Festival introduced a young people’s programme, cross culture, which in succeeding years managed to attract up to 10,000 young visitors annually. Cross culture was awarded the Austrian State Prize for Public Relations in 1998.
The Bregenz Festival celebrated its fiftieth year. With Beethoven’s Fidelio on the Lake (conducted by Ulf Schirmer, directed by David Pountney, with sets by Stefanos Lazaridis) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev, directed by Harry Kupfer, with sets by Hans Schavernoch) the Festival continued its policy of producing a popular work on the Lake and an unknown work in the Festspielhaus.
In its jubilee year the Bregenz Festival attracted a record number of visitors. Again, additional viewing stands were erected and extra performances scheduled, but the demand for tickets still could not be fully satisfied. With audiences totalling 318,000 Fidelio became the most visited Seebühne production.
Public interest in the Seebühne production of Nabucco exceeded all expectations; additional viewing stands were erected and extra performances were scheduled, but still the demand could not be fully satisfied. Over 300,000 people saw Verdi’s Nabucco on the Lake in the summer of '93 and '94. After long discussions, public subsidy bodies approved construction of a rehearsal stage to be docked right next to the Festspielhaus. The stage is intended to make production conditions considerably easier and thus more cost-effective too.
The Bregenz production style also brought about change in the Festspielhaus, whose program of operatic rarities counterbalances the opulent productions on the Lake. Operas that have been unjustly neglected are dusted down and staged in modern productions of high artistic calibre, in the hope that they might be restored to the repertoire. This area of Bregenz Festival dramaturgy, with its distinctive aesthetic style, has come to be highly regarded internationally and has consolidated the festival’s reputation as being innovative.
A new era for the Festival was ushered in by the triumphant success of The Magic Flute on the Lake. From this year on, all productions on the Seebühne run for two seasons. The stage constructions became sturdier because they now had to stay put throughout winter too. The Bregenz directors aimed at a unique production style: namely popular theatre accessible to all and yet with high artistic standards. The Bregenz style stands for the bold visual representation of the themes in the operas on the Lake. This means the operas can be understood on an emotional level and are easier to comprehend, so that even people who rarely go to the opera can follow what is happening in the work. It is this production style, the unique location, and the inimitable atmosphere of open-air theatre which account for the special appeal of the Bregenz Festival.
A long-cherished dream of the Festival management came true with the opening of the Festival and Congress Hall in 1980 (and a new Seebühne in 1979). Although, after many discussions, only part of the original project was realized, it still meant that the Festival had new possibilities at its disposal. The Festspielhaus (as it is now known) is connected to the Seebühne, so if the weather suddenly turns bad, about 1,700 of the 4,500 audience members can be accommodated there for an indoor performance. The stage has comparable dimensions to the stages of international opera houses. The new Seebühne has a concrete core in which the most important facilities and amenities are located, along with the orchestra pit. The core is surrounded by wooden piles which support the foundations of the stage set.
While two different music theatre productions were mounted simultaneously on the Lake this year (Der Bettelstudent and Die Feenkönigin), Martinsplatz, a square in the old quarter of Bregenz where occasional serenade concerts had been held in the 1960s, was discovered as a new venue for Festival events. Since 1972, open-air theatre performances have been mounted there in cooperation with the Theater für Vorarlberg. The double bill on the Lake remained a one-off, however: in future only one production would be given on the Lake per year.
Thanks to strong public interest, the Festival became longer each year and its programme became more varied. Starting in 1962 chamber music concerts and Haydn operas were performed in the Renaissance Palace at Hohenems. On the Lake, ballet evenings were staged from 1960 onwards and were a great success.
Bregenz’s first theatre, the Kornmarkttheater, opened. The building was a converted granary, its former function preserved in the theatre’s name (‘corn market theatre’). With seating for about 700 people, the small theatre was conceived in such a way that opera and ballet could be performed there. As far as spoken theatre is concerned, the Kornmarkttheater became the base of the Vorarlberg Regional Theatre (Vorarlberger Landestheater) and it also hosted the Vienna Burgtheater, the Volkstheater, the Josefstadt Theater and a number of German theatre companies giving guest performances during the Festival. In music theatre, Italian bel canto and light operas were staged here until the 1970s.
The Bregenz Festival acquired its first home: an off-shore stage erected on wooden piles, on which mainly operettas and ballets were performed. The open-air auditorium had a capacity of 6,500 seats; in the event of rain, a sports’ hall seating 1,000 people could be used instead. The previous year, 1949, had seen the foundation of the Patrons of the Bregenz Festival, a Bregenz residents organization which subsequently became the organizer of the annual Festival.
Stage designer Walter von Hoesslin, with director Adolf Rott, took the first steps towards a distinct Bregenz production style, in that he dispensed with the conventional proscenium stage when designing the Seebühne. For him the lake was not just scenery, but a central element of the productions.
One year after the end of the Second World War, the first Bregenz Festival was held: the week-long Bregenz Festwoche. The inaugural performance was staged upon two barges moored on Lake Constance – one carrying the stage structures for Mozart’s early work Bastien et Bastienne, the other the orchestra. In a town that did not even possess a theatre, the idea of mounting a festival seemed eccentric; but the initially makeshift solution of choosing the loveliest part of the town – the lake – as the stage proved to be a hugely successful one. Visitors from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and France made the Festival an international event in its very first year. The Festival orchestra from the outset was the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, which has made a major contribution to the evolution and success of the Festival.