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Not to be overlooked are the goings-on at the Mozarteum each year during the Salzburg festival. Tickets for the concerts there are available at very reasonable prices and without any of the hype that usually goes hand in hand with the main Salzburg Festival events. Spaniard Christobal Halffter was the Mozarteum's composer in residence this summer, and the Russian virtuoso pianist Pavel Gililov made his way to the Austrian town for a two-week master course at the Mozarteum. The final highlight, coinciding with the end of the festival, is a competition concert of the best young musicians from the masterclasses -- the teachers are the judges and the winners perform a final 'concert of the best'.

The American Friends of the Salzburg Festival provided some wonderful highlights, flying noted American opera singers like Chester Patton across the pond for greet and meet sessions, and hosting some very informative lectures and seminars related to the festival. In fact, if you happen to live in the United States, or are an anglophone living in Europe, this non-profit organisation is worth joining at any time during the year. Not only do you get the privilege of early notification of the festival program and assistance in obtaining the coveted tickets, but also, during winter and spring, in the 'off-season', you receive invitations to all sorts of interesting events in the United States. The Friends' Society also provides you with the opportunity to meet the Stars of Salzburg face to face, and so you may find yourself on a picnic with Thomas Hampson or at a lunch buffet with Angelika Kirchschläger. All of this is going to be on offer again next year, including the presence of the lovely Miss Netrebko, so it is worth starting to think about Salzburg tickets when you think about what to put on your Christmas list this winter. Netrebko will be singing in a new production of Verdi's La Traviata and those who have seen her in the same role at Munich Opera in 2004 say that she is the most convincing Violetta yet. She is certainly going to be the most beautiful because, close-up, Anna Netrebko looks just as good as she does on camera.

And while we are on the subject of good-looking opera heroes, the Vienna State Opera has two of these on offer for the season that just started, both of them in productions that have already achieved legendary status. The first is Thomas Hampson in the role of Simon Boccanegra, and anyone who knows the story behind the opera will appreciate what kind of a treat this is. Hampson, a lyric baritone, had fought for the better part of a decade to sing the title role of this Verdi opera. Common consensus was that, as a lyric baritone, his voice was too light but he kept persisting. Eventually, he premièred as Simon at the Vienna Opera in 2002, before a sceptical audience. The result was a phenomenal success and classical music critics around the world competed with each other to invent ever-new terms of superlative praise. They wrote that he is the best Simon Boccanegra yet, for instance, and one of them went as far as stating: 'Hampson does not just sing Boccanegra, he is Boccanegra.' Indeed, his Plebesci Patrizi, the most famous aria from that opera, comes with such a heartfelt appeal for peace as to make it relevant in today's troubled world by transcending the boundaries of history. Incidentally, fans of Verdi pay 120 euros for a copy of the Hampson/Boccanegra television recording nowadays, which is what the Austrian television station ORF charges. They hold the rights and thus far, no commercial recordings have been authorized. Copies are made on an individual basis, to order, but they are well worth the price. Worthier, still, is the trip to Vienna to see this extraordinary opera event in person.

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Copyright © 14 October 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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