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Following the death of Karajan (1989), Salzburg was substantially transformed under the controversial aegis of Belgian opera director Gerard Mortier who spent the 1990s scandalizing many of the festival's wealthy, tradition-minded opera patrons -- introducing 20th century opera and striking, gamey (some said 'unspeakable') productions of Mozart. In these years, patrons were able to see Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Berg's Lulu, Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle and Janácek's From the House of the Dead. Entertainment was out, innovation and shock were in.

A scene from Beethoven's 'Fidelio' at Salzburg during the Gerard Mortier period. DVD screenshot © 2006 Isolde Films/Digital Classics plc
A scene from Beethoven's 'Fidelio' at Salzburg during the Gerard Mortier period. DVD screenshot © 2006 Isolde Films/Digital Classics plc

Mortier's successor, contemporary composer, Peter Ruzicka, was architect of a colossal Festival 2006 undertaking -- all 22 Mozart operas. Despite gloomy critical 'forecasts', record box-office receipts resulted. Ruzicka also chose to revive works of composers banned and/or imprisoned by the Nazis -- Zemlinsky, Korngold, Schreker and Wellesz. Zemlinsky's final opera Der König Kandaules, was the first of the series.

To further celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth last year the 'Kleines Festspielhaus' was reconstructed, incorporating perfect state-of-the-art acoustics and ideal sightlines. It was renamed the 'Haus für Mozart'.

From this year the festival has engaged a tripartite artistic governance -- pianist Markus Hinterhäuser, theatre director Thomas Oberender and opera director Jürgen Flimm.

For his latter DVD sequences Palmer persuaded a number of commentators to consult their 'tea leaves' -- looking at a future in which festivals have become a growth industry.

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Copyright © 2 August 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand

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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller