Ninety years old this year it may be, but the Salzburg Festival remains as fit as a fiddle.
Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is among the operas performed this year. Conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is Italian maestro Riccardo Muti.
Just a few hours before the première he talked to us about his enduring relationship with the City of Mozart, and with the Wiener.
Muti said: “The Vienna Philharmonic is an extraordinary orchestra. We’ve tried to recreate a ‘Gluckian’ sound, so to speak. For me Salzburg is my relationship with the Wiener. I have worked with them for 40 years – in Salzburg, in Vienna, on several tours, in the studio, recording very many records; so Salzburg is the Wiener Philharmonic for me.
“I have seen three generations of musicians at the VPO, and I have been able to notice how each new musician tries, through their senior colleagues, to preserve that particular sound, which is a real treasure – in this globalised world, where many, if not virtually all, orchestras sound like one another in order to conform to a standardised sound, the Wiener are still an orchestra deeply rooted in tradition.”
Orfeo is played by Elisabeth Kulman, the Austrian mezzosoprano, who can boast a vast repertoire, from Verdi to Wagner. Her passion, her love for music comes before everything, despite the sacrifices required.
“We can’t go to too many parties, we mustn’t drink, we mustn’t smoke, we have to sleep a lot… we must not have sex,” Kulman laughs.
And what does she think of maestro Muti?
“He’s wonderful. He always said to me: ‘you don’t need to sing, just take care of your voice’. And in one rehearsal, when I was really tired, he sang for me! He was so nice. Normally when the orchestra is there you have to sing, but he didn’t force me, he said ‘no, just cool down, I will sing’. So nice! He really takes so much care of the singers, as nobody I know. We’ve worked a lot… oh, I’m so fond of him!”
Wonderful. And strict… to the verge of despotism, say some. The maestro disagrees, and explains:
“My attitude towards music is ethical, and uncompromising. I will not make concessions when music is at stake. Those who won’t, or can’t, be up to it, or those who are lazy or prefer to work routinely, may consider me a dictator. But my relations with the great soloists or the great singers of the past have always been wonderful and constructive.”
For this show Muti has rehearsed for over a month, working with the orchestra and the singers meticulously. For him music is a very serious business.
“Always,” he insists.