This theater is now being renovated and will be finished just in time for this summer's festival. Rechristened the House for Mozart, it will gain a new intimacy as well as improved acoustics and sight lines, and should be ideal for authentically scaled productions of 18th-century repertoire and for performances involving period instruments. The first program, a highly anticipated new production of The Marriage of Figaro with a cast that includes the soprano Anna Netrebko, led by the eminent conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, will debut in July.
Besides presenting Mozart's complete stage works, the festival administration is looking to the future, with commissions of new music from 15 composers. Significantly, this year's final concert, in August, has no music by Mozart; instead, it is devoted to premieres of contemporary scores. The last notes to be heard at the Salzburg Festspiel of 2006 will be exclusively from 21st century composers.
Moreover, The Magic Flute—remarkably, the festival's second new production of the opera in two years—will be staged by Pierre Audi, the current artistic director of the Netherlands Opera and former director of London's Almeida Theatre. Salzburg's 2005 production of the singspiel failed to please either the audience or the management. Like Sellars, Audi is known as a visionary and noted for his bold reimagining of standard repertoire; in spite of the cost, Salzburg clearly felt it had to make a better attempt at one of Mozart's most popular works.
Mozart wrote The Magic Flute in the last year of his life. It explores humanity's quest for love and enlightenment, and was a novel project for the composer, who conceived it for Vienna's popular-theater audience rather than for the court. In shaping his Viennese festival, Sellars took the idea of hope as a theme—finding in Mozart's life and works its exemplification. Two hundred and fifty years after the composer's birth, Salzburg and Vienna resonate with his music, and with the vibrant new work it inspires.
James Fenton is the author of The School of Genius, a history of London's Royal Academy.