Had all gone according to plan, I should be in Salzburg – Mozart’s birthplace – this evening (August 6) at Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra. But, as ‘man proposes and God disposes’, I abandoned my travels. Anyway, the Festival, celebrating its centenary this year, cancelled its original programme, proposing something less adventurous instead.
With a ‘select vestry’ of friends, I have been going to Salzburg annually since 1999 but I had been there in the 1960s when dress code was more stringent. I remember having my late father’s dinner suit altered to fit me.
One of the 1963 highlights was Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, conducted by Herbert von Karajan with a stellar cast including Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Sena Jurinac and Otto Edelmann. Another was Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte under the baton of Karl Böhm with Schwartzkopf and Christa Ludwig as the capricious sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella.
I didn’t have a ticket for the sold-out Marriage of Figaro but one became available at the box office and, after much soul-searching and qualms of conscience, I decided to spend the equivalent of £7. The magical performance, under Lorin Maazel, had Walter Berry and Graziella Sciutti as Figaro and Susanna with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hilde Güden as Count and Countess Almaviva. I never regretted paying the price.
This year, besides Elektra, I had tickets for Tosca with Anna Netrebko in the title role, another Don Giovanni and Luigi Nono’s controversial Intolleranza 1960. No point in crying over spilt milk, 2021 is on the horizon.
Reminiscing further, I recall the 2008 Don Giovanni. This perversely surreal production, by Claus Goth, was set in a forest at night. The Don and his alleged servant Leporello spent their time high as kites on drink and drugs but stranger still, in the opening scene when Giovanni kills the Commendatore, the latter also managed to shoot Giovanni who slowly expired as the opera progressed.
When he invited the Commendatore’s effigy to supper Mozart’s music actually became grippingly frightening. Under conductor Bertrand de Billy, with the Vienna Philharmonic and a totally dedicated cast, led by English baritone Christopher Maltman, the performance reached an electrifying intensity. At the end I was shattered.
Irish singers at the Salzburg festival have been relatively few but Dublin-born mezzo Dame Ann Murray enjoyed enormous respect there for over a decade while Tralee-born mezzo Paula Murrihy made a particular mark in Mozart’s Idomeneo last year.
Alas, another Tralee area native, soprano Miriam Murphy, never made it to the prestigious festival. I was shocked by her recent death in London.
Opulent in voice and presence, a past pupil of Kerry School of Music, Miriam came under the guidance of vocal matriarch Veronica Dunne in Dublin before moving to London.
She made her Covent Garden debut as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth and her Isolde for Wide Open Opera in Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in 2012 was no less splendid. Her death, at the age of 48, ended a career that I believe had not yet reached its full potential. May her soul rest in peace.