At the Salzburg festival, the triumph of women

In a famous book published in 1979, Catherine Clément denounced “The opera or the defeat of women”. The sacrifices were indeed sung there in all tones. If the XXe century was no exception, it dared to go further in social and political reflection as well as in psychological and sentimental exploration. The main titles presented this summer at the Salzburg festival and signed by three masters attest to this.

Puccini, three in one

After “La Bohème”, “Tosca” and “Madame Butterfly”, “Il trittico” (“The Triptych”) by Puccini, does not share their notoriety. No doubt it is ballasted in its posterity by its structure: as its title indicates, it is not one but three short one-act operas, independent of each other. Two are drama, the third pure comedy. Present in these three parts, Asmik Grigorian, known for investing her roles with phenomenal intensity, was one of the attractions of this new production.

The Lithuanian soprano did not disappoint lovers of strong emotions. It will mark the characters of Suor Angelica and Giorgetta for a long time. One condemned to the convent poisons herself after learning of the death of her son. The other, an unhappy wife, discovers the corpse of her lover, strangled by her husband. In these two roles, the intensity of Asmik Grigorian’s acting equals that of singing, the pain of an animal wounded to death. The staging, sober, faithful to the libretto but very detailed, by Christof Loy as well as the precise direction of Franz Welser-Möst, at the head of a Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in a state of grace, contributed to this success.

Corinne Winters: stunning soprano

“Katia Kabanova” by Leoš Janáček stands out as another success, perhaps even more brilliant, because this time it is one and the same work, which develops an irrepressible narrative tension until the final suicide. Transposed to the present day, stripped of all decor, Barrie Kosky’s proposal invests the disproportionate stage of the Carousel of the Rocks only with a crowd turning its back on the public. It represents the mediocrity of the anonymous people who refuse to see reality, the narrow mentality of the Russian village recorded in the short story by Ostrovski, at the origin of the libretto. Scenic desert that reveals the desiccation of human relationships and the atrophy of feelings. Married to a loser, submissive to her mother, despised by an odious mother-in-law, Katia dreams of an elsewhere that she will find in the arms of Boris. But remorse will lead her to get lost in the waves of the Volga.

To succeed in Koskie’s bet, you need performers capable of occupying the space. Salzburg found them, especially Corinne Winters who, in the title role, was making her festival debut. Driven by an astounding (desperate?) energy, the American soprano seems to play her life on stage and lends Katia a luscious voice and phrasing as expressive as it is tense. Terrific Evelyn Herlitzius as a mother-in-law, luminous Boris by David Butt Philip and Tichon (the husband) ideal of cowardice by Jaroslav Březina, all supported by the direction attentive to the smallest detail and a continuous lyricism of Jakub Hrůša.

Bluebeard’s Dark Castle

The show bringing together “Le Château de Barbe-Bleue” by Béla Bartók and “De temporum fine comoedia” by Carl Orff was eagerly awaited. How was Romeo Castellucci going to combine the first, known and stunning, and the second, almost never performed since its creation in Salzburg by Karajan in 1973? We can certainly be irritated by the Italian director’s desire to add elements (a dead baby, in particular) to a play as dense as that of Bartók. But its translation into almost complete darkness, interrupted by symbols drawn by flames, of the strange relationships between these two beings, leaves a lingering memory.

The curiosity, the desire, the sensuality of Judith, the fragility, the doubts, the anxieties of Barbe-Bleue, who is nothing like a substitute for Jack the Ripper, are perceived with as much evidence as subtlety. Aušrinė Stundytė lends to the first her strong personality and her mysterious accents and Mika Kares a very moving nobility, to the second. Teodor Currentzis curves the slightest line and takes care of the colors of this miraculous score. He then deploys treasures of energy and takes obvious pleasure in making Orff’s piece sound with the necessary violence, a vociferation on the end of time and the Last Judgment, nourished by ancient and medieval references, expressed in ancient Greek, Latin and German. Imprecations of the sibyls, howls of the monks, deluge of percussion, imperious brass bands: this music, simple, almost primary, is very effective. And Castellucci to draw inspiration from the painting of the Middle Ages for a show with strong images.

These dramatic female figures, these shattered lives, these unforgettable compositions made their interpreters, exceptional singers, triumph in a Salzburg festival at its best.

Salzburg 2022


– Giacomo Puccini: “Il trittico”, until August 21.

– Leoš Janáček: “Katia Kbanova”, until August 29.

– Béla Bartók: “The Castle of Bluebeard”.

– Carl Orff: “De temporum fine comoedia”, until August 20.


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