Friday, 16 December 2011

Wiener Festwochen 2012 announced

Austria may have given Edward Bernays to the world but the basics of promoting a cultural event entirely eluded this Festwochen press conference. I wasn’t at the Café Prückel but heard as much as I could take on the radio, including some stupefying scripted remarks by Stéphane Lissner, who has lost all interest in the Festwochen and turns up nowadays just for his sizeable retainer. All that is left is to helplessly nod at Franz Welser-Möst’s assessment of his contribution as ‘meagre’. One might have expected Luc Bondy to make a more credible go of the spin, but there was nothing in his remarks to suggest that the programme, with the honourable exception of the theatre section, might rally to confound his drawn-out Viennese twilight, or recapture at least some of the iconoclastic spark of his Festwochen salad days.

The Verdithon that limps on until 2013 is old news. 2012 sees a new production of La traviata, to be directed by Deborah Warner (uh-oh) with young Russian soprano Irina Lungu as Violetta. Lungu led the second cast at Aix this summer and is therefore familiar with the absurd acting requirements of the Staatsoper’s production, which also gets another outing in May (in Vienna one waits only a matter of decades for two new major productions to come along in the same season).

Beat Furrer’s Wüstenbuch, staged brilliantly this year by Christoph Marthaler, is a hard act to follow. Next year’s new operatic work will be Quartett by Luca Francesconi, already seen at La Scala in a production by Àlex Ollé (from La Fura dels Baus, more photos on their website). It’s a stage adaptation based on another stage adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses, meaning that Francesconi is not only bravely or foolishly trading in Laclos but also Heiner Müller. My tastes in the Italian avant-garde lean more to Sciarrino and to me Francesconi sounds rather like the second pressing of Berio, some superficially beautiful music notwithstanding. But Quartett will probably be more my thing than Gogol. Topical relevance boxes are duly ticked with the Festwochen’s claim that this new work and Traviata show the ‘capitulations of societies whose father figures have failed and which are politically backward and economically badly in debt.’

Once again most of the festival’s highlights are to be found in Stefanie Carp’s theatre programme. The press led their coverage with the casting of Cate Blanchett in Big and Small (Botho Strauß, English adaptation by Martin Crimp), in a Sydney Theatre Company production that will also be touring to London, Paris and Recklinghausen. There’s more drama from down under with the Melbourne-based Back to Back Theatre’s production of Ganesh versus the Third Reich, which according to the blurb is about a director and his actors who rehearse a show about the Hindu God Ganesh travelling to Nazi Germany to reclaim the Swastika symbol’. Rounding off the English-language programme is Simon McBurney’s return to the Festwochen with a new production of The Master and Margarita. My choice for unmissable new German play is Peter Handke’s Die schönen Tage von Aranjuez, which Bondy will direct. Handke’s translation of Euripides’ Helena, also staged by Bondy, was one of the hits of the 2010 Festwochen (I saw it revived earlier this year). Having admired Coetzee’s Disgrace, the prospect of a Kornél Mundrucz stage adaptation is worrying for all his usual shtick; here the novel is to take on the ‘ingenious shape of a reality show.’ There’s Austrian navel-gazing as well with Ulrich Seidl’s Böse Buben, a German-language adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, to which Seidl brings what the festival programme quotes as his research into the ‘cellar as place of supreme male reign.’ There’s yet more Fritzl in Anders Carisson’s Conte d’Amour, which promises to look at ‘romantically twisted, possessive devotion in a locked cellar as a symptom of our patriarchal, materialistic society.’

That is but a limited selection of the German and English plays; elsewhere there’s an intriguing-looking Marthaler Glaube Liebe Hoffnung and much international theatre and dance, though disappointingly nothing from Japan this time around. The full programme can be found here.

For the music programme there is no need to load that PDF as one might simply look here and here. The lack of Festwochen concert programming is explained by Musikverein Intendant Thomas Angyan, who has remarked ‘I’m ready to cooperate. The problem is I get laughed at when I say that I must know by the end of summer what the Festwochen want to do in 2014.’ But while the failure to package next year’s musical offerings is squarely down to Lissner, Angyan nevertheless takes public money and there are responsibilities with that too. The Festwochen are about mass participation and the corollary to that is affordable ticket prices, whereas the Musikverein is more about ‘want a decent seat? Let’s see your $$$.’ I find the Konzerthaus more in tune with Festwochen values (the music programme can be at either venue or both, depending on the year).

Stéphane Lissner is supposedly in charge of Into the City, a kind of Festwochen outreach programme, though there was only one event of musical interest this year (Cornelius Meister, the RSO Wien and assorted beatbox, breakdance and hip-hop acts, corralled together quite brilliantly by Bernhard Gander). Into the City 2012 is concerned more with integration, a theme which dominates the festival programme elsewhere and almost certainly has more to do with our latest addition to the federal cabinet than Lissner. I regard state secretary for integration Sebastian Kurz (pictured) as a bit of joke, but to his credit he sees these cultural projects as a major plank of his integration agenda and in the Festwochen’s case these have been devised with no small amount of creativity. Urban Sounds of Turkey, a community music workshop, will run for three weeks in an area of Vienna known for dubious claims of disappearing Würstelstände. Paradis artificiels is a mobile radio station that will tour the city, broadcasting ‘audio portraits of people who have had intensive drug experiences’, presumably to challenge the FPÖ’s abiding assumption that only non-white immigrants have these. Not part of ItC but also taking up the immigration/integration theme are Oleg Soulimenko’s Made in Austria, which will showcase immigrants in a positive social light, and the table-turning exercise of Österreicher integriert euch!, which involves ‘setting up integration camps in strategic places throughout the city for anyone who is born and bred Viennese and willing to be integrated into a “problematic minority”.’ 

Many of these events are free. Booking for everything else opens on 7th March. The Festwochen run from 11th May to 17th June and their website is here.

Image credit: APA / Helmut Fohringer (Bondy), La Fura dels Baus (Quartett), ÖVP (Kurz)


  1. I wonder which mood Deborah Warner will be in for Traviata. Her recent Onegin at ENO was decidedly trad (though sadly undercast in the lead two roles).

  2. I actually don’t mind traditional productions done well. I have a soft spot for Roberto di Simone’s Cosi at the Wiener Staatsoper for instance, which isn’t particularly deep but is acutely observed. With every element of the stage action, even when it gets a bit silly, you get that rare but satisfying feeling that he obviously knows the score inside out. Who knows, maybe Warner will surprise us with something capably traditional or bolder. But she shouldn’t count on the Theater an der Wien’s audience to applaud the sets.