Magazine article Opera Canada

Letter from Bregenz: Leonard Turnevicius Finds a Welcome Mix of Popular Culture and More Esoteric Musical Fare at This Year's Bregenz Festival

Magazine article Opera Canada

Letter from Bregenz: Leonard Turnevicius Finds a Welcome Mix of Popular Culture and More Esoteric Musical Fare at This Year's Bregenz Festival

Article excerpt

"Krenek. Ernst Krenek."

OK, it doesn't have quite the same ring as "Bond. James Bond," but both Bond and Krenek made extraordinary visits to Austria's Bregenz Festival in 2008.

First, 007. For more than a week this past spring, the producers of the Bond movie franchise set up on location at the Bregenz Festival Hall and the famous adjoining Seebuhne outdoors--the so-called Floating Stage, which doesn't actually float since it's built on 250 pilings in the beautiful Bodensee--where they and Daniel Craig, the latest incarnation of Bond, shot sequences and stunt scenes for Quantum of Solace, the new Bond movie slated for worldwide release in November.

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But what brought the Bond troupe to Bregenz in the first place? The answer is a great sales pitch by Franz Salzmann, the festival's Commercial Director, and the 6-million-Euro (about $9.2-million) production of Puccini's Tosca, with a set by Johannes Leiacker featuring a 12-metre-wide blue iris painted on 1,000 square metres of canvas and set into a back wall measuring 50 by 25 metres. That iris caught the eye of Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and director Marc Foster when they attended a performance of Tosca in 2007, and they decided it was perfect for the "Big Brother is watching you" feel they wanted for the movie.

A likeness of that iris was also featured on the front cover of the festival's program booklets for Tosca. For the movie shoot, however, the booklets held by the audience extras were reprinted with even more black on the covers for an extra tinge of menace and evil. In Quantum of Solace, the Bregenz sequences are slated to run for about nine minutes, with Puccini's Tosca playing for almost half. For most movie-goers, it will be a first look at one of the opera world's most spectacular settings.

The Bregenz Festival was founded in 1946, when its first production, Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne, was given on two barges moored on Lake Constance--one for the set and the other for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Four years later, the festival sported its offshore Floating Stage erected on wooden piles. Over the years, Floating Stage productions have been as varied as Mozart's Die Zauberflote, Beethoven's Fidelio, Verdi's Nabucco and Un ballo in maschera, Puccini's La boheme, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Bernstein's West Side Story, the latter a runaway success in 2004 with 28 sold-out performances. Seebuhne productions, each one traditionally featuring some sort of boat sailing on the water between the stage and the amphitheatre, run for two consecutive summers before being replaced, and are given without intermission.

For a few years in the early 1960s, the festival staged Haydn operas in the Renaissance Palace in Hohenems, about 20 kilometres from Bregenz. The 550-seat Kornmarkttheater, a converted granary, was opened in 1965. Since 2004, it has been home to the festival's operetta productions.

A 1,700-seat Festival and Congress Hall was opened in 1980. Since 1988, it has served to counterbalance the big-budget See-buhne productions with less frequently performed operas such as Bohuslav Martinu's Julietta and The Greek Passion, Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, Floyd's Of Mice and Men and Rimsky-Korsakov's Le coq d'or. The Festival Hall also serves as an indoor backup should bad weather interrupt a Seebuhne production, though only top ticket-holders (Category 1, Festspiel-Lounge and Premium Tickets) get to watch a semi-staged version. The remaining spectators get refunds. Bad-weather cancellations, however, have occurred only 13 times over the past 200 performances at the Seebuhne.

The Seebuhne's open-air amphitheatre can accommodate almost 7,000 spectators. It is now served by a new sound system, Bregenz Open Acoustics (BOA), which uses 800 loudspeakers, plus an additional 60 on the Floating Stage. …

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