The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of mass cultural events all over the globe. For its 100th anniversary season, the Salzburg Festival is presenting performances with an elaborate Coronavirus protection plan in place, reported Ben Miller of The New York Times.
While the advertisement posters of the festival quote one of the festival’s founders, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, “Wo der Wille erwacht, dort ist schon fast etwas erreicht” (“Where there is a will, there is a way”, the festival’s 44-day anniversary program is reduced to a 30-day program until August 30. The Salzburg festival will offer a total of ninety performances, including plays, concerts, two staged operas (Elektra and Così Fan Tutte) to up to 1,000 audiences— about half the capacity of Salzburg’s main theater.
According to trained baritone and otolaryngologist Joseph Schlömicher-Thier who helped put the festival’s Coronavirus protection plan in place, the festival’s main theater puts in place stricter safety measures than the Austrian government has mandated. Along with theaters being slashed to half their capacities, audiences will be sitting in a “chessboard-like” formation and will be wearing masks when they enter and leave (masks can be removed during performances). Additionally, there will be no intermissions and all attendees will have to provide their contact information so that they can be informed in case they were to attend the same performance as a COVID-19 positive individual.
Both staff and artists have been divided into three groups based on their ability to socially distance during the festival. The “red” group consists of singers, orchestra musicians, and others who have to work within close proximity to one another, and are tested weekly regardless of whether they have symptoms or not. The “orange” group consists of makeup artists, hairstylists, and festival executives who need to interact with the red group but can socially distance and wear masks. They are also required to keep logs of their health and contacts. Finally, the “yellow” group is made up of the ones who can always socially distance and wear masks, and visitors are required to provide a recent negative test before they are even allowed to interact with anyone. The festival has organized a private laboratory to test large numbers of people at the same time and get results within a few hours.
Reportedly, the festival could be carried on during the time of a pandemic because of ‘Austria’s strong public health system’ and the festival’s connections. The festival’s president, Helga Rabl-Stadler, was a member of Austria’s conservative People’s Party and initially planned to retire this year but stayed back when the pandemic threatened the festival’s centennial celebrations. Additionally, Daniel Froschauer of the board of directors of the Vienna Philharmonic said that he had reached out to Austria’s prime minister several times to confirm the orchestra’s return to public performance. The festival’s traditional house band, the Philharmonic, will be playing for the two operas and in a series of concerts. However, the plan came into action at a substantial price. The Salzburg Festival gave back €24.5 million ($29 million) it had sold in tickets to its program and was left with only €7.5 million ($8.8 million) worth of new tickets to sell.
Mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa of Così Fan Tutte said that while she knew she is “taking a risk by being onstage with people”, it was also important to “start finding solutions”. According to Crebassa, free live-streamed concerts are “a beautiful gesture and a gift for the audience” but it cannot last as streaming won’t help ‘pay the bills’.