Selling salzburg

Updated: 2014-12-23 07:31

By Chen Jie(China Daily)

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The president of the longtime festival aims to attract more Chinese visitors through promotional events in the country. Chen Jie reports.

Helga Rabl-Stadler, president of the Salzburg Festival, finds fulfillment in working with world-renowned musicians every summer - and also in chats with taxi drivers.

"We have the best baroque operas this year, Mrs President," a taxi driver once told her. Another driver complained: "Why did you make this opera? I heard it last time. It was not that good."

The Salzburg Festival offers a unique experience that can't be found anywhere else in the world, says the 66-year-old Rabl-Stadler.

"Nowadays, you can easily hear many concerts and operas in Beijing, Shanghai, Paris, or London, but in Salzburg, the experience is definitely different. It is a small town far away from the distractions of big cities. You can only concentrate on music. You can talk about what you see with everybody in the town, even a taxi driver," she told China Daily before hosting a banquet in Shanghai on Nov 9.

To attract more Chinese tourists to the musical town in the heart of Europe, Rabl-Stadler and her team have hosted promotional events in China since 2012. The Salzburg Festival's main sponsor, Rolex, helps organize the event in Shanghai, while Audi presents the one in Beijing.

For this year's Shanghai event, the ballroom of Hotel Peninsula Shanghai was decorated to resemble Hofstallgasse, the street where Mozart went to school. The tenor Ildar Abdrazakov from St. Petersburg sang arias by Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Verdi, accompanied by pianist Alessandro Misciasci from Salzburg.

At next year's festival, the tenor will perform in the opera concert of Verdi's Ernani under the baton of Riccardo Muti.

Actor and director Max Reinhardt and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal came up with the idea for the festival in 1917, during World War I, "because they believed that only the arts could reconcile people's fighting against each other in World War I", says Rabl-Stadler.

"I think this peacekeeping mission is very important and touching," says Rabl-Stadler. "That's why we often invite Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The aim of the orchestra is to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, and it is composed of musicians from countries that fought against each other during the war ... ."

The Salzburg Festival, which presents everything from concerts to operas and dramas, has remained a popular event through the years because of the richness and quality of the program, says Rabl-Stadler.

Every year she and Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's artist director, "audition" productions around the world and try to bring the best operas and concerts to Salzburg.

Rabl-Stadler was appointed president of the Salzburg Festival in January 1995. Before that, she was a journalist, politician and saleswoman. In the early 1970s, she became the first female journalist to write a column for the Vienna daily newspaper Kurier. From 1988 to 1995, she served as president and financial adviser of the Salzburg Chamber of Commerce.

"I want to enhance the global importance of the festival," she says. "I never feel satisfied, even if we are sold out. We sold 280,000 tickets last year, the most ever. We had many people visit from Germany and Italy, but we want to attract more audiences from other countries such as China.

"China has one of the oldest cultures in the world. You had art when we were still not so developed. I'm proud to meet with people that have such a long history. We can learn from each other," she says, adding that she was impressed by Chinese porcelains and gardens during her first trip to the country more than 20 years ago.

Among Austrian cities, only Vienna attracts more Chinese tourists than Salzburg. In 2012, the Salzburg Festival co-produced Puccini's opera La Boheme with the Shanghai International Arts Festival. It premiered in Salzburg in August and then opened the Shanghai International Arts Festival in October. The show was well received in Shanghai, and Rabl-Stadler is looking forward to more co-productions with China in the future.

In 2012, she also attended an art fair organized by the Shanghai International Festival, and was impressed with the variety of art forms. "I also went to see a five-hour Kunqu Opera, The Peony Pavilion. It's like Wagner's Ring Cycle, in that you can spend three nights watching it," she says

"Watching performances is like a drug. If you see more and then you need more, you get addicted to it. I really hope more Chinese people come to experience Salzburg's art atmosphere."

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(China Daily 12/23/2014 page20)