I vespri siciliani

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August 2020

Powerful, yet lonely and empty inside, full of longing for human feeling: in his aria in Act III of I vespri siciliani Guido di Monforte seems like a forerunner of Verdi’s later ruler figures, Simon Boccanegra and Philip II. The musical portrait of the French governor of Sicily conveys a psychological complexity that is indicative of the new paths followed by Verdi after the ‘trilogia popolare’ of Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata. Premiered in1855, Les Vêpres siciliennes (its original French title) is the first work that he composed for the Paris Opéra without — as in the case of Jérusalem — simply reworking an Italian opera. This time his intention was to write a truly elaborate grand opéra that would rival Meyerbeer’s triumphs. The basic subject of the opera, which Verdi demanded should be ‘grandiose, impassioned and original’, was provided by the historical Sicilian revolt against French rule in 1282.
Grand opera — that means not least spectacular dramatic effects and surprises. In the finale of Act IV, for example, the rebel conspirators Elena and Procida are led to their execution to the strains of a De profundis, while Arrigo — another Sicilian patriot — after a violent inner struggle brings himself to a public admission with which he can save his lover and his friend from the executioner’s axe — that he is (as has been revealed to him only a short while before) the illegitimate son of Monforte. To an even greater degree than in the large tableaux, Verdi’s imagination was fired by the individuals and their relationships to one another, by private feelings on which politics casts its dark shadows. In particular the love between Arrigo and Duchess Elena, whose brother had been murdered by the French, expresses itself in a tone of restrained pathos which is characteristic of this adventurous score as a whole and which constitutes one of its especially appealing elements.


Program and cast

Creative Team

Daniele Rustioni - Conductor


Plácido Domingo - Guido di Monforte
Neven Crnić - Il Sire di Bethune
Fabio Sartori - Arrigo
Mika Kares - Giovanni da Procida
Rachel Willis-Sørensen - La Duchessa Elena and others


Philharmonia Chor Wien
Walter Zeh - Chorus Master
Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg


It was Max Reinhardt who suggested that the Winter Riding School should be converted, and it was also his idea to transform the Summer Riding School (Felsenreitschule) into a theatre. During the first half of the 17th century conglomerate rock was quarried here for the building of the cathedral. In 1693, during the reign of Prince-Archbishop Johann Ernst Thun, according to plans by the Baroque master architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, three tiers of 96 arcades were hewn into the walls of the disused quarry so that from here people could watch equestrian displays and animal baiting events.


In 1926, when Max Reinhardt first attempted to use the Felsenreitschule to stage Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters for the Salzburg Festival, the ambience was ideal for the “realistic” character comedy in the style of popular theatre: the action took place on a so-called Pawlatschenbühne, a small raised platform, the ground consisted of compressed earth and the audience sat on wooden benches. In 1933 Clemens Holzmeister built a remarkable set for the production of Faust in the Felsenreitschule, the Faust Town which is still regarded as one of the most impressive transformations of this venue. The first opera production in the Felsenreitschule took place in 1948 when Herbert von Karajan conducted Gluck’sOrfeo ed Euridice.


From the end of the 1960s radical conversion and adaptation work took place, mainly according to plans by the “festival architect” Clemens Holzmeister. An understage area, an orchestral pit and a lighting bridge were installed, a weatherproof roll-back roof to offer protection against rain and cool summer evenings, and finally an auditorium with boxes and circles as well as a depot for scenery were created.

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s staging of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, which was presented here every summer from 1978 to 1986, achieved legendary status. The same is true of Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Anthony and Cleopatra in the productions by Peter Stein and Deborah Warner (Coriolanus),which in the early 1990s were internationally acclaimed.


When the Haus für Mozart was built, the Felsenreitschule already received a new audience grandstand, which resulted in improved sightlines and acoustics for the audience.


Improvements are:

- A new roof construction with two fixed girders at the edges and three elements supported by five telescope cantilevers: the slightly inclined pitch roof consisting of three mobile segments resting on five telescope arms will be retractable and expandable within six minutes. Hanging points on the telescope cantilevers for stage technology (chain hoists), improved acoustical and heat protection and two lighting bridges will optimize the stage action.

-     New security technology including electrical installations, stage lighting, effect lighting and effect sound.

-     In addition, the interior expansion of the 3rd floor will be completed at that time, and the building shell of the newly constructed 4th floor under the roof of the Felsenreitschule will be made available to the Festival – this being the last instance in which new space can be created within the Festival District.

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