Opera Goes On in Salzburg, With Lots and Lots of Testing – The New York Times

The Salzburg Festival is unfolding its abbreviated centennial season with an elaborate coronavirus protection plan.

A rehearsal for Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte,” one of two operas being presented in an abbreviated Salzburg Festival and featuring, from left, Lea Desandre, Bogdan Volkov, Marianne Crebassa and Andrè Schuen.Credit…Monika Rittershaus/Salzburger Festspiele

SALZBURG, Austria — A poster advertising this year’s Salzburg Festival bears a quotation from one of the festival’s founders, the poet and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal: “Wo der Wille erwacht, dort ist schon fast etwas erreicht.”

Roughly translated: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Plenty of will — along with political and financial resources few other classical music organizations could possibly deploy — is evident here this summer. For its 100th anniversary season, Salzburg, bucking the coronavirus-prompted trend of canceling cultural events or presenting them only with onstage social distancing, is going ahead with performances featuring casts interacting closely and full orchestras in the pit.

Which is not to say the festival has been unaffected by the pandemic. A sprawling, 44-day anniversary program has been mostly postponed until next year. It has been replaced with a reduced, 30-day schedule, through Aug. 30, of concerts, plays and two (instead of seven) staged operas: Strauss’s “Elektra” and a production of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” that was planned over the past few months, almost unheard-of short notice for opera on this level.

While the 90 performances will take place in a country and region where infections have ebbed and audiences of up to 1,000 — about half the capacity of Salzburg’s main theater — have been permitted, the threat remains present. On July 27, health officials announced an outbreak of the virus in St. Wolfgang, a lakeside resort town about 20 miles from Salzburg.

Markus Hinterhäuser, the festival’s artistic director, said in an interview that he felt the “sword of Damocles” hanging over the artists and staff. But in Austria, he added, “we have measures for cultural institutions — which are 200 percent necessary — that respect the health of the people working and the audience.”

For its 100th anniversary season, Salzburg is going ahead with undistanced performances but an elaborate coronavirus protection plan.Credit…Barbara Gindl/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The otolaryngologist (and trained baritone) Joseph Schlömicher-Thier helped form the festival’s coronavirus plan, which he described in an interview as “Fortress Festspielhaus,” a reference to the festival’s main theater. It puts in place stricter measures than the Austrian government has mandated.

The festival’s theaters will each be capped at about half their capacities; audiences will sit in a staggered, chessboard-like formation and will be asked to wear masks as they enter and leave, but can remove them during performances. Intermissions will be eliminated, and attendees will provide their contact information with the purchase of each nontransferable ticket, so that they can be informed if it turns out they attended a performance with an infected person.

Artists and staff have been divided into three groups, depending on their ability to socially distance. Singers, orchestra musicians and others who need to interact with one another closely are in the “red” group and are tested weekly, whether they have symptoms or not.

Other workers are divided into “orange” (those, like hair and makeup artists and festival executives, who must closely interact with the red group but can otherwise socially distance and wear masks) and “yellow” (those who can always socially distance and wear masks). Red and orange employees must keep logs of their health and contacts. Visitors — including journalists — must provide evidence of a recent negative test before having even distanced contact with members of the red group.