"The Sound of Music" gave us some glorious songs over half a century ago and "My Favorite Things" remains, today, my favorite from that show; Coltrane's rendition of it is exceptional. Now, one of the world's best-loved musicals has been staged -- for the very first time -- in Salzburg, Austria. Andreas Gergen, the show's Musical Director has successfully brought to life a living piece of history. Why has it taken so long to come home?
Well, for one thing, through the years, the people of this city have had misgivings about the show. Some have considered it not the "real thing," somewhat syrupy, even kitsch. More importantly, perhaps, the story touches on Austria's Nazi past. The country has traditionally claimed that it was the first victim of Nazi Germany; however, in recent times, Austria has acknowledged responsibility for crimes of the Third Reich. Co-director of the musical, Christian Struppeck, explains that some people still find the issue uncomfortable. Salzburgers prefer to think of their town as the City of Mozart.
Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu
I attended a production of this musical in Salzburg several months ago, and I'm delighted to report that the entire audience, more than half of whom were Salzburgers, elicited not the slightest bit of discomfort. Instead, they were completely engrossed in the show and wildly enthusiastic with their applause after each Rogers and Hammerstein II song. The most poignant moment in a show that was chock full of them was the finale -- the showstopper -- when, during a standing ovation Count Georg von Trapp (played by Uwe Kroger) asked us to sing "Climb Every Mountain" and "Edelweiss" while an electronic libretto system translated the German words into English. We stood and sang the songs with great feeling. The mood was one of recognition, acknowledgment and, yes, acceptance of the play and what it portrays. Leaving the theater, I couldn't help humming some that brilliant score. I doubt if I was alone.
City of Song
Salzburg is one of the most impossibly beautiful spots on earth and its citizens are accustomed to continually hearing tourists exclaim "It must be wonderful to live in such a lovely city!"
It is, after all, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site, the home of Mozart's birthplace and the renowned Salzburg Festival that will be held in 2013 on May 17-20. Its Old Town is one of the best preserved city centers in Europe, surrounded on the south by the Alps and on the north by rolling plains (think of the grand opening scene in the film). Baroque towers and churches abound and narrow alley-ways offer old-world restaurants and charming shops for browsing.
What would this City of Song be today without several "Sound of Music" tours where you visit the original film locations, including the Mirabell Gardens, Leopoldskron Palace and the Nonnberg Convent. After seeing the stage production, I found the tour amusing and fun. One evening we dined in a candle-lit baroque hall, St. Peter Stiftskeller, for a Mozart Dinner Concert performed by accomplished opera singers in period costumes, while enjoying a superb dinner inspired by 18th-century recipes. The Amadeus Consort performed arias, duets and overtures from "Don Giovanni," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic Flute," as well as a rendition of "A Little Night Music." Properly transported back in time, a saunter through Mozart Square on the way to my hotel was a nice finishing touch to the evening.
One of the Best
During my time in Salzburg, I had the great good luck to one day enter the enchanting world of Schloss Fuschl, the renowned hotel property situated just one Mozart serenade -- about nine miles -- from the city. This legendary fairytale chateau, named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 25 best resorts in Europe, was built in 1450 as a hunting lodge. Used as a summer residence for the Archbishops of Salzburg, the castle became world-famous over the years and today is recognized as the number one hideaway resort in Austria.
This Salzburg visit of an enchanted evening at the SOM production, a late-night stroll past Motzart's birthplace and Tim's musical artistry with Porter and Arlen in the grandeur of Schloss Fuschl? Yes, my favorite things!