The Salzburg Easter Festival kicked off with dramatic flair on Saturday evening with the opening of Georges Bizet’s beloved 1875 opera, “Carmen.” The production stars Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, who makes her debut in the title role, and German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who performs opposite Kozena as opera’s most famous spurned lover, Don José. The Berlin Philharmonic continues its long tradition of performing at the festival, now in its 46th year, and presents the work under the baton of festival artistic director Sir Simon Rattle.
“It’s not often that the words ‘the most popular’ and ‘the greatest’ ever appear together in classical music,” said Rattle in a video introduction on the event’s Web site. “But this is one of those cases where Bizet did something that nobody had done before and nobody else has done anything like – let alone better – since.”
The opera, which will be performed again on April 9, was directed and staged by renowned British choreographer Aletta Collins, who has choreographed pieces for such institutions as the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, Opera North, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
“Carmen” is known for its Spanish-inflected dance scenes, and Rattle described the festival’s interpretation of Bizet’s work as a “really beautiful, colorful, dance-oriented production by Collins.” He noted that the choreographer brings a unique perspective to the opera, as she is highly skilled at “moving people around stages and making very brilliant and direct visual statements, and also simply the fact of being a woman and giving another kind of view on this great, well known masterpiece.”
The festival runs through April 9 and, in addition to “Carmen,” features three concert programs with the Berlin Philharmonic. The first, Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, will be performed under the baton of Zubin Mehta. Shumann’s Piano Concerto, with soloist Murray Perahia, will be presented next, along with Luciano Berio’s “O King,” and Fauré’s Requiem. The final line-up includes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat, with soloist Emanuel Ax, and Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” featuring mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and tenor Jonas Kaufmann.
Along with these offerings, the 10-day event includes a chamber music series featuring members of the Berlin Philharmonic performing works by Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Ferruccio Busconi, and Manuel de Falla – a perfect accompaniment to the Easter holiday and the spring season.