Photo: Flickr user thisisbossi
Of the thousands of visitors who come to Salzburg each year, a large number experience the city as the setting of The Song of Music. The real-life von Trapps lived here and began their musical careers here. And, of course, the location shots for the film version of the musical were filmed here.
Salzburgers themselves have been lukewarm to The Sound of Music. On the one hand, they understand the importance of tourists to the local economy. If The Sound of Music brings visitors to their city, so much the better.
On the other hand, The Sound of Music doesn’t quite reflect the image they prefer for the city of Mozart. There’s a reluctance to embrace what may be seen as the Americanisation of the story of the von Trapps, particularly in the film. A common local feeling is that the musical uses their beloved city as a backdrop for kitsch, a fantasy version of the real thing. As a result, most have never seen the film.
But—at long last—Salzburg has finally caught Sound of Music fever. The very first production of the musical premiered last week in the culturally important Landestheater, and it is a rousing success. In fact, eighty percent of the tickets were sold by the time it opened, and there is talk of adding additional performances.
A year and a half went into the creation of the production, and hundreds of children were auditioned for the parts of the six child actors. It has been translated into German, making the song lyrics distinctly different from those loved by millions of English speakers. And some plot details have been changed to bring the story more in line with historical fact.
(For one thing, the Trapp family departed Salzburg by train, having booked tickets to Italy on their way to a planned concert tour of American. The truth is, climbing the mountains surrounding Salzburg would take you directly into, not away from, Germany.)
The creators of the production for Salzburg were also aware of uncomfortable issues about Austria’s Nazi past. The musical necessarily reflects on Salzburg’s partial accommodation of the Nazis, a part of its history with which citizens are trying to come to terms.
So there were questions on many levels about the reception The Sound of Music would receive on its first ‘home town’ production.
These doubts were swept away on opening night. At the end of the performance, as the audience’s tribute swelled to an ovation, Uwe Kröger, who plays the part of Baron von Trapp, interrupted the applause to invite all to sing the title song along with him.
The collective high emotion grew even more intense when he then introduced Johannes von Trapp, youngest von Trapp son, who had travelled to Salzburg for the occasion. Mounting the stage, von Trapp sang ‘Edelweiss’, raising emotions to an even more overwhelming pitch.
It was, all agree, an honest success. The Sound of Music has at last come home to Salzburg.