Music, drama and controversy: What can you expect at the Salzburg Festival?

The annual Salzburger Festspiele - Salzburg Festival - is already hitting the headlines due its Russian connections, but there is more to the event than politics. Here’s what to expect at the 2022 edition of the festival.

Music, drama and controversy: What can you expect at the Salzburg Festival?
The annual Salzburg Festival kicks off in the historic Austrian city this week. Image by Salzburg Festival / Marco Borrelli.

As the Salzburg Festival kicks off on Tuesday July 26th with a keynote address by Vienna-based author Ilija Trojanow, all eyes on this year’s theme of war and peace.

The title of Ilija’s speech is Der Ton des Krieges, die Tonarten des Friedens (The Tone of War, the Tonalities of Peace) – something that, according to ORF, has placed the festival “under scrutiny” as the war continues in Ukraine.

The Kronen Zeitung also reports that Trojanow – who fled Bulgaria in 1971 for Germany – is expected to reference Russian funding of the festival and the turbulence of current times.

Trojanow said: “Markus Hinterhäuser [Salzburg Festival Artistic Director] knows me, he knows my work. He knows that he will get a politically dedicated, but also poetic-musical speech from me.”

Meanwhile, a large security operation is underway at Salzburg’s Festspielhause and across the city’s festival sites ahead of a speech by Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen as part of the opening ceremony on Tuesday.

Police Chief Inspector Hans Wolfgruber said: “The maximum level of security will be provided, but there will be minimum restrictions for the people of Salzburg.” 

With the festival programme set to run until August 31st, here’s what you need to know about the 2022 Salzburg Festival.

What is the Salzburg Festival?

The Salzburg Festival is an annual celebration of art and culture in the historic city of Salzburg, in the west of Austria.

It has been described as one of the most important festivals in the world for opera, classical music and drama, and the organisers sell over 200,000 tickets each year.

The event was officially established in August 1920 by Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal in a bid to promote peace following World War I and to support the creation of a new Austrian identity following the fall of the Habsburg empire.

Today, the festival programme still includes an annual performance of Jedermann, a mystery play written by Hofmannsthal, in honour of the founder.

Anything controversial about this year?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, many organisations and institutions have come under fire for their associations with Russia – including the Salzburg Festival.

Last week, the festival organisers justified its decision not to cancel a performance by Greek-Russian conductor Teodor Currentzis, who is scheduled to open the festival with his orchestra musicAeterna.

The Guardian reports that musicAeterna is funded by VTB Bank, which is currently under western sanctions and is often referred to as Vladimir Putin’s “private bank”.

Other venues in Munich, Vienna and Paris have already cancelled performances by Currentzis and musicAeterna, but Salzburg Festival Director Hinterhäuser has defended his decision by describing the conductor as a “counter model” to Putin.

In further criticism, the festival is also reportedly receiving funding in the form of sponsorship from a foundation run by oligarch Leonid Mikhelson who has been sanctioned by the UK and Canada, although not the EU.

But Salzburg Festival organisers have severed ties this year with two Russian performers – Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev – over their connections to Putin.

What are the highlights this year?

The opening ceremony will take place in the Felsenreitschule (a theatre) on Tuesday. Attendees will include Austria’s President Alexander van der Bellan, Salzburg’s Governor Wilfried Haslauer, Secretary of State for the Arts Andrea Mayer and Salzburg Festival President Kristina Hammer.

The keynote speech by Trojanow will be broadcast live on ORF 2, which will be followed by a performance by Currentzis and musicAeterna.

Other highlights during the festival include classical music performances by the Vienna Philharmonic, opera productions of Aida and Bluebeard’s Castle, and a youth programme titled Jung & Jede*r.

The full festival programme can be found here.

Performances and events take place at venues across the city, including the Schauspielhaus Salzburg, Kollegienkirche, Dom Platz and the Festspielhaus.

Tickets should be booked in advance and prices range from €5 to €445, although some key events, such as drama performances of Jedermann and Reigen, are already sold out.

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8 Austrian TV series to watch to improve your (Austrian) German

To celebrate Netflix's release of the trailer for its long-awaited German-language biopic on Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Sisi, we've rounded up some other very watchable Austrian TV series that showcase Austrian dialects.

8 Austrian TV series to watch to improve your (Austrian) German

But first, The Empress. This period drama is rumoured to be Austria’s answer to UK hit The Crown.

It tells the story of the impossibly glamorous Austrian-Hungarian empress – better known as Sisi – whose life entranced the public.

It’s due out on September 29, but if you can’t wait that long, try these other Austrian TV series on for size and get a feel for Austria’s different dialects – and its stunning scenery.

We’ve put together a real mixed bag, with some cult golden oldies, as well as some new hits doing the rounds.

Vier Frauen und ein Todesfall (Four Women and a Fatality)
This Austrian crime-comedy series centres on four friends living in an idyllic mountain village. But it’s not quite so idyllic as it seems because people keep on dying. And the four titular heroines – and self-styled hobby detectives – always suspect a crime and are immediately on the scene to solve it with their unorthodox methods.

Look out for the classic line that accompanies every suspicious death: “I glaub’ ned, dass des a Unfoi woar!” (I don’t think that that was an accident). Humour runs through the show – there’s lots of witty dialogue and puns – and it does a great job of showcasing Austria’s beautiful landscapes. 

Watch it on ORF 1.

Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter (A true Viennese person never gives up)
If you want to get yourself accustomed to heavy Viennese dialect, this comedy is a great cult watch. Set in a working-class estate in Vienna, it revolves around the Sackbauer family, especially the rather shouty head of the household Edmund ‘Mundl’ Sackbauer, and how they deal (or don’t) with the chaos of life at that time (it ran from 1975 – 1979), It became a must-see show, even for its detractors, and its popularity led to two movie spin-offs about the Sackbauer family.

Watch it on Daily Motion

Kommissar Rex
Austria has a serious predilection for Krimis or crime stories, so there are a lot to choose from, but we love this 90s Turner and Hooch-esque spin on the genre. Rex, a ridiculously clever German Shepherd police dog is the star of the crime-comedy, helping his partners and the Vienna murder squad to solve crimes.

The early seasons are all set in Austria, so expect lots of Austrian dialect, but filming moved to Italy in 2008.

Watch it on YouTube

Altes Geld (Old Money)
David Schalko’s 2015 dark satire revolves around a dysfunctional Viennese family with pots of money. Although the eight-episode series is set in Vienna, the lead role of the patriarch, Ralf Rauchensteiner, is played by German heavyweight Udo Kier.

He’s going to die if he doesn’t get a new liver sharpish and as he’s going to leave all his money to whoever finds him one, the race is, quite literally, on. It’s essentially “Dallas for psychos”, according to its creator.

Austrian actor Gert Voss was intended for the part of Rauchensteiner, but he died suddenly. The other leads are all Austrian, though, and, like Voss, are alumni of Vienna’s renowned Burgtheater.

Watch it on Prime

Der Pass (The Pass)
Another day, another Krimi, but here, the police are dealing with a serial killer who styles himself as a demon and is paying back society for all its evils by eliminating people. As you do. This 2019 Austrian-German Sky production was inspired by Danish-Swedish hit The Bridge although it’s a completely new story.  

It’s a dark, gripping watch and it’s a winner from a linguistic perspective, too: it teams up a sensible German police officer with a cynical Austrian one, and is a nice contrast of the differences between the German spoken in the two countries. 

Watch it on Sky

Soko Donau (Vienna Crime Squad)
Guess what, it’s another crime series! Soko stands for Sonderkommission, and the special investigation team in question here is part of Vienna’s water police. The long-running seres is a great immersion course in the dialects and cheeky charm of Vienna.

Watch it on YouTube/Prime

Tatort (Crime Scene)
This long-running wildly popular crime series (yes, another one) started out in West Germany in the 70s. Since then, it’s expanded into a cross-country production between Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with episodes moving around different locations. The Austrian episodes are well worth digging out. Chief inspector Eisner has been solving crimes around the country – Vienna, Innsbruck, Linz, the Tirol, Carinthia and Styria – since 1999 and he’s often joined by his alcohol-dependent sidekick Bibi Fellner.

Watch it on ORF or ARD

Bergdoktor (Mountain Medic)
Moving away from crime, this light-hearted medical drama is filmed in the village of Elmau in the gorgeous Wilder Kaiser region. It centres on the professional and personal trials and tribulations of Dr Martin Gruber who gives up a surgical post in New York to take over a GP practice in the Tyrolean mountains.

The gentle, family-friendly show (think a schmaltzier Doc Martin – the TV soundtrack is Take That’s ‘Patience’, after all) might not win any Oscars any time soon, but it’s a nice easy watch and a great way to explore Austria’s Alpine villages without leaving the sofa – the locations are spectacular.

Plus, despite being set in the mountains, the roles are played by a mix of German and Austrian actors, so whilst it may be less authentic, it’s also less dialect-heavy than some other Austrian TV options. 

Watch it on ZDF

For more Austrian TV inspiration, have a look at this list of TV shows to watch to learn about Austrian culture.

Have we missed any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments!