The month-long festival has kicked off with a performance of Richard Strauss's blood-curdling opera "Elektra" in a brand-new staging by Poland's Krzysztof Warlikowski.

Statues used to symbolise the Salzburg festival are seen during the coronavirus outbreak in Salzburg, Austria, April 21, 2020.
Statues used to symbolise the Salzburg festival are seen during the coronavirus outbreak in Salzburg, Austria, April 21, 2020. (Leonhard Foeger / Reuters)

While many theatres, opera houses and concert halls across the globe remain closed, one of the world's most prestigious summer music festivals has opened in Austria this weekend – with strict anti-coronavirus measures in place.

Organisers of the annual Salzburg Festival had originally planned a glittering array of 200 events for its star-studded 100th edition.

But they were forced to shelve many of the concerts, operas and theatre performances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and drew up a much more slimmed-down programme instead.

The show must go on

The month-long festival kicked off on Saturday with a performance of Richard Strauss's blood-curdling opera "Elektra" in a brand-new staging by Poland's Krzysztof Warlikowski.

The curtain also rose on a new production of the "Everyman" play, written by one of the festival's original founders Hugo von Hofmannsthal and staged every year here since.

But a thunderstorm forced that performance indoors – it is traditionally held on Salzburg's Cathedral Square. And local media reports suggested that the audience, all obliged to wear face masks, found it hard to keep safety distances until seated.

Organisers are imposing strict safety measures on the 110 shows that are still going ahead.

All 80,000 tickets on sale – down from the usual 230,000 – are personalised to enable contact-tracing in case of an infection.

Spectators have to wear masks until they are seated, and there are no intermissions or catering.

Artists unable to keep a distance of at least one metre (three feet) from their colleagues, such as those in an orchestra, have to undergo regular coronavirus tests.

Also on the programme is the premiere of a new play, "Zdenek Adamec," by Nobel Prize winner Peter Handke and a new production of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" by German director Christof Loy.

Austria records 700 virus deaths

Austria has so far escaped the brunt of the pandemic, recording some 21,000 new coronavirus cases and around 700 deaths.

But new infections have risen again in recent weeks since tough virus-related restrictions were largely lifted.

One notable recent cluster is at the picturesque Lake Wolfgang, less than 50 km (30 miles) from Salzburg.

Authorities insist the spread of the virus is under control at Sankt Wolfgang and elsewhere in the Alpine nation of nearly nine million people.

READ MORE: Domingo to sing at 100th anniversary Salzburg Festival

Lifetime achievement award

Meanwhile, famed tenor Placido Domingo will accept a lifetime achievement award on August 6 at an invitation-only ceremony. It will be his first public appearance since recovering from the coronavirus. 

The award, chosen by a jury of journalists, recognises Domingo, 79, as ‘’one of the best and most influential vocal actors in the world,’’ saying ‘’he has set international standards at the highest level for decades.’’

Domingo, who was treated for the coronavirus in Mexico, will go on to perform this summer in Caserta near Naples and at the Arena di Verona in northern Italy.

Charges against Placido Domingo

Even before the virus closed opera houses throughout the United States, Domingo saw his US engagements cancelled following reports last summer detailing allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate sexually charged behaviour by more than 20 women. 

Domingo denied the allegations, but after the American Guild of Musical Artists and LA Opera deemed the sexual harassment accusations to be credible, he issued an apology and then quickly amended it.

“My apology was sincere and heartfelt, to any colleague who I have made to feel uncomfortable, or hurt in any manner, by anything I have said or done,” he wrote. “But I know what I have not done, and I’ll deny it again. I have never behaved aggressively toward anyone, and I have never done anything to obstruct or hurt anyone’s career.”

European venues, meanwhile, have stood behind him, with performances cancelled only due to closures forced by the coronavirus. Since European lockdowns have eased, classical music performances are gradually resuming.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies