Salzburg Journal, Part IV

The Mirabell gardens and palace


Our fifth and final guest in the Salzburg Festival Society series is a famed tenor: Ian Bostridge, of England. There is probably no lieder singer more admired. He’s an intellectual too, a bona fide scholar: a historian who earned his doctorate at Oxford.

Bostridge studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, in his academic career. I’m reminded of a wonderful old line: “Britain’s universities — both of them!”

The Bostridges have two children, who are absolutely to eat, as my grandmother would say. A boy and a girl. Is there anything more melting than an English child? One who sticks out his hand, or her hand, and says, “Pleased to meet you”?

I love my country, heaven knows, but sometimes the criticism of us is right: We can be boors. (And yes, I know about Manchester or Birmingham on a Friday or Saturday night. I’ve read my share of Tony Daniels — please.)

Anyway, Bostridge discourses brilliantly to us about music. He thinks and talks as well as he sings. (And thinking is an element of singing, of course.) I’ve said it before in this journal, I’ll say it again: I wish I had a tape for you.

With two Austrian friends, I arrive 15 minutes early for an appointment. We’re to meet a man, to interview him. I figure we’ll loiter until the appointed hour, or a few minutes after, and then go in. They say, “No, no, we can go in now.” I say, “Really?” Oh, yes — perfectly normal.

Across cultures, the question of when to arrive — when to knock on the door — is an interesting one. You could write a book, practically.

I see a woman in a shirt that says, “I’m not a model, I just look like one.” Damned if it isn’t true, too.

The ladies with lots of plastic surgery: I’m afraid they look like burn victims. Some of the men aren’t much better. Why have they done this to themselves? Semi-tragic.

On the streets of Salzburg, an oompah band sounds perfectly natural. And their dress — lederhoseny wear — looks perfectly natural.

Singing in Britten’s War Requiem is Anna Netrebko, the Russian soprano. The soprano Britten had in mind for this part was also Russian: Galina Vishnevskaya (wife of Rostropovich).

In a review, I write, “Netrebko was scalding and imperious, rather like her predecessor, Vishnevskaya (than whom no one has ever been more scalding and imperious).”

My beloved, late friend Pat Buckley could be on the scalding and imperious side. She could also be tender and delightful. I know some people who knew both women: Galina and Pat. Those ladies were almost in a class by themselves.

You know, there’s something I should have mentioned, earlier in this journal — when I was writing about our interview with Piotr Beczala, the Polish tenor. Occasionally, I ask singers whether there are any pop singers they like or admire. You know what Beczala said? He said that Christina Aguilera is a very good singer — a natural singer.

I’m going to YouTube her. It must be true.

Sort of funny to see young Austrian men blasting rap music out of their cars. (American rap music, I should say.)

There are lots of ducks, geese, and swans on the Leopoldskron lake. Many a morning, dogs wade in among them. And they don’t bother those birds at all. The birds aren’t bothered by them, and the dogs seem blasé about the birds.

Strange. Not quite the lion lying down with the lamb, but still . . .

You would think that, after umpteen visits, one might grow tired of Salzburg’s beauty — or be indifferent to it. No, in my experience. It’s amazing every time.

And the festival? A friend of mine calls it “a spa for the ears.” Not bad — both the phrase and the festival. Thanks for joining me, y’all, and see you soon.