Salzburg Journal, Part I

Schloss Leopoldskron (
Odds and ends from Festspielzeit, i.e., Festival Time

Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, Jay Nordlinger was at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, hosting a public-interview series for the Salzburg Festival Society and writing criticism. Some of this criticism has appeared at The New Criterion’s website. More will appear in the print edition of that magazine, as well as the print edition of National Review. This journal is for odds and ends.

You arrive at W. A. Mozart Airport on a little plane. As you step off, they give you a chocolate — a substantial Lindt chocolate — in the shape of a heart. (At least one airline does.)

I’ve never heard of anything more civilized, much less experienced it …

‐If I had a nickel for every time I’ve looked at a girl in Salzburg and thought, “That’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen,” I’d have — a good 50 cents, I swear. (Been coming here since ’03.)

‐Over the years, I’ve seen many, many street musicians in Salzburg, not to mention other money-seekers. This, I’ve never seen before: A couple of young people dressed in traditional Austrian dress — e.g., a dirndl — are singing songs from The Sound of Music, so that tourists can film them with their smartphones and then … give some money.

A fine combination of entrepreneurship and artistry.

‐There is a Sound of Music tour (of course), and Golda Schultz has taken it. She is a fan of musicals. She herself is an opera singer, a young soprano from South Africa. And she is the first guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series — a series of Q&As before an audience.

A wonderful, personable, and effervescent guest she is, too. She speaks in a lovely, lilting South African English. This year at the festival, she is appearing in a Mozart opera, La clemenza di Tito.

She grew up in the last years of apartheid. Given the tone of her skin, she was allowed to go to certain theaters, but using the side entrance. Regardless, she fell in love with the theater, especially the musical theater.

She went on to the Juilliard School and other places. She tells us about a lesson she had with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (the famed soprano from New Zealand). “So, love, what are you going to sing for me?” said Kiri. In a nervous, quaking voice, Golda said, “Dove sono” (an aria from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro). “Are you going to sing it like that?” said Kiri. Golda replied, “I hope not.”

There’s more to the story — but we’d better move on.

Among the active singers whom Golda most admires are two (more) sopranos: Krassimira Stoyanova, the Bulgarian, and Anja Harteros, the Greek German. “They both sing like instrumentalists,” she notes, which is so true.

And in the popular field? Well, there are a big three for Golda: Julie Andrews, Bette Midler, and Barbra Streisand. She also admires Billy Joel. And Frank Sinatra — whose attention to words, she says, was extraordinary.

Toward the end of our hour, I have an unusual question for her: “When people say to you, ‘I’d like to be interested in classical music but don’t know how,’ what do you say to them?” Golda tells them to listen to the Mahler Second — the Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” of Gustav Mahler. If that doesn’t do it … well, it will.

Golda Schultz says one interesting thing after another. I will leave you with this: She is currently binge-watching Star Trek — the TV series — and is a major Trekkie.

‐Speaking of Star Trek — or something related: On the street — on a bridge — is a little boy playing the violin. He is playing the theme from Star Wars. The violin case is in front of him, to catch coins. He doesn’t look too happy about what he’s doing. Is his dad, standing nearby (I believe), making him?

‐Let’s turn to something culinary — we could spend this entire journal on things culinary. Last week, I had a hot dog at Yankee Stadium. (I was there to watch my Tigers lose.) This week, I have a hot dog — or something like it — here in Salzburg. Who wins?

Oh, baby: Austria by a mile, I hate to tell you …

‐Meet Patricia Kopatchinskaja — she is the second guest in our SFS series. How do you pronounce her name? You put the accent on the third syllable, before the “skaja.” She says it’s helpful to think of the word “cappuccino.”

PatKo is a violinist, born in Moldova during Soviet times into a family of folk musicians. They left when Pat was about twelve, immigrating to Vienna. The girl went on to be a top, and highly individualistic, violinist.

Much of her career is devoted to contemporary composers — the championing of them. She plays, for instance, a concerto written for her by Michael Hersch, whom she declares, unblushingly, “a genius.”

This makes me smile, for the composer is a friend of mine …

‐Many years ago here, I met a princess — a real live princess: Marianne, Princess zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn. I see her again. “I’m 98,” she tells me. Later, I check online: She will be 98 later this year. She’s 97 now. Let’s not rush things …

‐I have a friend here who’s an American. He’s rich now. But he grew up poor, and I mean poor. “Underprivileged” would not quite cut it. He worked his butt off. “I never had a childhood,” he says. Could not go to college. Man, the stories he tells …

Anyway, he made a success of himself, and he has given millions to charity. Millions. His life is devoted to good works.

He enthuses to me about a book he has just read. It is The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse, the senator from Nebraska. “Jay, what he is saying in that book,” my friend tells me, “I have lived. I have demonstrated the truth of what he says. It’s all true, what he says.”

A helluva commendation (for a book that probably doesn’t need one).

‐I meet a cabbie from Turkey. Ascertaining where I’m from, he says, “America is caput!” I ask him why he says that. “Do you see that house, the first one after the bridge?” he asks. I do. “That used to be the American consulate,” he says. “But there is no American consulate in Salzburg anymore. And you see the next two houses? They both belong to Russia!”

‐This is kind of funny: When he speaks of the medical system in Austria, he refers to it as “Obamacare.” (And he likes it a lot.)

‐The payment system in cabs now is computerized. Information about the ride goes immediately to the government. So there can be no fudging, to the chagrin of certain cabbies I encounter …

‐The third conversation in our Salzburg Festival Society series is in a swank and beautiful location: the library of Schloss Leopoldskron. This palace is well known throughout the world from The Sound of Music. Our guest today is Nina Stemme, who is also well known throughout the world. She is a Swedish soprano, and here at the festival she is singing the title role of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Stemme tackles, and excels in, the most demanding roles. Two others are Isolde (Wagner) and Elektra (Strauss).

She is a wonderful interviewee: smart, candid, and interesting. She is also modest and somewhat reserved, in the Scandinavian style, I would say. When she was in high school, she was an exchange student in America — Langley, Va. (home of the CIA). She enjoyed her time there. Sang in a choir.

If I have understood her correctly, being in America helped open her up to the idea of being on the stage. In Scandinavia, as you know, the tradition is one of self-effacement.

‐Okay, another cabbie — this one from Serbia. We talk a little about music — everyone in this town talks about music — and it turns out that this fellow knows Zeljko Lucic, the renowned Serbian baritone. He even shows me the Contacts of his phone, and there is Lucic’s name …

‐A final item before we leave this Part I, and since I’ve been talking so much about The Sound of Music: I know a lady here in Salzburg whose mother was a schoolmate of Maria von Trapp’s. Like the Trapp family, and like so many families here, my friend’s family sang regularly. It was a normal, important part of life. They sang Bach, they sang folk songs, they sang many things. There was a singing culture in Salzburg.

How much remains? Some, that I can tell you.

Thanks for joining me, y’all, and I’ll wrap up this journal — a brief one this year — tomorrow.


A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.


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