Sound of Music comes to Salzburg
In contrast, most Salzburgers don’t even know the musical. In a city that traditionally raps American culture as trashy, residents prefer to be associated with Mozart, Salzburg’s favorite son, instead of a film many write off as Hollywood kitsch.
Austria has long shed its self-fabricated myth that it was a victim of Nazi atrocities instead of one of its most fervent supporters. Restitution panels have returned homes and precious artworks. Millions of euros (dollars) have been doled out to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and schoolbooks now deal in depth with this nation’s complicity in the crimes of the Nazi dictator, born just 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Salzburg.
“I think that this is truly the right moment in time, when Austrians are actually ready to deal with their past,” says Andreas Gergen, who directed the German-language production.
Still, anti-Semitic sentiment remains. A survey of 1,070 Austrians conducted earlier this year showed that 12 percent want their country “free of Jews.” Backed by the country’s neo-Nazi fringe, the country’s rightist FPO party is the second-strongest in the country _ although it now exploits Islamophobia instead of anti-Jewish sentiment.
And the sight of Nazis on stage may remind some older audience members of uncomfortable historical facts. Over 99 percent of Austrians voted in favor of their country becoming part of the Third Reich in 1938; proportionally more Austrians than Germans were Nazi party members, and many of Hitler’s closest henchmen were Austrians.
Like the Salzburg version, the first full Austrian showing in Vienna in 2005 featured actors dressed as Nazi storm troopers standing guard at exits and a theater box filled with mock Nazi dignitaries _ clearly too painful for some. Back then, some elderly audience members who last witnessed brown-shirted men wearing swastika arm bands as children were so troubled they hastily left the theater without watching the performance.
Six years later, reactions to the Nazi theme are mixed.
“Of course it’s not so pleasant for us Salzburgers to be confronted with it,” said Judith Herbst. But the smartly dressed woman in her mid 60s said that as far as she was concerned the role of Austria in Hitler’s crimes was no longer debatable.
For others, though, the sight of men in forbidden Nazi garb entering the theater remains traumatic.
“It was horrible for a moment _ almost unbelievable,” said theatergoer Fink. “Thank God this era is in the past!”
But there were no gasps of dismay regarding the rest of the show.
Some hummed its ear-candy melodies at the coat check after the performance.
“Kitsch? I was afraid that would be the case,” said Helmi Popeter. “But once you see it, you realize that’s not so.”