The Salzburg Festival, one of the world's most exclusive music fests, opens Saturday, with ticket sales down so far this year as a result of the global economic crisis.
Salzburg, which runs from July 25 until August 30, takes place almost concurrently with another top summertime festival in Bayreuth, Germany, three-and-a-half hours up the road, which runs from July 25 until August 28.
And many in the select audience -- Salzburg's tickets are among the priciest in Europe but Bayreuth's are the hardest to come by -- commute between the two, driving their cars along the 380-kilometre (238-mile) road through snow-capped mountains, brooding forests and hill-top castles.
Given the weakness of the dollar and the pound, however, there are likely to be fewer US and British visitors, Salzburg's business director Gerbert Schwaighofer said.
A week before the curtain was due to go up, corporate ticket sales were down 11 percent from last year and overall sales down five percent.
While Bayreuth is dedicated exclusively to the works of its founder, composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Salzburg offers a wide mix of opera, concerts and drama.
Artistic director Juergen Flimm, who is stepping down in 2011 to be succeeded by Zurich Opera chief Alexander Pereira, comes up with a new motto every year.
This year's is "The Game of the Mighty" and will feature new productions of Handel's "Theodora", Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte", Rossini's "Moise et Pharaon" and a 20th century work, "Al gran sole carico d'amore" by Luigi Nono (1924-1990).
There will also be concert performances of Beethoven's only opera "Fidelio" under Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and revivals of Mozart's "Le nozze di Figaro" and Haydn's "Armida".
Theatre buffs can relish in Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull", Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape", Peter Handke's "Until Day Do You Part or A Question of Light", Friedrich Hebbel's "Judith", a stage adaptations of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and, of course, Hugo von Hofmannsthal's "Everyman", the morality play performed every year since the Salzburg Festival was founded by von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss and Max Reinhardt in 1920.
Concerts range from song recitals and chamber concerts to sold-out performances of those two great rival orchestras, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, plus guest appearances by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Concertgebouw.
Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko, who was absent last year due to pregnancy, is returning this year to give a rare solo recital.
Her regular co-star, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon, on the other hand, has cancelled. But ticket-holders will be able to delight in the vocal fireworks of US mezzo Joyce DiDonato instead.
Handel's "Theodora", in a new production by Christof Loy, stars German soprano Christine Schaefer, Argentinian mezzo Bernarda Fink and US countertenor Bejun Mehta.
The cast for Mozart's "Cosi", directed by Claus Guth, includes French coloratura soprano Patricia Petibon.
And German mezzo Waltraud Meier, New Zealand tenor Simon O'Neill and veteran British baritone John Tomlinson head the cast of Beethoven's "Fidelio".
Among the concerts will be solo evenings by some of the world's greatest pianists, including Martha Argerich, Evgeny Kissin, Grigory Sokolov, Lang Lang and Maurizio Pollini.
There will also be song recitals by Matthias Goerne, Magdalena Kozena, Thomas Quasthoff, Juan Diego Florez and Jonas Kaufmann.
And Estonian conductor Paavo Jarvi will conduct the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in all nine Beethoven symphonies.
In all, there will be a total 186 performances at 14 different venues during the month-long festival.
Tickets prices range from as little as five euros to 370 euros (520 dollars) for the best seats.
In addition to the resignation of artistic director Flimm, the festival's concert chief, Markus Hinterhaeuser, has also decided to quit after 2011, organisers announced last week.
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