Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, 1874-1929 (librettist for some of Richard Strauss’s operas)

Press Text: Terrace Talk Jedermann

Knof_Moretti_Peters_Wöhler_by SF Anne Zeuner

Pauline Knof, Tobias Moretti, Caroline Peters and Gustav Peter Wöhler. Photos: SF/Anne Zeuner

(SF, 18 July 2020) Construction of the stage and audience seating have been completed; the first rehearsal on Cathedral Square has been set for this coming Tuesday. Preparations for Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann have begun very well, and superficially as in previous summers. Yet everything is different in this special year: “On Day One, we felt a bit like a school class, being lectured on all the things we are not allowed to do,” says Tobias Moretti, who plays Jedermann. He describes a sudden, strange distance between him and colleagues who are usually in intimate contact during rehearsals. Now, however, the complex measures of the coronavirus prevention concept have given him the peace of mind allowing him not to think of this issue while on stage. The fact that Jedermann can take place this year, he adds, is uplifting for culture, and he could never have imagined that the basic theme of Jedermannwould take on such prominence, especially in the Festival’s 100th year. “Perhaps after this apathy, we have an inkling how people one hundred years ago must have felt. The war had just ended and Spanish flu was omnipresent. For people then, dying was something different from the individual treatment Death accords Jedermann,” says Tobias Moretti.

Caroline Peters, in her first year of playing the Paramour, agrees that the lines of the play have taken on a completely different resonance this year. “The fact that the Paramour rejects Death so vehemently now seems far more real, for we have done nothing else during these past weeks than examine the question of how we deal with death,” she says. She explains that she has never had such a lengthy break from her profession, so that she was quite excited before the first rehearsals.

“Just the smell of a rehearsal stage felt like emerging from a long time under water, and finally taking a breath again,” says Pauline Knof, who plays the role of The Debtor’s Wife for the first time. After living and working in Vienna for 16 years, she moved to Berlin in the middle of the coronavirus period. “That was a very difficult farewell. I did not have a last performance at the Theater an der Josefstadt; instead, I stood alone with my two suitcases at the main station and had to take my leave,” she recounts. No sooner had she arrived in Berlin than she received the call from Salzburg’s director of drama, Bettina Hering, asking her to join the Jedermann cast. “The country is not letting me go,” she says with a smile. “From a Berlin point of view, it is fascinating how much cultural activity is possible in Austria, while everything is still so difficult in Berlin.” The way some of her colleagues switched to the digital realm was nice, she adds, but she really missed the live experience of culture. Caroline Peters agrees: “It was frightening to witness how little value culture suddenly seemed to have.” Yesterday evening at the rehearsal, however, joining all these theatre personalities, dancers and musicians, she suddenly felt the magic again which only arises from a live encounter.

Tobias Moretti und Caroline Peters_3_by SF Anne Zeuner

Tobias Moretti and Caroline Peters.

The secret of the eternal Jedermann, explains director Michael Sturminger, lies in the production and its continuous development. This year, the cast changes alone make for a certain magic. His staging will change significantly in some points, he says, while at other junctions it might only be details. And no! – He has not built the coronavirus into his production. Rather, he suggests, it might be nice not to think about it for almost two hours. He has emphasized the cheerful, comedic power of the play, maintaining that it is important for the soul to be happy occasionally. He wants to offer the audience a chance to forget our difficult times for two hours.

Gustav Peter Wöhler is also new to the ensemble and plays the Fat Cousin this year. However, he is no stranger to the Jedermann stage, having played the Good Companion to Ulrich Tukur’s Jedermann in 1999. “It is not only a great joy to return to Salzburg, but I also consider it compensation,” he says, for in 1999 it rained a lot… but now he has joined a fantastic team and is enjoying the new role immensely.

Michael Sturminger considers the fact that a larger community can now gather for the first time after the coronavirus lockdown at the premiere on 1 August to participate in an artistic experience a signal in favour of the arts. “I doff my hat in gratitude to the Festival’s directorate, for the courage they had to fight for us,” he says. “I consider it not only our social duty to reopen schools and hospitals, but also to make the practice of art possible again.” Tobias Moretti adds that it is a burden, a joy, and also a challenge to play this year. He is keen to experience this year with particular mindfulness, because it will be his last year playing Jedermann, he reveals. However, he is not eager to discuss the farewell at this point, as the euphoria preceding the premiere is still very much in the foreground.

One last question: the Paramour’s dress… – “That,” Caroline Peters interrupts with a broad grin, “will remain a great secret until the premiere.”

Press Office of the Salzburg Festival/Anne Zeuner