At Two Summer Festivals, Offerings That Are Gloomy and Grim

ESSEN, Germany — In the constellation of Europe’s performing arts festivals, few make a extra contrasting pair than the Salzburg Festival and the Ruhrtriennale.

The variations start with the occasions’ settings. Salzburg, Mozart’s picturesque hometown, nestled within the Alps, lies on the geographical heart of Europe. The Ruhr area, Germany’s rust belt, is relatively remoted. Salzburg boasts beautiful mountain vistas, an outdated city and a fairy-tale citadel. The Ruhr area is a linked community of drab postindustrial cities.

The Salzburg Festival often performs host to well-heeled guests from over 80 nations, whereas the Ruhrtriennale caters closely to locals with backed tickets.

Yet for all their variations, the 2 festivals share some DNA.

When the Flemish impresario Gerard Mortier based the Ruhrtriennale in 2002, he was coming off a decade of shaking issues up because the Salzburg Festival’s creative director. Although his time there may be now seen as a golden age, Mortier’s makes an attempt to nudge the pageant in a extra artistically daring route proved wildly contentious on the time. When Mortier arrived within the Ruhr area, his new pageant gave him the chance to appreciate large-format experiments that he may by no means pull off at Salzburg.

Two many years later, the Salzburg Festival’s roster of operas and concert events has recaptured one thing of the boundary-pushing and avant-garde aptitude of the “Mortier era.” The pageant’s dramatic program, nevertheless, has struggled to maintain up.

A silent refrain of nude male performers in Friedrich Schiller’s “Maria Stuart” in Salzburg.Credit…Matthias Horn/Salzburg Festival

Salzburg’s out of doors manufacturing of “Jedermann,” a morality play written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, one of many pageant’s founders, is the occasion’s oldest custom. In current years, little of the Austrian poet and dramatist’s different work has been staged there. This summer time, nevertheless, as a part of the pageant’s ongoing centenary festivities, Hofmannsthal’s “The Falun Mine” has taken heart stage.

Written in 1899, although by no means carried out throughout its writer’s lifetime, “The Falun Mine” is a ghost story composed within the pungently lyrical language of Hofmannsthal’s greatest early work. It tells the story of a miner beset by unusual apparitions and swallowed up by a mountain on his marriage ceremony day, and is choked with symbolism, a lot of which remained inscrutable within the dreary manufacturing by the Swiss director Jossi Wieler.

The actors declaimed their traces in a extremely mannered tone from a rotating stage suffering from cinder blocks. It usually appeared that the play itself was buried alive beneath the rubble.

A theatrical dying knell additionally sounded for Salzburg’s new manufacturing of Friedrich Schiller’s “Maria Stuart.” Despite some highly effective pictures, because of a silent refrain of 30 nude male performers, or a single swinging gentle bulb, Martin Kusej’s stripped-down staging, a coproduction with Vienna’s Burgtheater (the place Kusej is the creative director) fell flat, sabotaged by hammy overacting from almost each member of the forged.

The ambiance of gloom and doom appeared to unfold like a fog from Salzburg to the Ruhr, the place a variety of the area’s “cathedrals of industry” — the disused factories which were repurposed as theaters — had a haunted high quality firstly of the Ruhrtriennale.

From left, Annamária Láng, Katharina Lorenz, Deborah Korley, Michael Maertens, Jan Bülow and Markus Scheumann in Barbara Frey’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a part of the Ruhr Triennale.Credit…Matthias Horn/Ruhrtriennale

This summer time’s program is the primary of three to be overseen by Barbara Frey, a Swiss director and the second consecutive girl to run the pageant after Stefanie Carp, whose troubled tenure was minimize brief by the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on Frey’s work thus far, she appears set on restoring the Ruhrtriennale to the provocative and artistically unpredictable spirit of its founder.

In her personal manufacturing of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the edifice in query was the Maschinenhalle Zweckel, heart of a former coal mine within the metropolis of Gladbeck. In this sinister present, one other coproduction with the Burgtheater, a close-knit group of eight performers narrated 5 of Poe’s spine-tingling tales in German, English and Hungarian. With ritualistic precision, they luxuriated within the American author’s melancholy prose.

This ambiance of suffocating disappointment turned gleefully macabre with “The Feast of the Lambs,” a musical theater work written by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Elfriede Jelinek and the composer Olga Neuwirth. Based on a play by the British author Leonora Carrington, it’s, like “Usher,” a story of insanity and familial decay.

Elfriede Jelinek’s “The Feast of the Lambs.”Credit…Volker Beushausen/Ruhrtriennale

The administrators Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd, of the Dublin-based theater firm Dead Center, crammed the cavernous Jahrhunderthalle, a former gasoline energy plant within the metropolis of Bochum, with an eye-popping manufacturing, full with trippy video projections, falling snow and a blood-red lake, successfully blurring the boundaries between home and out of doors horrors, in addition to between human and animal savagery. (You can watch a streamed efficiency on the pageant web site).

As in “Usher,” the oddball spirit of “Lambs” was tethered to creative seriousness and ability. Things seemed very totally different for “A Divine Comedy” by Florentina Holzinger. This younger Viennese choreographer has gained fame for excessive performances that deconstruct dance historical past and sexualized representations of the feminine physique.

Florentina Holzinger’s “A Divine Comedy” within the metropolis of Duisburg.Credit…Katja Illner/Ruhrtriennale

Her newest, Dante-inspired outing combines onstage hypnosis, athletic performances, slapstick routines, motion portray and pornographic conditions to no obvious finish. Using the Kraftzentrale, an infinite former energy plant within the metropolis of Duisburg, Holzinger and a rating of bare feminine performers ran riot for the higher a part of two hours, usually to seat-rumbling music.

Holzinger is a part of the incoming creative group on the Berlin Volksbühne, the place “A Divine Comedy” will switch in late September. It’s a full-on three-ring circus of horrors that was principally simply tedious. I didn’t purchase Holzinger’s willfully transgressive spectacle, however apparently I used to be within the minority: The solely factor that actually shocked me about “A Divine Comedy” was how a lot the viewers beloved it.

I felt there was one creative work on the Ruhrtriennale that linked to humanity — and it wasn’t in a theater.

An set up view of Mats Staub’s “21 — Memories of Growing Up” in a turbine corridor in Bochum.Credit…Sabrina Less/Ruhrtriennale

Over the previous decade, the Swiss artist Mats Staub has performed tons of of interviews with people of varied ages and backgrounds for “21 — Memories of Growing Up,” which has been put in in a turbine corridor in Bochum. Spread over 50 totally different stations, the video interviews present various reflections on maturity, independence and happiness. The venture seems like an archive of human strivings and the chance for rebirth.

Renewal was the watchword on the founding of each the Salzburg Festival and the Ruhrtriennale. In 1920, that meant reclaiming and safeguarding European tradition after the Great War and the lack of the Habsburg Empire; on the flip of the millennium, it meant rejuvenating a depressed, postindustrial nook of Germany.

If the onstage choices at each occasions this yr have appeared unrelentingly grim, they’ve not less than mirrored the struggles of our time. Yet, as we cautiously modify to dwelling with a pandemic for the foreseeable future, we may desperately use some renewal, too.

The Salzburg Festival continues via Aug. 31.

The Ruhrtriennale continues via Sept. 25.