October 18, 2011

SALZBURG - It is a a story that was turned into one of the world's most successful films and performed in theatres in many countries. But The Sound of Music has been ignored in the Austrian city where the musical and most of its famous songs were filmed.

The tale of the von Trapp family fleeing from the Nazis in 1938 has been taboo in the country that gave overwhelming support to Adolf Hitler and struggled for decades to come to terms with its guilt over the war.

Now that taboo is about to be broken when Salzburg's state theatre stages its first ever production of The Sound of Music.

The musical, which will be in German with English surtitles, will be performed for the first time next Sunday, and then every week until June. The first four performances have sold out and more than 90 per cent of seats have been booked until January.

Karl-Philippe von Maldeghem, 42, the artistic director of the 700-seat Landes-theater, admitted that initially there had been strong resistance to the play. "Some people felt it was still not right to put on a show that reminded Salzburg and the rest of Austria of its role in the war," he said during dress rehearsals last week.

For decades the city had been uncomfortable about the film, which stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and was released in 1965, six years after the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage version was first performed on Broadway.

"Salzburg, like most of Austria, was unable or unwilling to confront its past for a long time," the director said. "For those who were alive at the time the war was too close, the emotions too raw. They didn't want to talk about it."

The first Sound of Music stage show in Austria was performed in Vienna in 2005 but the musical has never been popular in Austria or Germany.There was also local resentment of the film version, which was dismissed as "cheesy" and an inaccurate Hollywood version of Austria in those difficult years.

But in recent years the mood has changed as a new generation has come to terms with its history. and the city, which attracts tourists for its Mozart heritage - the composer was born there - classical music festival, architecture and skiing, wants to exploit more fully The Sound of Music's commercial possibilities.

Tours of locations made famous by the film have been running for years. They include Leopoldskron Palace, Mirabell Gardens, where the children sang Doh-Re-Me, Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria was a nun, and the gazebo at Hellbrunn Palace, recreated in Hollywood studios for the song Sixteen Going On Seventeen.

But most visitors who take the tours are foreign, usually Britons and Americans, and there has been almost no interest from Austrians or Germans, many of whom have never even heard of The Sound of Music. Many first came across the musical when they travelled abroad. Mr Bammer was introduced to it by American tourists who started singing songs from the film on a bus from Munich to Salzburg.

Last week, when The Sunday Telegraph visited landmarks from the film, Germans and Austrians said they had not heard of the musical and its Salzburg connection until they saw the stage show advertised in the city.

At Mirabell Gardens, Dietmar Bach, 58, from Frankfurt, said: "I am not familiar with this story. We came to see a beautiful city."

By contrast, for American tourists, The Sound of Music connection was one of the main reasons for their visit. Nettie Koepenik, 50, from Maryland, said: "It's interesting that they are finally putting on a stage version. You have to know your history to avoid repeating it."

The real von Trapp family on whom the story was based welcomed the new production. Sam von Trapp, 39, Maria's grandson, said: "It's great that The Sound of Music is going back to its home city.

"It's a story about a brave Austrian man who stands up for his beliefs. I hope the people of Salzburg will enjoy the musical and forgive us a few factual discrepancies." Mr von Trapp's grandmother, Maria Kutschera, was studying to be a nun in the city when she was sent to be the governess of one of the seven children of Georg von Trapp, a widower and retired navy captain. They married in 1927 and had three children of their own. In 1935, they formed a touring family choir and three years later, after the Nazis annexed Austria, they fled to Italy and moved on to the United States.

© Copyright (c) The Daily Telegraph

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