Two of the biggest names at this year's event announced their changes of plan yesterday. Soprano Anna Netrebko pulled out of an appearance with star countertenor Andreas Scholl and the Venice Baroque Orchestra in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, citing laryngitis, while tenor Rolando Villazón withdrew from a gala concert of zarzuela arias with Plácido Domingo due to "a long-term illness."
These are just the most recent of an unusual number of cancellations by singers at Salzburg this year. Netrebko's performance with the Venice Baroque Orchestra was originally to have included several 18th-century duets in addition to the Pergolesi — until mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca pulled out for personal reasons earlier this summer. French soprano Patricia Petibon similarly withdrew from the Festival's new production of Haydn's Armida. Another new staging, of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini, lost its two biggest stars: tenor Neil Shicoff withdrew from the title role, citing fatigue and stress in the wake of his failure to get the job of Intendant at the Vienna State Opera, and Vesselina Kasarova, cast as the apprentice Ascanio, pulled out after injuring her foot during rehearsals.
"Each case is special," said Jürgen Flimm, now in his first year as the Festival's artistic director. "While Anna Netrebko's cancellation really surprised us," he told the Austrian Press Agency, "we had already known about Rolando Villazón's illness. He badly wanted to sing with us and even gave a concert in Trondheim on Sunday to try and see if [his voice] worked."
Flimm was not as understanding toward some of his other absent artists. Neither was Salzburg Festival president Helga Rabl-Stadler, who was particularly upset with Netrebko. "We are shocked that there are [now] unreliabilities which we had never before expected," she said to Austrian state broadcaster ORF. "For us Netrebko had always been a member of the Festival family.
"We all saw her on the television in Baden-Baden, in good voice and good condition," Rabl-Stadler continued, referring to Netrebko's appearance at three gala concerts in southwestern Germany last week. "And the next day we are informed that she is indisposed."
"We have one season here in Salzburg, which so far has been running very well, even without the 'big names'," observed Flimm. "We now have a good opportunity to get back to basics and return to thinking more about art than about commerce," he told the APA. "Therefore, there will have to be serious discussions with certain singers in which we must clarify just what interest they have in us [at the Festival]. We are not a stepping stone. We are Salzburg. And it ought to go without saying: Salzburg first."