Heldenplatz
Heldenplatz
© Christina Baumann-Canaval

Heldenplatz

Thomas Bernhard

Premiere 19/04/2020 / Salzburg State Theatre

Synopsis

On 15 March 1938, Adolf Hitler announced the “Anschluss”, Austria’s annexation into Nazi Germany, at Vienna’s Heldenplatz to cheers from the crowds. 50 years later, the Schusters, a Jewish family, gather with their closest friends at an apartment near Heldenplatz. It is the day of the funeral of Professor Josef Schuster. The philosopher and intellectual, who had been driven away by the Nazis and had returned from Oxford to teach at the university on the entreaties of the mayor of Vienna in the 1950s, saw no other way than to commit suicide, because to him the situation in present-day Austria seemed “much worse than fifty years ago”.

Bernhard’s text painfully highlighted open wounds in the Republic. Less than a decade before Austria joined the EU, the country had just elected Kurt Waldheim as its president, whose role during the era of National Socialism had been the subject of heated debates. Austria’s political self-conception as Hitler’s “first victim” eventually gave way to a more sober reflection of the country’s enthusiastic participation. The publication of the play and its world premiere on 4 November 1988, directed by Claus Peymann, caused one of the greatest (theatre) scandals in Austria’s post-war history. Bernhard’s biting criticism of Austria as a symbol of stupidity, narrow-mindedness and ostracising, fascist-like structures still hurts, even – and especially – today.

In 1988 Claus Peymann, then Artistic Director of the Vienna Burgtheater, commissioned Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989) to write a play to mark the 100th anniversary of the theatre’s opening. The content of the play was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “Anschluss”. After some initial hesitation, Thomas Bernhard wrote “Heldenplatz”. Prior to the world premiere, excerpts of the text caused a scandal – the play was said to insult Austria and exceed the limitations of what was tolerable.

Alexandra Liedtke has convinced Salzburg audiences of her prowess as a director in both the drama (“Intrigue and Love”, “Don Carlos”, “Hamlet”) and the music theatre divisions (“The Tales of Hoffmann”, “La Gazzetta”). The director, who has spent many years in Vienna, traces the Austrian scandal surrounding “Heldenplatz” together with stage designer Eva Musil. Costume designer Johanna Lakner, who also works for the Vienna Burgtheater, completes the powerful female team.

Introductory Talk: 30 and 45 min before curtain up