Mysteries: A Great World Theatre in Salzburg

Theatre marathon

World Premiere: 21/03/2020 / Salzburg State Theatre


The city is buzzing. Spectators are flocking to the performance. The squares are bustling with merchants, people are laughing, eating and drinking. Throughout the performance the audience is following the plot with bated breath, feeling and suffering with the characters. In the Middle Ages, mystery plays would enthral entire cities. Hundreds of performers and spectators would meet at these festivals, which involved all members of the city community.

Following the example of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Great World Theatre”, the Salzburg State Theatre revives this old tradition in a new interpretation. In the play by the co-founder of the Salzburg Festival, the “Creator” bids the character of the “World” to take the stage and present various motifs of fate. The structural arrangement of our “World Theatre” serves as a frame for four intertwined plot complexes, which all refer to the mystery of creation. Charles Darwin and the scruples he felt about having to deviate from the Bible with his theory of evolution are followed by the divinely beautiful sounds of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation”, which are in turn offset by the bitter struggle between evolutionism and fundamentalist creationism, until the focus finally shifts to the meaning of creation and its finality.

This new version of the Great World Theatre in Salzburg is a combined effort by all forces of the theatre and it merges opera, drama, dance and the participation formats of the Young Theatre division. The theatre festival opens 90 minutes before the start of the actual performance with dramatic installations and readings in and around the venue, continuing through the extended break and concluding accordingly.

Refreshments will be provided during the mammoth programme. A variety of food and drink will be offered on each floor during the break, with staged interventions to accompany the audience’s conversations and their trips to the buffet.



As a young man, Charles Darwin travelled the world aboard the British research ship “Beagle”. On the Galapagos Islands he discovered that species differed from one island to the next. This experience changed his view of the world and inspired him to develop his theory of evolution as an alternative concept to the notion of a divine creation. Darwin was well aware that he was treading dangerous ground with his theses. “Galapagos” uses a fabric of texts to bring Charles Darwin’s world to life, with his recollections of foreign countries and wretched sea-sickness, his self-doubts as well as his debates with fellow scientists and with his fiancée Emma Wedgwood, who was not ready to give up her belief in creation. A battle of the words portrays this extraordinary man, who found the courage to dethrone a dogma of society and to let biological facts and rational insight compete against faith and its traditions.


Storm, thunder and lightning, rain and snow, foaming ocean waves, a gently babbling brook, the dawning of day and the rise of the moon at night – Haydn’s work “The Creation” offers all this and much more. Its three parts put into music the days of creation and Adam’s and Eve’s life in the Garden of Eden. “In all the time the theatre has been standing it has never been that full,” a contemporary reported of the world premiere of Joseph Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation”, which turned out to be one of the most significant musical events of the year 1798. The soloists of the opera and ballet divisions, the choir and the Mozarteum Orchestra fully commit themselves to this epoch-making musical work, developing an imaginative panorama of the biblical creation with a choreography of powerful images.

Inherit the wind


The “Monkey” Trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925: Christian fundamentalists sued a school teacher because he had discussed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in his lessons. The trial attracted much public attention. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote a play about it that focuses on the contradictions between evolutionism and creationism (the verbatim belief in the biblical account of creation). In 1960 the play was made into a film, which starred Spencer Tracy and was nominated for four Academy Awards. “The film’s topic – intolerance and fanaticism as opposed to the democratic right to free speech and free teaching – is highly relevant today,” Die Zeit wrote at the time. What the authors could not predict was that this topic would still warrant heated debates in the 21st century. The Salzburg State Theatre presents the German-language premiere of the play in 2020.


Douglas Adams’s fantasy story about intergalactic traveller Arthur Dent – who sets out to unravel the mystery of the universe, only to discover that his long and arduous journey full of wrong paths and detours will lead him to the revelation that the meaning of life is supposedly expressed in the number 42 – is the starting point of a theatrical inquiry into the dying of the circle of creation which concludes the evening at the Salzburg State Theatre. Is humanity aspiring to play God in order to achieve the freedom – as “homo deus” – to extinguish the old creation and design a new world in its stead? Documentary texts describing the traces of human existence on our planet and their destructive power form a dense network of scenes that makes the mysteries of our present day and future palpable as challenges for the global society.


Musical Director Gabriel Venzago

Director Carl Philip von Maldeghem

Choreography Reginaldo Oliveira

Stage and Costume Design Stefanie Seitz

Choreinstudierung Ines Kaun

Dramaturgy Friederike Bernau
Christina Piegger