Love, lust and suffering are closely entwined in the story of the beautiful Psyche and her lover Amor (Cupid). The story that the ancient poet Apuleius thought up in north Africa in 150 A.D. was transformed by Johann Joseph Fux into his most sensual opera in the year 1720 in Vienna. Alfredo Bernardini conducts Psiche as the opening performance of the styriarte Festival 2021 setting the scene for what is to come: desire in all its forms will be the theme of the festival.
The readings are one tale after another: Amor (Cupid) and Psyche, Beauty and the Beast, The Thousand and One Nights, Boccaccio’s Decamerone. It is always about how easily human beings are deceived by fleshly lust and lusting after what they see. The charlatan in Pergolesi’s Ciarlatano, the other baroque opera in this year’s festival, is also deceived. Adrian Schvarzstein directs both operas and contributes to a third event with his ideas for the stage: the debut of the styriarte Festspiel-Orchester.YOUTH conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada.
With such a sensual theme, the young naturally have a central role to play: a young soprano from Venezuela scales the headiest soprano heights; young singers relish the medieval times of Orff’s Carmina Burana; young cellists and young performers of chamber music tempt us to classical music and ask in their apparently naïve way “Feel like a little Mozart? How about Schubert? Fancy some Brahms?” Everything about this festival is young and sparkling.
Then there is Jordi Savall, standing out, solid as a rock: with ballet music he revels in the sensuality of the era of “galanterie”. In Stainz he merges three magnificent choral works into a baroque Marian vesper. styriarte 2021 lives up to its reputation as a leading festival of early music.
But the festival’s excursions into the recent past show what forms our eternal search for satisfaction and pleasure took in the 20th century, going back to the Summer of Love in San Francisco, the salsa boom in 60s New York, Piazzolla’s tango and the golden age of pop hits. In their dreams of desire, humans always live out the longings of their psyche – which brings us back to where we started: to an (un)happy princess called Psyche.