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Salzburg Festival Remains a Crammed Summer Stage

Yet the pressure is always on to justify Salzburg’s reputation and its often sky-high prices, which can reach north of $500. As Jürgen Flimm, an old artistic director here, is said to have put it, “People don’t come to the Salzburg Festival to watch us save money.”

The staged operas I saw during my six days here didn’t seem cheap, but they looked and felt too much the same: all gloomily sleek. Best was Martin Kusej’s rueful production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” set in a series of anonymous, sterile, nearly empty spaces populated by the rootless members of a contemporary crime syndicate.

The druggy opening promised a too-broad mafioso approach, but Kusej settled in with action that was sly, surreal and sensual, muted without being chilly, full of casual, bloody violence but also melancholy tenderness. The cast was strong, particularly a trio of female leads — Adriana González, Sabine Devieilhe and Lea Desandre — with light, precise voices and a Mozartian blend of wistfulness and energy.

And Raphaël Pichon’s conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic, the festival’s eminent house band, was remarkable. While Pichon often does Mozart with his period-instrument ensemble, Pygmalion, he embraced the Philharmonic’s more traditional warmth. Detailed without being finicky, this was a grand but dashing, controlled but vibrant “Figaro.”

Christof Loy’s staging of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” had one of Loy’s typical airy sets — wood-paneled but otherwise as blank as the rooms in “Figaro” — as well as his wan, sometimes swooping, sometimes sullen venture into choreography.

With Gianluca Capuano serenely leading Les Musiciens du Prince, Monaco, this was one of the annual vehicles for the star singer Cecilia Bartoli, who premiered it this spring at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival, the sister event she runs. Dressed in a men’s suit with a long ponytail, Bartoli’s Orfeo had impassioned dignity, but her voice was less persuasive and juicy — sounding sharp-edged at the top of its range, colorless at the bottom — than in her other recent appearances here.

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