THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Bless my homeland forever
The Sound of Music is a reminder that freedom is something we have to fight for every day. For us this became the leitmotiv for the musical, which after a conspicuous delay of 46 years, opened in German at the Volksoper Wien in February 2005. Contrary to the international fame of both the musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein (1959) and the ensuing film by Robert Wise (1965,) Austrians never embraced The Sound of Music, responding instead with apathy, even hostile resentment to the sociopolitical inaccuracies and the vulgarization of a painful moment in their history. The Sound of Music raises a sensitive subject for Austrians, the most disturbing of which is the way it questions Austria's response, or lack of, to Nazi occupation.
While creating the production we were faced with the daunting challenge of overcoming this long-held resistance. We felt it was crucial to look at the piece with open-mindedness and a lack of irony to more honestly address the political and social choices that were made in Austria during the war.
In our effort to embody the message of freedom, we strove to create sets, costumes and lighting (there are over 20 set changes) that avoided cliché. We intentionally cast typical children who misbehaved and possessed voices that were, though expert, more human than angelic. By way of appeasing local sensitivities we chose to right a culinary faux pas: schnitzel, as any Austrian will tell you, is never served with noodles.
On opening night, for the song contest of the penultimate scene––a moment in the Sound of Music that still sends chills down the spine of most Austrians––we flooded the auditorium with actors dressed as storm troopers, filled a theater box with mock Nazi dignitaries, draped a Swastika banner onstage and dramatized the scene with blinding searchlights.
In the end the audience approved and while earning rave reviews the run was sold out.
"Renaud Doucet has righted many wrongs in his joyous production by minimizing the sucrose level and maximizing the historical content … André Barbe has given the show authenticity without being literal," wrote Variety.