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June 14, 2020

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Music plays on in Vienna, with tiny audiences

After months of silence due to the coronavirus outbreak, Vienna’s illustrious classical music venues are throwing open their doors — but their vast halls can now host only 100 audience members at a time.

Those eager concert goers have snapped up the few available tickets for the first show since Austria’s concert houses shut their doors in March under a strict lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19.

As the number of infections has abated and the country eases restrictions, venues such as Vienna’s State Opera are now reopening after having to cancel hundreds of performances.

“I watched live streams from Paris, New York and Vienna, but it’s something else when you sit in a concert hall, so I’m so happy it’s starting again,” said Evelyne Strobel.

The 64-year-old teacher was among the lucky ones who trickled into the imposing foyer of the 1,709-seat State Opera last Monday — wearing a mask that matched her pastel-colored outfit — to watch the first post-lockdown show.

Another audience member, 57-year-old Ulrike Grunenwald, drove 16 hours from France’s northeastern Alsace region with her daughter to attend the recital by Austrian operatic bass Guenther Groissboeck.

She traveled with a negative coronavirus test in the event of any border controls.

State Opera Director Dominique Meyer said while it was frustrating to have to cap audience numbers — and obviously not economically viable in the long run — the resumption of concerts is symbolic.

“It’s important for the soul, for people’s mental health and the well being of society,” he said, adding that tickets priced at 100 euros (US$110) or less for the opera’s 14 shows in June were snapped up within 30 minutes when they went on sale last week.

Meyer said he got a bit teary-eyed when attending one of the very first classical concerts since the lockdown, a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Musikverein conducted by the world-famous Daniel Barenboim

“It was extremely beautiful, and Daniel Barenboim, who conducted Mozart’s 27th concerto, told me he has played this concerto a hundred times but never heard it played so well — and I never heard a sound so beautiful,” he said.

Prior to performances resuming, Barenboim told reporters it would be “a very important moment when the music starts again.

“For us, it’s just important that we can play,” said violinist Daniel Froschauer.



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