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Salzburg Welcomes Home The Sound Of Music

Salzburg has finally been won over after a 45-year battle to ignore the musical that everywhere else in the world has an almost cult following.

The story of the von Trapp family fleeing Salzburg to escape the Nazis in 1938 has been almost taboo in the city ever since it was released as a film in 1965 - six years after the original Rodgers and Hammerstein stage version was first performed on Broadway - and it remained virtually unknown among Austrians.

Not so now among the hundreds of thousands of visitors that every year head to Salzburg with the sole intention of visiting the sites made famous by the Julie Andrews classic.

From the sweet 16 pagoda through to the Alpine Meadow where the nun Maria makes a spectacular Sound of music opening to the film – tourists can't seem to get enough.

Now the last taboo has been broken after Salzburg's state theatre staged its first ever production of The Sound of Music which this week was recorded - and the CD has now been rushed out to shops to be on sale from this weekend.

The production has proved such a success that every scheduled performance has been sold out - said Landestheater press spokesman Katrin Kahlefeld - and they have now scheduled in a whole new number of performances to take the production into next year.

Carl Philip von Maldeghem, 42, the artistic director of the 700-seat Landestheater, admitted that initially there had been strong resistance to the play. The first Sound of Music stage show in Austria had actually been performed in Vienna in 2005, 40 years after the musical's premiere - but it never took off in the Alpine Republic.

He said: "Some people felt it was still not right to put on a show that reminded Salzburg and the rest of Austria of its role in the war."

But this week he was on hand to show that the Landestheater made the right choice and together with the show's star  Uwe Kröger he presented the new musical CD to accompany the theater production. The choice of German-born Uwe Kroeger, 47, who has worked in Austria for 20 years, as Captain von Trapp is seen as one of the reasons for the Sound of Music finally coming home to such a warm welcome.

Unveiling the CD he said: "It is nothing to be ashamed of, on the contrary Austrians should be proud of this man who stood up for his principles."

The CD containing the tunes made famous by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer has been snapped up by local stores across Salzburg to go alongside CDs of the music of the city's more famous sons like Mozart, Johann Michael Haydn and Herbert von Karajan.

The Landestheater's von Maldeghem admitted at the time of the musical hitting the stage in Salzburg that the city, like most of Austria, was unable or unwilling to confront its past for a long time."

He added: "For those who were alive at the time the war was too close, the emotions too raw. They didn't want to talk about it."

After the war Austrian artists and intellectuals, including Jews who had suffered persecution under the Nazis, were unwilling to undertake a project that would still be seen as provocative.

But the mood has changed, perhaps lightened by the constant stream of visitors wanting to run through local meadows singing "The hills are alive with the sound of music."

Salzburg prides itself on its Mozart heritage – the composer was born there – and the highlight of the city calendar remains the classical music festival, with the backdrop of the spectacular local architecture, surrounded by impressive mountain vistas.

Despite all that research shows that the Sound of Music remains the number one reason to visit the city for tourists.

Tours of locations made famous by the film were for years regarded as cheesy and not representative of the reality of the time. At one stage the Sound of music tour was even voted by the lonely planet guide as the world's worst tourist attraction - but those days are long gone.

Even those not angered by the musical can hardly fail to be impressed by the two as it travels from the spectacular Leopoldskron Palace, through to the Mirabelle Gardens where the children sing Doh-Ray-Me, Nonnberg Abbey where Maria was a nun, and the gazebo at Hellbrun Palace, recreated in Hollywood studios for the song I am 16, going on 17.

The real von Trapp family on whom the story was based welcomed the new production. Sam von Trapp, 39, Maria's grandson, said: "It's great that The Sound of Music is going back to its home city.

"It's a positive story about a brave Austrian man who stands up for his beliefs. I hope the people of Salzburg will enjoy the musical and forgive us a few factual discrepancies."

Mr von Trapp's grandmother, Maria Kutschera was studying to be a Benedictine nun in the city when she was sent to be the governess of one of the seven children of Georg von Trapp, a widower and retired navy captain. They fell in love and married in 1927, when he was 47 and she was 22, and had three children of their own.

In 1935, they formed a touring family choir and three years later, after the Nazis annexed Austria, they fled to Italy and moved on to the United States where they resumed their singing tours.

The family settled on a farm in Vermont which they transformed into a 2,500-acre Austrian-style ski resort. It is still run by Johannes, now 72, helped by his son Sam and other family members.

Capt von Trapp died in 1947. Maria's life story, published two years later, became a best-seller and she sold the rights to a German film company in the mid-1950s for $9,000 and they made little money from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and film. Maria died in 1987, aged 82.

Vienna Times

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