Every summer since 1946, audiences flock to the Austrian state of Vorarlberg to see the fantastic floating stage of the Bregenz Festival. In the 2015/2016 season, the festival celebrated 70 years of existence with Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, where people don’t just sing. They also jump into the water.
It’s too bad we couldn’t see any of this since Bregenz was just the first step of our Vorarlberg Summer Tour. To make things even worse, the time we spent in Bregenz wasn’t the most pleasant to take pictures since it was overcast with a little bit of a light rain.
This is why the images you can see here are gray and of an empty floating stage. It was so cool that we had to write something about it here.
But before we talk about our experience in Bregenz and the floating stage, we have to talk a little bit about the history of the Bregenz Festival.
Bregenz Festival, called Bregenzer Festspiele in German, is more than an opera on a floating stage. This performing arts festival happens every year in July and August in Bregenz.
The festival was founded in 1946, only one year after the end of the Second World War. It became an international event since then, with people coming from Switzerland, France and Germany just to see the festival.
The most famous part of the Bregenz Festival is the floating stage or Seebühne, as it’s called in German. It has space for 7.000 seated people in an open-air amphitheater by Lake Constance. The sight is impressive, even on a cloudy day like the one we spent in Bregenz.
You can also find Festspielhaus at the Bregenz Festival, where rare operas and concerts are performed. Werkstattbühne is where performances of contemporary theater and opera happen. There is the Theater am Kornmarkt with its drama performances and operettas, and, to finish this, there is also the Theater Kosmos, where you can see cross-culture and drama performances.
When we were in Vorarlberg, we visited the empty stage where Lake Constance would play Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot later that day. The stage looks like a Chinese castle and has clay soldiers going from the stage into the water, creating a really interesting visual.
Turandot has one of the most famous arias from Giacomo Puccini. Called Nessun Dorma – no one may sleep – it’s a call from a Chinese princess that no one is to sleep for the night because she has to find out the name of a mysterious prince or return his love. This is the opera’s central theme that played at the floating stage of the Bregenz Festival in the 2015/2016 season.
2017, it will be Georges Bizet’s Carmen from July 19 to August 20 at the Bregenz Festival. If you’re looking for tickets, you must visit their official website to see how much they cost and when you can see them.
During the time we were in Bregenz, it was constantly raining. Since we didn’t want to waste our time in the city, we headed to the Vorarlberg Museum because they were hosting a great exhibition with smaller versions of some of the most unique floating stages of the Bregenz Festival.
Below, you can see some floating stages we loved the most and a little of the story behind them.
The history Bregenz Festival stages at the Vorarlberg Museum
One of the most famous Bregenz Festival stages is the one from the 2007/2008 season, where Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca was the main act. Some scenes for the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace were filmed here. We remember watching it on TV sometime before going to Bregenz, and it looked almost unreal.
In 2001, La Bohème from Giacomo Puccini came to the Bregenz Festival with an updated look that included Ricard pastis in the Latin Quarter of Paris. We loved how giant chairs were going into the water and the massive ashtray as a performance piece.
For the 2011/2012 season of the Bregenz Festival, Umberto Giordano’s André Chénier was performed with its four acts and has a stage that features a human body that floats on the water and opens its neck in one of the acts. Almost surreal.
The picture you can see here is just a tiny piece of the apocalyptic stage built for Porgy & Bess by George Gershwin in the 1997/1998 season. Initially set in an African American scenario in the United States, everything here went differently in the Bregenz Festival tradition.
Another floating stage that caught our attention is the one from the 2005/2006 season when West Side Story was played over Lake Constance. It was such a success that more than 200.000 people came to Bregenz to see it played live.
A Masked Ball by Giuseppe Verdi was an opera performed during the 1999/2000 season, and it features an open book and a giant skeleton that goes into the water. We can only imagine how amazing it may have looked in real life.
During the 1987/1988 season, Jacques Offenbach built the stage for The Tales of Hoffmann. We loved how it integrated the water into the opera and even included gondolas!
Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore got its action moved from a rebellion in the Aragorn Court into a modern industrial landscape painted in red with fearsome chimneys spitting fire into the sky.
If you want to join the Bregenz Festival 2017, look at their website and check out the ticket prices.