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Sorting Through Hype of Vienna's Mozart Year


VIENNA — At the Cafe Mozart, just behind Vienna's splendid opera house, the new Japanese owners are offering something called the Mozart Dish, a snack with bits of roast beef, shrimp, ham, smoked salmon, trout, stuffed egg and a lump of cocktail sauce. This dish will cost you $15. It is, in the estimation of Peter Weiser, the director of Vienna's Mozart anniversary year, "terrible."

"You will never eat Mozart again," he promises.

Fine, but maybe you'd like to eat on Mozart. The city's Kunsthaus gift shop offers Mozart porcelain plates. Or you can ski Mozart, thanks to the sharpy who slapped the composer's image on some skis. Throw Mozart--there's a Frisbee called "Wolferl." Smell Mozart--there are actually competing Mozart perfumes.

There are Mozartburgers (at McDonald's, of course), Mozart scarves, Mozart playing cards, Mozart mayonnaise, masks, miniatures, mints and millions of Mozart marzipan candies called Mozartkugeln, which were actually eaten during the composer's lifetime, making them, the experts say, the only remotely authentic produce in the whole cavalcade of commerce.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died 200 years ago this Dec. 5. As a result, perfectly well-behaved and historically minded cities such as Vienna, Salzburg and dozens of other burgs in Austria and Germany have gone a bit batty this year, offering countless concerts, exhibits of varying value and an endless array of products, all designed to spread the gospel of Amadeus and make more money than Mozart ever conceived of.

The complete works of Mozart are available on compact disc for the first time--675 works on 180 CDs, 210 hours of listening for a mere $2,000, and Philips already has sold more than 20,000 sets, according to project manager Stef Collignon.

Mozart himself was an avowed fan of excess, a fact that salesmen and marketers have taken to heart this year. But the Vienna celebration has tried to keep the music--unadulterated, untainted by sponsors and hucksters--on the main stage of the yearlong festival.

Revolted by the example of France's celebration two years ago of the anniversary of its revolution, Weiser, appointed by Vienna's mayor to create a proper bicentenary, has spent much of the past months saying no.

No to politicians who wanted Vienna's gala concerts to be little more than campaign events.

No to a chamber-pot company that wanted to offer a product with a portrait of Mozart's rival composer, Salieri (at least according to the grand myth promulgated by the movie "Amadeus"), painted on the bottom. And no to Mozartland, a Disney-like theme park that would have been built in the center of Vienna, where actors would have been hired to be beggars and strippers, to carry tourists around in hand-held sedans.

"Some of the best hotels in the city wanted me to create a Mozart menu, but you can't," Weiser says. "He liked capon--a castrated rooster, which is illegal in Austria. And he liked a fish called hausen, which is like a sturgeon, but there's a dam on the river now that prevents this fish from coming to Vienna anymore, so you can't have that either.

"But the hotels said, 'No, you don't understand, we don't have to sell Mozart's favorite foods, we just want a menu to American and Japanese tastes that Mozart might have eaten.' "

Weiser leaned back in his chair and stared at a visitor. "Well," he says, "I can replace Leonard Bernstein with George Solti, but I cannot make a replacement for Mozart's capon. I said no."

On that note, Weiser turned his attention to music, which is, all hype aside, the heart of Vienna's celebration. This summer, every evening, Vienna will offer audiences of 5,000 free showings of notable film and television productions of Mozart operas on a giant screen in front of the city hall. There's Mozart in the churches, a citywide program in which the composer's many masses are being performed not as concert pieces but in the religious setting for which they were intended. You can hear Mozart in palaces (the Palais Auersperg offers trio concerts with Jause, the afternoon coffee and cake that contributes mightily to the Viennese's bulk).

And you can hear the music in museums, although the selections that accompany Vienna's main Mozart exhibition, "Magical Sounds," at the Kuenstlerhaus, bleed from one room to the next and lurch uncomfortably from one piece to another.

The exhibit itself is not so much about Mozart as about his times, a reflection both of Weiser's intention to use the celebration to teach about Viennese history and of the fact that there simply aren't many Mozart artifacts around. That makes for a rather dull display, and the tourist guides that warn of a "crush" of visitors at the museum are only wishful thinking--the place is always empty. Still, from household objects of medical tools to pool tables and theatrical costumes, the exhibit does present a complete view of Mozart's world for the serious history buff.

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