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Coming to the Defense of Austrian Society

September 06, 1997

Do I have this right? Peter Sellars, who makes his base in Los Angeles, thinks Salzburg is racist and Gerard Mortier, who lauds California for being "open-minded," agrees ("Leading a Revolt in Mozart Country," Calendar, Sept. 3). I would remind both of them that Austria, in 1993, rejected its so-called "anti-immigrant initiative" by the right-radical populist "Freedom Party" on which I write regularly, while California has subsequently passed Propositions 187 and 209 by large margins.

I know there is racism in Austrian society today, but so is there in California and, I suspect, in most areas of the world today.

The hostility of the Viennese press to Mortier arises substantially from his own to Vienna and its beloved Philharmonic, both of which he considers reactionary. By the way, he also considers most opera companies in the U.S. reactionary.

Classical music and opera are much more mass culture in Austria than in the United States. Press coverage of deviations from the expected norms are thus more comparable to the kind of treatment given by our press, say, to the antics of Dennis Rodman, than to the critiques of the Los Angeles Times or New York Times to the avant-garde productions of Mortier and Sellars. The masses in Austria, just as in the U.S., tend not to like tinkering with what they have known and loved. This may be reactionary from the perspective of Mortier and Sellars, but reaction in this sense does not connote racism.


Department of History

California Polytechnic State University

San Luis Obispo

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