A unique outdoor play celebrating the birth of a national hero and set among the most imposing of natural scenery has opened in Switzerland.
Staged on the Rütli Meadow, Friday’s debut performance of Friedrich Schiller’s 200-year-old play, “William Tell”, is exotic and imaginative, but true to the legend.
The German National Theatre’s revival of the legend, which runs until August 29, marks the first time a play has been performed on the Rütli, the cradle of the Swiss Confederation.
A bevy of VIPs, including Swiss President Joseph Deiss, movie star Klaus Maria Brandauer and the Swiss poet Adolf Muschg, were in attendance.
Also making an appearance, one day after his acquittal on charges stemming from a telecom takeover bid, was the Swiss head of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann.
Conspiciously absent, however, were the play’s main patron, producer Lukas Leuenberger, and the Swiss justice minister, Christoph Blocher, who agreed to underwrite the show.
The 2,500 spectators took their seats on a platform facing the Rütli Meadow, forest, mountains and lake.
In the distance, glimmered the lights of Brunnen, the tourism capital of central Switzerland.
Over two hours in length, the play covers the birth of the first Confederation, personified by William and Walter Tell, Werner Stauffacher and his wife, and of course the cheating Baron Gessler.
In preparation for the big event, the Rütli was studded with sculptures representing each of the 26 cantons in modern Switzerland.
German artist Günther Uecker sculpted the works from rocks and tree trunks taken from the Seelisberger forest.
The scenery is impressive, but not everyone liked every aspect of the performance.
The choice of costumes drew fire even before the show opened, with some critics branding the play a “pyjama party”.
But the costumes do serve a clear function: they make it possible to spot quickly whether a character comes from Uri, Unterwald, Schwytz or Austria.
And, it must be said, William Tell is always easy to find in neon green.
Whatever the arguments, many theatre-goers said the sets and costumes worked well together.
Many of those who had travelled from Germany said they were impressed by the sets and the setting for Schiller’s play; however, others were a little more reserved in their praise.
One Weimar resident said the performance had failed to move him because he found some of the characters unappealing. He described Bertha as “completely hysterical”.
But others in the audience were able to overlook any minor shortcomings because of the majestic scenery.
“This natural setting, these mountains, this lake… it’s something we’ll never experience again,” said one.
swissinfo, Etienne Strebel on the Rütli Meadow
Performances run from July 23 to August 29 on the Rütli Meadow.
Tuesday to Saturday at 7:45pm and Sunday at 4pm.
Seat prices vary from SFr38 to SFr118.
The Rütli can be reached on foot from Seelisberg and by boat from various ports on Lake Lucerne.