Water music – the Bregenz Festival

The floating stage was transformed into a rundown version of New York’s West Side. Karl Forster /

The course of the River Rhine eventually leads into Lake Constance or the Bodensee, which shared by Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

For almost 60 years, the lake has been the setting for the Bregenz Festival – a musical production on water.

The festival started in 1946, when the lakeside town of Bregenz in Austria decided to try out something new after the war.

From its humble beginnings – the first production was a Mozart opera which took place on two boats – the festival can now claim to have the world’s biggest floating stage.

The annual production attracts 200,000 visitors during its five-week season in July and August.

This year’s production is West Side Story and uses 150 actors from all over the world.

Axel Renner, the festival's head press spokesman, says it is the combination of nature, music and water, that makes the event internationally famous.

“It’s an open-air theatre, we have the mountains, we have the water and the combination of a high quality production is world unique,” Renner told swissinfo.

West Side Story

This content was published on July 29, 2003 - 14:22

For West Side Story, the floating stage was transformed into a run-down area of New York’s West Side.

However, the set’s use of stylised skyscrapers provides an unwitting reminder of September 11, but Renner is quick to stress that this was unintentional.

“West Side Story plays in New York's West Side, and that’s what we have here, a 36-metre-high skyscraper,” said Renner.

“The set design was finished six months before September 11 so there’s no correlation in the basic idea [of the set], but you could be reminded of September 11, that’s true,” he added.

But even though the 100-metre-wide stage set is impressive, it is the sound of the lapping water and the stunning sunset that makes the production so different from its indoor counterparts.

“Of course, it has a particular charm when it’s on the lake, and this production really suited this [floating] stage,” said Christian Lau, who had come all the way from Zurich to watch the show.

The Bregenz Festival runs until August 19.

swissinfo special correspondent, Isobel Johnson in Bregenz

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