An awe-inspiring celebration of war, glory and everything snow, the biggest contemporary live performance in the world is set to return to Sölden’s mighty Rettenbach Glacier again this year: HANNIBAL.
It tells the story of a Carthaginian general who is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. Starting in the spring of 216 BC, he crossed the Alpine Main Ridge with an army numbered 60,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 elephants in only ten days. Hannibal’s celebrated feat in crossing the Alps with war elephants passed into European legend and is staged every two years at an elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level. Besieged by helicopters, the historical aircraft fleet of the Flying Bulls, snowmobiles, ski instructors, snowcats, dancers, acrobats, paragliders, the B.A.S.E. jumpers of the Red Bull Skydiving Team and a host of other snow-related technology and amazing pyrotechnics, the story of Hannibal’s journey showcases the very best of both eras.
But how did Hannibal get to Sölden? 67-year old Ernst Lorenzi, initiator and organizer of Hannibal, explains how Sölden and the Ancient World came together for a successful event.
Mr. Lorenzi, the spectacular performance requires spectacular effort: Snowcats as elephants and ski instructors as mercenaries, along with helicopters, dancers and skydivers. Who is involved in the performance of Hannibal?
500 people take part in this extravagant performance, including parachutists, ski instructors and actors coming from all corners of Tirol, from the Arlberg Mountains to Kitzbühel. Moreover, we have actors from around the globe. One of them comes from New York and has starred in “Sex and the City”. The actor playing the part of Hannibal was born in Slovenia, lives in Spain and is a star at the country’s opera houses. Spanish journalists were flabbergasted when they discovered him on stage up here. Our glacier is a stage for the whole world.
They say Hannibal is the biggest live performance in the world staged on a glacier. How would you describe the spectacle?
Hannibal is indeed the biggest play performed on a glacier. Hannibal is above all culture on the mountain, although it has some event features to it. However, it is by no means a spectacle or an end of season bash; it is a real drama with text and music, performing actors, special light effects and amazing pyrotechnics.
You have initiated this high-flying project. How was the idea born?
That was a long time ago. In 1997, I was the Chief of Press at the Alpine Ski World Opener. One evening I was up here on the glacier on my own, when everybody else had already left. After sunset, the full moon filled the air over the lofty peaks with its warming, red Alpenglow. It was one of nature’s best shows I had ever seen and I thought, “What a pity that no one ever gets to see this amazing phenomenon as they are only looking on their skis”. So I came up with the idea of staging the story of Oetzi the Iceman on the glacier and suggested it to Austrian entrepreneur and co-founder of the Red Bull energy drink company Didi Mateschitz. We worked on it for three years but in the end, it didn’t work out. Eventually, Didi Mateschitz introduced me to director Hubert Lepka during an event. I told him about my idea of taking snowcats for bulls or elephants. Hubert Lepka visited the site in Sölden, he recommended Hannibal and everything was done within one single hour. Both the Sölden mountain railway company and the local tourist board liked the idea and we got the ‘GO’ in November 2000. The first performance took place only five months later in April 2001. What is best: Actually, we only wanted to perform it once – and now the glacier show has turned into the “Everyman” of the Alps.
What are the special challenges of performing on a mountain?
The biggest challenge at an elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level is of course, nature and the elements. Wind, snow, weather, … Although the performance of Hannibal is staged at the end of the season, April weather is unpredictable. Fortunately, the weather of Inner Ötztal Valley is influenced by the south—which means it often snows in Innsbruck while in Sölden the sun is shining.
Salzburg Festival director Hubert Lepka’s awe-inspiring performance of Hannibal, produced together with the local artist’s network named “lawine torrén”, is now in its 16th year. What’s new this year?
Well, of course we won’t tell in detail. Up here, nature dictates changes, as the glacier is different every year. Thus, structure and composition are different and new every time we perform Hannibal. We will definitely surprise our audience in 2017 again.
What do you think: Was Hannibal a military genius or was he simply a badass who dared to cross the Alpine Main Ridge with his troops in only ten days?
There is remarkable and cogent proof of Hannibal having been by nature a real leader and far superior to anyone else in statesmanship. He is generally regarded as one of the best military strategists of all time, but he was also extremely cruel. He excelled as a tactician; he always thought the other way round. As if a soccer player would coolly slot the ball into the back of the net with his heel.
If you want to relive the experiences of Hannibal and the Carthaginian army as they crossed the Alps on their way to Italy 2000 years ago, be sure to get your tickets soon – this performance only takes place every two years: Hannibal – The Story of a Glacier Crossing.