Julietta pleads on Lake Constance for better Czech-Austrian relations

The international Bregenz Festival on Austria's Lake Constance opened on Wednesday, with calls for understanding following a series of political disputes. The Czech Republic and its culture is a major theme at this year's festival, which opened with Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu's opera Julietta. And as Radio Austria International's Kerry Skyring reports now, the performance on Lake Constance was an attempt to smooth the troubled waters between the two countries.

Music from the opera Julietta, perhaps the most controversial performance at this years Bregenz festival because it's an attempt to do what politics has failed to do; improve relations between Austria and the Czech Republic. Julietta, or The Key to Dreams, is the most famous work by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. The link to strained relations between Austria and the Czech Republic was made by the Czech ambassador to Austria, Jiri Grusa, in a speech at the premiere of Julietta in the Bregenz festival house. He said the opera shows clearly that there can be no future without remembering, a reference to the debate over the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War Two and to the crimes of the Nazis.

Meanwhile, Austrian President Thomas Klestil also picked up the theme, saying in his opening speech that it was more important than ever to understand each other and not be divided.

The opera Julietta is set neither in reality or fiction but moves along a fine boundary between the two. Politics aside, it's a love story set in a harbour town but Michel, Julietta's love, is living in reality - while Julietta appears illusory.

While Julietta premiered on Wednesday the most spectacular opening performance was scheduled for Thursday. Puccini's La Boheme is being performed on the largest floating stage in the world. Three gigantic bistro tables form the backdrop to Puccini's story of the dreams and longings of the young Parisian artists. This production actually premiered last year and has been acclaimed around the world. 150,000 people are expected to flock to the 24 performances on Lake Constance.