Aspen Festival flies swastikas in The Sound of Music

Aspen Festival flies swastikas in The Sound of Music


norman lebrecht

July 28, 2022

This is what the public saw in The Sound of Music at the Aspen Music Festival in the Benedict Music Tent on July 26.

Shocked? We are.

Are you?


  • David Bernard says:

    Yes, Nazis are bad. As a matter of fact they are the iconically worst of the worst. Which is the point.

    At that point in the drama, the hanging of the nazi flags in a venue used for an arts festival (and doing this at an actual arts festival, Aspen, is wonderfully meta) brings to the fore the shocking reality of the Nazi infestation of Austria.

    The show carefully and brilliantly prepares for the moment we see the Nazi flags drop at the arts festival, itself the climactic moment where we see the conflict of good and evil in full view. It begins with the introduction of “heil Hitler” from the Nazified local official, which is clearly viewed with disgust by the protagonists. This escalates to the hanging of a single Nazi flag at von Trapp residence, to which the captain responds by tearing down the flag with disgust. Then we see full Nazi uniforms, and then the dropping of Nazi flags at the arts festival. By the end of the progression not only is it more and more shocking, it is clear there is nothing that can be done, which prompts the escape.

    I am Jewish, and the Nazi flags are especially shocking to me. I also recognize that without that shock, the drama and impact of the Sound of Music is diluted to a whimper.

    I have felt the power and significance of this show since I watched it on TV as a child, and most recently when my 12 year old son played one of the von Trapp children on a professional Broadway tour of the show all over the United States. This was a high end production where the Nazi costumes and flags were as shocking as they could possibly be. And at every show every Nazi gesture, costume and flag took my breath away. As it should.

    Some people most certainly would be triggered by Nazi flags, and if that triggering causes them extreme duress, then they should certainly not see or participate in a serious production of Sound of Music. And it certainly would be an interesting thought experiment to replace the Nazis with some other mythical bad guys that project the same polemic but with less shock.

    But should Aspen be criticized for staging a high quality and authentic production of Sound of Music, replete with authentic and shocking Nazi flags? I would say not. The shock is essential to the drama and the impact, like so many other works of art.

    And for sure there is no Anti-Semitism in mounting the production. As a matter of fact an authentic production of Sound of Music is the opposite of Anti-Semitic…through a production like this, Nazis are shown as evil and disgusting, and the protagonists are shown as fighting for their ideals.

    • Catherine Smith says:

      I am a 2G Holocaust survivor who just had my Austrian citizenship restored. The photograph I saw on SlippeDisc made my hair stand on end but your careful explanation of the production is reassuring me. Thank you.

    • Kim says:

      This was not a “high quality and authentic production of The Sound of Music.” It was a concert, which featured some songs from the show — music, but no context; no heroic Captain von Trapp ripping down the flag. Just good music and horrifically bad judgement.

  • Not amused says:

    Oh please. Norman, you of all people are going to trot this faux outrage out?

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    Since we know they have ’em. Maybe they can fly those banners every time they perform some Strauss, since we was an armband-wearing Nazi.

  • Carl says:

    Not particularly shocked. They’re seen in the film version. The question is, did Captain Von Trapp rip one up on stage?

  • Helene Kamioner says:

    not at all. see them all the time on Hogan’s Heros reruns

  • anmarie says:

    Antisemitism is alive and well here in the US, both informally and in the arts.

    • Sheila McLaren says:

      Yes. It is alive and well throughout the world, or most of the world. Here in Australia the swastika appears wherever anyone can secretly establish it. The latest episode was one taking up almost the entirety of a soccer field, clearly seen from the air. Local council ignored it. We also have neo-Nazi groups firmly established. Why does someone suggest that Mr Lebrecht’s outrage is “faux”? Display of the swastika IS outrageous, and means only one thing.

  • Andy says:

    Someone had a very bad idea. Someone else said, “How clever!” That no one along the way since then said, “no, No, NO!” is astonishing. There are swastikas in the film for a handful of scenes, but draped on the stage as a backdrop to the orchestra for the entire performance? Yes, I’m shocked. What does the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization think, I wonder?

    • David Bernard says:

      It is essential to the plot. It begins with a “Heil Hitler” from the local Nazified mayor, then to a Nazi flag installed on Captain von Trapp’s house, which he tears down. Then finally, at the arts festival, we see the huge Nazi banners drop down in the most significant moment in the show–where we see how Nazism has infested all of Austria and even the Arts Festival.

      The someone who had the “very bad idea” was Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves. And it is not a “bad idea”– it gives each audience member a stark reminder of the evils of fascism and it is an essential part of the plot and the experience of attending.

      Every professional production does this, and even some daring school productions.

    • Davis says:

      It was only onstage for one short scene, in which the VonTrapp family was being forced to perform at a Nazi-run concert.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Rodgers and Hammerstein organization was present and oversaw this production. This is an important moment in the musical. This is the moment that the show has been leading up to that explains why the Von Trapp family left Austria. They were actively against the Nazis, this is why they “climbed every mountain” to seek their freedom.

  • PaulD says:

    I’m not shocked. Its display is appropriate as a key element of the story is the family living under the Anschluss and escaping Austria (but not by hiking over the Alps).

    In the movie, Captain von Trapp comes home and finds a Nazi flag hanging on his house. He takes it down and tears it apart.

  • Publio says:

    Oh, my! Gasp!!!
    Are we so woke now that we must erase history and historical facts???

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Well it’s true to the story but that’s no excuse. They are banned in Germany but someone somewhere is obviously making them.

    • PaulD says:

      It is interesting that they are banned in Germany, but not in Austria. However, the Germans have decided to keep Communist imagery, such as the mural The Way of the Red Flag on the concert hall in Dresden, and one of Young Pioneers marching towards Communism on the Finance Ministry in Berlin.

    • Neowiser says:

      They are banned in Germany with the exception of for artistic and educational purposes. For example they appeared in the Herheim Bayreuth production of Parsifal. Maybe being true to the story is an excuse.

  • Hayne says:

    “Shocked? We are.”
    How about the Azov regiment logo?


    • Amos says:

      Well done Comrade H branching off from pushing kremlin anti-vax propaganda to justifying the invasion of Ukraine and the murder of thousands of women and children. What’s next an expose on how Brittany Griner was secretly planning to import drugs in basketballs? I see more bitcoin deposits in your accounts.

    • Sheila McLaren says:

      The Azov logo is a very strong reminder of the role played by Ukraine in WWII. Ukrainians joined the Nazis in their 100s of 1000s, were death camp guards, and all-in-all assisted in the torture & murder of more Jews than even the Poles did. Which is why many people feel torn in two about what Russia is doing at present. Ukraine has a Jewish head of state, but strong anti-Semitism persists in everyday life.

      • Derek says:

        Sheila, kindly educate yourself and stop spreading russist propaganda. Some Ukrainians joined the Germans in the false hope of gaining independence from the Soviets. There was even a genocide of Poles committed by their Ukrainian neighbors in Wolyn. Our history is complicated, but, Nazis did not come from outer space. Germans murdered the Jews and they did so not only in occupied Poland. Nazism is an ideology and you should name it, but when you mention one nation, mention all others – for instance in numbers the French were record breakers regarding the denunciation of their Jewish neighbors and Poland was the only occupied country (by Germany – name it) where hiding a person of Jewish origin or even not reporting that fact to the gestapo meant a death sentence. That was the law imposed and executed by Nazi Germany. Regardless, Poles make the highest number among those recognized by Israel as the “Righteous Among the Nations”. Why do you think is that? Regarding the topic of this article – what about the swastikas in “The Producers”? Shouldn’t we all be offended by “Springtime for Hitler”?

      • Genius Repairman says:

        I don’t feel torn in two. Ukraine supported the Nazis 70 years ago when Stalin was starving them. Unfortunately there is anti semitism throughout Europe and it it is not as if Russia has no history of anti semitism either.

  • Alan says:

    No. It’s a theatre piece. Ever see a film about WW2 with Swastikas? Were you shocked?

    Time to grow up and stop looking for offence where none is intended.

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    Really. Context is everything. The Sound of Music is set in the period. The Trapp family fled from Hitler.

    It also could serve as a relevant Dramatic reminder that there is a lot of facistic rhetoric out in the world, Europe and the US.

  • anon says:

    Are you not familiar with the story and setting of The Sound of Music?

    • simon says:

      LOL… TSoM is probably slumming it for NL, which is rich when you consider he likes Mahler above all others. Just proves the guy has no ears but a lot of hot air words, IMHO.

    • Davis says:

      Or Cabaret? Or The Producers?

  • Mathieu says:

    People commenting on swastikas being an integral part of the drama etc etc are oblivious to the fact that this was a concert performance, not a staged one.

    No set, no costumes, no props… no flags…

    • Anon says:

      In addition to the flags, a painted backdrop of the Untersberg is quite clearly visible in the photo- which would easily fit the definition of a set.

      • Mathieu says:

        Wow some very elaborate stage design you have there: a painting of mountains (and frankly it could be whatever mountain) and 2 swastika flags. Come on.

        Besides, a set means, by definition, a stage. There is no stage here: or rather : the orchestra is on it, not in a pit before it.

        So yes : it’s a concert performance (not a staged one) with a painting and 2 flags. Two nazi flags. Nothing incongruous about that I’m sure.

  • Singeril says:

    It would be even more of an outrage if Maria wore blackface.

  • Musicman says:

    The Glimerglass Festival used swastikas in some scenes of their Sound of Music production this summer as well.

  • What is wrong with classical music? says:

    If you need to see a Nazi flag in order to interpret the story of the Sound of Music… you need help.

    If you think that a Nazi flag is necessary (in *these* times), you need to seriously think about how seeing imagery like this displayed in a public performance setting – even if it is “art” – affects those who were affected not just by the Holocaust, but those affected by racism, genocide, and white supremacy TODAY. These flags are actively being used by white supremacist groups all across the US, right now. Why bring this shit into the concert hall?

    Not showing these flags is not erasing history – the reason people are so upset is that we do absolutely remember what these flags stood, and unfortunately, still stand for.

    Lastly: what were the festival’s administrators thinking?? Fully displaying Nazi flags in the tent is not a good image, especially taken out of context. Hope this gets picked up by the national news – the leaders of the elite wing of classical music are either idiots or white supremacists.

  • CRWang says:

    When Hunter S. Thompson was running for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado in 1970, he was labeled a hippie. He shaved off his head and called his crew-cut Republican challenger “my long-haired opponent.” He also wrote letters to the local newspaper and said he was speaking on behalf of Martin Bormann and praised the Aspen sheriff department for having the same values as the Third Reich.

  • CGDA says:

    How does the swastika characterise ‘The Sound of Music’? Couldn’t they have displayed scenes from the film, photos of characters or something similar?

  • Genius Repairman says:

    The Sound of Music is not Spring Time for Hitler. The Nazi flags are for portraying the horror of the times, and is perfectly justifiable for the story that is anti Nazi. If the Von Trapps were dancing around Nazi symbols singing about the glory of U boats then that would be different.

  • music lover says:

    I am jewish.And yes,i am not shocked.It´s part of the drama,same as the red star in Dr.Zhivago or the Swastikas in Schindler´s List.It´s not a political statement of the Aspen Festival. It´s part of the story of the musical….

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Well, I think you lost this latest provocation to outrage. Now, if you’d had asked about the work itself you might have got a slightly more balanced response. Nuns, Nazis, whiskers on kittens and Dirndls. What’s not to like?

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    You’d wonder how many are offended about the flags but marched for free abortions recently. It’s an unusual time we are living in when the Left turns so far that it becomes the far Right.

  • Mecky Messer says:

    Shocked? So you can never see Schindler’s List, Inglorious Basterds, etc….

    Theres a perfect word for this: Snowflake

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Enough with mindless and meaningless labels.

    • Mathieu says:

      Those are movies. This is a concert. Spot the difference.

      As part of the set of a fully staged performance, why not? But at a concert, with the musicians on stage, displaying swastikas makes not sense at all.

  • Tamino says:

    We see this increasingly. A mental retardation of people, where they can not process the cognitive dissonance of seeing symbols or words standing for something „bad“, when used in artistic performances. It requires an act of imagination by the intellect, to put reality around these symbols and attributes in context to the imaginative elements.

    Maybe generations now having grown up with film and TV, replacing books, are at the core of the problem. In films one is confronted with full sets of virtual reality, the mind has to work less to create the context.
    But seeing a real stage with real people on it, AND nazi flags symbolizing an imaginative theatrical element, that seems to be too much for today‘s simple minds.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      A reviewer of the Royal Conservatoire
      of Scotland’s production of Weill’s Street Scene questioned the inclusion of the song, Wouldn’t You Like to be On Broadway?, suggesting that it was inappropriate in the age of MeToo.

    • are you kidding me says:

      WOAH we do not use that word anymore.

  • AndrewB says:

    The Nazi threat is constantly present in The Sound of Music. Even at the party at the Von Trapp home when the children sing So long , farewell there are Nazis infiltrating among the guests .
    In what looks like a concert performance I don’t think that simply having a beautiful mountain backdrop would suggest the Nazi menace to a modern audience.
    Modern audiences can be hardened through being inundated with so many violent images in films and on TV. It can be hard to make an emotional connection.
    Taken out of performance context the picture is shocking , but was anyone reading here present at the performance to tell us about the impact of this during the performance?
    It would be tragic indeed if the victims of that vicious regime were forgotten as the years rolled on.
    We owe a debt to Rogers & Hammerstein for reminding future generations through the popular medium of the musical about the barbarity of the Nazis.

    • Attendee at The Sound of Music in Aspen says:

      Thank you, AndrewB, for asking to hear from anyone who was actually in the audience for their reactions to seeing the banners. This will be a little long.

      It was shocking, of course, but extremely frightening to see the banners. Tension had been building in the show as Germany’s encroaching fascist regime was closing in. (Sweet boyfriend Rolf becomes young Nazi Rolf.) Ultimately we learn that beloved Captain von Trapp is called to duty in the Third Reich, thus the reason for the family’s last minute performance at the Nazi controlled Salzburg Festival, a possibility for escape. We all know the plot!

      Think about seeing the story as it’s unfolding in front of an audience in real time, not as something abstract. There was real tension as we see the family performing at the festival with the banners hung. It gave a greater sense of the real evil of the regime, that horrible symbol and the danger and fear to the family we’ve become attached to.

      An important element to these specific performances:

      What no one who was not at the performances has mentioned is that there was a WARNING about the imagery in the program.

      The program contained a section headed CONTENT WARNING. The heading was in bold, larger typeface and capitalized as I have written here. Here is the text that followed:

      “Many of us, if not all of us, are aware of the historical setting of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. The imagery associated with the Nazi regime was meant to be shocking and alarming in the 1930s, and it still is now. Tonight’s program includes swastikas, probably the most recognizable symbols of European fascism and genocide from the twentieth century.

      Facing history is important, even when it causes discomfort, or shock, or fear. The tension between this musical comedy and the looming danger surrounding it is one way we can keep returning to the show to find meaning. In the end, the musical shows us how authoritarianism and fascism can be resisted through the power of music. Please enjoy The Sound of Music.”

      By the way, this performance was a joint production between the Aspen Music Festival and Theatre Aspen, a professional theatre company in Aspen. The director Marc Bruni directed the Tony and Grammy winning musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway and in London. Among many other credits he directed The Sound of Music at Chicago Lyric Opera.

      Thank you for wading through all of this if you’ve made it to the end!

  • anonymous says:

    The script of Sound of Music does not call for the Nazi flag to be flown. It calls for the uniforms of the Third Reich, which still include swastikas and in my opinion, still over the line. There’s a reason the flag is banned in Germany, even TODAY, and they teach their young citizens about the horrors of the Holocaust in efforts to prevent it happening again. Why do we think we can override that for “art”?

    There is enough in the plot that we can do without this imagery. As a Jew, I was shaken to my core by this. You may think it dramatic, but many of us have experienced antisemitism directly in our lives and it can bring back memories and trauma that we have since locked away. That happened to me upon seeing this.

    Also where the hell do you get a Nazi flag and how can you think, during the purchase, entering the credit card number, that this is ok??? That this is for the art??? No. No. No.

    If you are shocked, make your displeasure known by sending an email:

    That said, if anyone has a more direct email, please tell me and I’ll send my email there as well.

    • PaulD says:

      You can also buy PRC and Soviet Union flags. Untold millions killed by those regimes. Should we not see them? As I stated above, you can still find Communist symbols in eastern Germany. Should those be removed?

    • Harpist says:

      I am German and you can see these flags in appropriate theater or movie productions. Where they are made/ In the costume shop of the theater of course.
      You cannot put a flag up on your house in Germany, yes. But that doesn’t mean the theater cannot use them in a play that takes place during the Nazi regime.

  • Mary Burns says:

    No, I’m not shocked. The play is partly about history. You don’t erase history, you learn from it.

    • Margaret Koscielny says:

      A quote from the historian, David Hackett Fischer:
      “Empirical knowledge of the past is not merely useful but necessary to an understanding of our moral choices in the present.”
      In this time of world history, our moral choices are reinforced by art
      which exposes the sins of the past and the weaknesses of people who succumbed to dangerous rhetoric, as well as the courage of those who rejected it. The more of the latter and the fewer the former, the more chance that a truly open society will exist, where public discourse is not filled with violence against those with whom we disagree. A warning to the USA and to Europe.

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    As a musician I would not have stepped on that stage regardless of the plot. Shameful.

  • Anon says:

    Springtime for Hitler and Germany…

  • IP says:

    It’s what Konwitschny wanted to do in Fidelio, but his fellow Nazis whistled him back. Didn’t stop him from occupying high musical and Party positions in East Germany.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Swastikas were all over Western popular culture in the 1950s, in the context of Allied triumphalism.

    I recall that the 1981 West German film ‘Das Boot’ showed the submarine flying what was clearly a Nazi flag, though it was hung in such a way that the swastika itself was obscured.

    More recently, Terence Malick’s 2019 film ‘A Hidden Life’, set in Nazi Austria, prominently displayed swastikas.

    Seeking to cancel history will make its repetition more, not less, likely.

  • just saying says:

    I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but the Sound of Music’s plot includes…the Nazis.

  • Helene Kamioner says:

    Since the swasika still has a shock element it is an important prop…once audiences and public become used to it, and worse, accpt it, this design attests to hanna arendt’s ridiculous and disgusting concept of the banality of evil.

    • Tamino says:

      It’s a flag.
      The banality of evil she was talking about is in the soul, not with a flag.

      Hanna Arendt’s concept is disgusting and ridiculous? How so?
      Arendt’s ideas are empirically proven AFAIK.

  • Harpist says:

    No, because if you would know the content of that musical you would know that it plays in that time and even highlights opposition to the Nazi regime.

  • Attendee at the Performance of The Sound of Music says:

    The program for the production of The Sound of Music in Concert handed out to patrons (my husband and myself included) contained a CONTENT WARNING. The heading was in bold, larger typeface and capitalized as I have written here. Here is the text that followed:

    “Many of us, if not all of us, are aware of the historical setting of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. The imagery associated with the Nazi regime was meant to be shocking and alarming in the 1930s, and it still is now. Tonight’s program includes swastikas, probably the most recognizable symbols of European fascism and genocide from the twentieth century.

    Facing history is important, even when it causes discomfort, or shock, or fear. The tension between this musical comedy and the looming danger surrounding it is one way we can keep returning to the show to find meaning. In the end, the musical shows us how authoritarianism and fascism can be resisted through the power of music. Please enjoy The Sound of Music.”

    This was included in the program for The Sound of Music in Concert, a presentation of Aspen Music Festival and School and Theatre Aspen. Marc Bruni, director. Marc Bruni directed the Tony, Grammy, and Olivier Award-winning Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway, in the West End, US and UK Tours. Among many other credits Bruni directed The Sound of Music at the Chicago Lyric Opera.