As we cruise over the mountains surrounding Salzburg, our tour guide Sue slots in a tape and pumps up the volume. Suddenly the sound of Julie Andrews crooning about the sonorous vitality of the hills floods the mini-bus. My fellow passengers (four Americans, one Malay and one Austrian) simultaneously burst into song, all except the native, who hasn’t got a clue what’s going on. The poor girl probably still believes her daughter-in-law, who dragged her on the trip, is involved in some kind of choral cult.
Each year thousands of fans make the pilgrimage to Austria’s second-most visited city to see where The Sound Of Music was filmed, only marginally fewer than the number of people who make the trip for Mozart, the city’s most famous son.
For those lured Pied Pier-style by the Hollywood musical, the first major disappointment confronted on arrival is that no one is rampaging around town flaring their guitar case. The second is the discovery that most Austrians don’t know what The Sound Of Music is, and if they do, they rarely give a von Trapp about it.
The Oscar-winning film about a captain, seven children, their governess and much, much more, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But in Austria it’s only 10 years old, released under the scarily-possessive title My Songs, My Dreams, and pulled from the cinemas in three days. Their problem with the film centres on its portrayal of Austrians as subservient pawns to the Nazis; its not entirely faithful portrayal of the real von Trapp story and possibly the rather clichéd references to yodelling and goatherds.
On top of this, it’s probably hard for Salzburgers in particular to fall in love with a film that mercilessly manipulates the landscape they know so well. Many a devout pilgrim will have been destroyed by the revelations of Panorama’s The Original Sound of Music Tour delivered, in our case, by a guide who makes no attempt to soften the blows.
Pointing out the distant peak of Untersberg mountain where the opening scene was filmed, Sue remarks on the improbability of Maria sprinting the 10 miles back to the Abbey before the bells stop chiming.
Give her a paraglide and two cans of Red Bull and she’d have made it,” she says, with a sly reference to Austria’s premier export.
The disillusion doesn’t end there. The von Trapp family home didn’t actually exist as shown in the movie, but was meshed together from two separate locations. The Baroque facade of Frohnburg Palace formed the front of the house and the rococco Leopoldskron Palace, found three miles down the road, was the back (with the balcony where Maria and the Captain share a moment, and the lake the be-draped children tumble into).
Both residencies are closed to the public and, judging from signs saying “Private Property – even for tour groups”, don’t welcome The Sound Of Music fans with open arms. Those trying to spot Liesl and Rolf’s gazebo are in luck, though. Built especially for the film, the Pavilion, as it’s called, has been relocated to the park of Hellbrunn Palace (they love their palaces here) where visitors can roam at will.
The film’s various locations were not all doctored at the whim of director Robert Wise, though. In the gardens of Schloss Mirabell, you’ll find the fountains and statues where Maria and the children run around singing the impossibly irritating Do-Re-Mi. Apparently Sue has tried and failed to imitate the scene where they jump down the stairs hitting different notes, so maybe you can do better.
Nonnberg Abbey, the oldest convent in the Northern Alps where the real Maria was a novice, was used for the scenes of Maria leaving (spot the original Maria von Trapp’s cameo as an Austrian peasant in the background) and the children begging her back. Nearby is the tree-lined walk where Maria does her best impression of a drunk busker in I Have Confidence.
The tour takes four hours and includes a packet of Edelweiss-seeds. It takes you from Salzburg over the mountains to the stunning Lake District and the village of Mondsee, home of the cathedral that featured in Maria’s wedding to the baron. Any gap in the tour patter tends to cease when the chance for a rousing singalong presents itself.
By the time you stumble out of the mini-bus, disillusioned and ear-sore, it’s tempting to feel that you never want to hear a peep from Miss Andrews again. But when a delayed taxi finds me passing the time watching Yoho Hostel’s daily screening of The Sound Of Music, the childhood nostalgia soon returns. The setting seems magical, and the story convincing. I don’t care that the audience had to be taught Edelweiss before they could join in (apparently many believe the song, written especially for the film, is the Austrian national anthem). Nor am I bothered that Liesl was in fact 21 when she sang Sixteen Going On Seventeen, which made her “older and wiser” than Rolf. The only stumbling block is Kurt von Trapp’s belting high note in So Long, Farewell. According to Sue, he was miming – a girl actually sang it. Some deceptions are just too hard to forgive.”