It's absolutely de rigueur in trendy European theatre as a whole, and not just opera [that directors run amok]. The Berlin stage, for example, is so "modern" at the moment that you can practically guarantee you won't recognise the work you're watching, even if you know it well. [...] Opera gets it in the neck most, because it is also de rigueur to treat it as a dying art, not to be taken seriously as drama, but a good place to muck about with big budgets, high fees, an ignorant, shallow audience, and no need to exert oneself money for jam.
A couple of examples:
A recent Fidelio by producer Peter Konwitschny, one of the fashionable leaders of this school, decided the opera was really "about" transvestism and gender confusion. Much of the performance has mercifully faded from my mind, but I cannot blot out that jaunty little first-act march, in which the chorus, in uniform 1950s polka-dot frocks and pigtailed blonde wigs the men, this is robotically smeared lipstick all over their faces. Florestan's dungeon was a tacky IKEA-furnished modern bedroom, brightly lit, in which during his aria he changed from the inevitable dung-coloured pants and undershirt into women's underwear, whereupon he was beaten up by Rocco (who burst in through the plasterboard wall).
A Seraglio [i.e., Mozart's, Die Entführung] doubles all the singers with actors not resembling them in any way, or costumed like them, but discussing the action with them throughout. Osmin and his alter ego toy with dismembered and dripping chunks of female anatomy that he keeps in a chest. An irrelevant half-naked little boy is introduced into the action to offer Konstanze an apple symbolic, see? Pasha Selim becomes a dirty-raincoated flasher and knife-wielding rapist, who interrupts the music of the finale with a recital from Rilke.
Wagner does come in for more stick than most, partly because the current German bourgeois audience, as fat-arsed, complacent and herd-conformist as it was in his day, is easily bored by sitting through him, yet required to do so by their intellectual pretensions. They demand some form of distraction. They are also hideously embarrassed by anything "alt-Germanisch" today, because it reminds them of what their daddies and granddaddies made it an excuse for. Sending up Wagner, or just plain kicking it about, becomes a handy community ritual of absolution, in which they can all demonstrate their own freedom from any arm-lifting tendencies, and support their application for re-entry to the human race.
Excerpted from a post on a Wagner list by Mike Scott Rohan
Please, God, make it stop!