Heather Mac Donald has written a brilliant, incisive, and shattering 8000-word essay for the quarterly magazine City Journal on the obscenity that is Regietheater, and what its future might or might not be at Peter Gelb's Metropolitan Opera.
Mozart's lighthearted opera The Abduction from the Seraglio does not call for a prostitute's nipples to be sliced off and presented to the lead soprano. Nor does it include masturbation, urination as foreplay, or forced oral sex. Europe's new breed of opera directors, however, know better than Mozart what an opera should contain. So not only does the Abduction at Berlin's Komische Oper feature the aforementioned activities; it also replaces Mozart's graceful ending with a Quentin Tarantino–esque bloodbath and the promise of future perversion.
Welcome to Regietheater (German for "director's theater"), the style of opera direction now prevalent in Europe. Regietheater embodies the belief that a director's interpretation of an opera is as important as what the composer intended, if not more so. By an odd coincidence, many cutting-edge directors working in Europe today just happen to discover the identical lode of sex, violence, and opportunity for hackneyed political "critique" in operas ranging from the early Baroque era to that of late Romanticism.
Until now, New York's Metropolitan Opera has stood resolutely against Regietheater decadence. In fact, its greatest gift to the world at the present moment is to mount productions—whether sleekly abstract or richly realistic—that allow the beauty of some of the most powerful music ever written to shine forth.
The question now is whether that musical gift will continue.