It began late yesterday innocently enough as these things go: a naïve inquiry on an online opera forum by someone who wondered whether Regietheater stagings of opera are "really drawing people to go to opera live? Or buy it on DVD, etc.? Or is it driving people away?" As we don't really know the answers to those questions in hard-facts terms we felt fairly certain we could easily avoid becoming involved in any back-and-forth arguments that ensued on one side or the other — that is, until we read this from a steadfast cheerleader for and champion of Regietheater of even the most extreme sort (i.e., Eurotrash):
For most of us [Americans], our experience with Regietheater is at [a distance]: we read a review or two consisting of a sort of laundry list of "shocking" effects: nudity, urination, bloody violence, depictions of drug use — or even something as minimally titillating as setting the action of "Il trovatore" in a hotel suite. This type of review represents a failure of arts criticism because there is no attempt [by the arts critic] to put these elements in context, or, more to the point, to try to grasp the drift of the director's take on the work.Say what? "A failure of arts criticism because there is no attempt [by the arts critic] to ... try to grasp the drift of the director's take on the work"(!)? That's a bit like saying that it's a journalistic failure because in merely describing the brutal murders perpetrated by a particularly sadistic serial killer the journalist made no attempt to try to grasp the killer's view of the matter. That was just one perverse, purblind step too far for us, and so we shot back:
"The director's take on the work"(!)? Why should anyone be concerned with an opera director's take on the work? It's of no importance whatsoever. It's not — or, rather, ought not to be — part of an opera director's job to have a "take on the work". His job — his sole job — is to realize onstage, in the most vivid and compelling manner possible, the opera creator's take on the work; i.e., to realize onstage the concept and vision of the opera's creator as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions). Period. Full stop. Any opera director who goes beyond that in his staging of an opera is involving himself in areas he has no business being much less meddling in. And to preempt the favorite straw man of Regietheater cheerleaders and champions, that does NOT mean or even imply that opera stagings should be of the "Tosca with bonnet, shepherd's crook and Empire waist, [or] Valkyries with horns, or humped Rigolettos wearing funny hats" sort, as one [forum member] here put it. It means that honest and conscientious opera directors must find evocative and resonant new ways to stage an opera for contemporary audiences without tossing aside or ignoring in any meaningful way the full spirit and sense of the opera creator's concept and vision as made manifest in the score. Any hack opera director can be outrageous and provocative in his stagings of opera. It takes an opera director of genuine gift to be able to stage an opera in conformance with the inviolable (or, rather, ought to be inviolable) principle above set forth.We await a coherent, reasoned rebuttal. Stay tuned.