Advance word on the new Bayreuth Ring, staged by the Berlin-based director Frank Castorf, promised a sharply political interpretation, one in which the curse of the Nibelung’s gold would give way to the curse of international oil. Photographs from the rehearsals showed such settings as a gas station on Route 66, an oil rig in Baku, and the façade of the New York Stock Exchange. Leftist approaches to the Ring are nothing new: Wagner designed the libretto as an allegory for the corrupting forces of nineteenth-century capitalism, and late-twentieth-century productions by Joachim Herz, Götz Friedrich, and Patrice Chéreau articulated that agenda onstage. Still, the time seemed ripe for a radical Ring set in the twilight of the American empire.Say what(!)? By what perverse reasoning or logic would "the time [have] seemed ripe for a radical Ring set in the twilight of the American empire"? Rather, given the occasion — the bicentennial celebration of Wagner's birth in The House That Wagner Built — the time would have seemed ripe in our modern-day world to have Wagner's magnum opus set for once as Wagner himself envisioned it: in a timeless, universal, largely place-less world (the pre-historic — literally — Rhine Valley being the only identifiable location) wherein his timeless, universal, mythic (music-)drama could play itself out. By his above introductory graf, Mr. Ross betrays his surrender to and even tacit approval of the pernicious malignancy known more familiarly as Eurotrash (i.e., Konzept Regietheater) and one cannot but mourn this shameful surrender by one of our otherwise most thoughtful and perceptive classical music critics.
Anyone who can read German will discover that the review under the inflammatory headline is, in fact, mixed rather than negative. "Not to be taken seriously" in context means "treated lightly and ironically." But I forgot: this is [an opera forum] where very few read reviews even in English let alone go to the trouble of actually seeing any of these productions they're all up in arms about.In response to which we butted in by writing:
And lest anyone forget, the above is [written] by __________ who has something to praise about all Konzept Regietheater opera stagings unless, of course, that staging bears any resemblance or relationship to the spirit and sense of the opera creator's original vision. And I would be interested in learning just how most folks here (were they masochistic enough) could have "go[ne] to the trouble of actually seeing" the imbecile, unintentional burlesque that is Frank Castorf's Wagner Bicentennial Bayreuth staging of the Ring which, in any case, is clearly one of those Eurotrash (Konzept) Regietheater stagings that makes "actually seeing" it totally unnecessary in order to render an informed and infallible judgment concerning it.That did it. Now WE became the target, both publicly and privately — not by the above referred to "progressive" MSM critic but by other forum "progressive" types. Herewith a sampling:
⚫ I cannot help but feel a certain amount of pity for someone who subordinates their [sic] own thought processes and critical faculties to someone else. For my money, NO, you cannot render an informed and certainly not infallible judgment on a performance you have not seen.Und so weiter. Well, for starters, we never claimed to be able to render an informed and infallible judgment of either a "performance" or a "production" without actually seeing it. We spoke only of judging the staging of a production unseen by us in the theater, and only of certain stagings, not all. Furthermore, none of our numerous commentaries on stagings unseen by us in the theater could be taken as our "subordinat[ing] [our] own thought processes and critical faculties to someone else." (What an idea!) We finally felt constrained to set things straight on the forum regarding this matter, and perhaps it's also time we set things straight on this matter here on S&F as well. Following (with language slightly polished) is what we wrote in response to the criticisms:
⚫ Now is it possible that _____ did actually read what you wrote but like ma[n]y people considers it necessary for someone to actually attend a production rather than dismiss it out of hand through the [critiques] of others? Of course only the 'others' who agree with your already formed opinion!
⚫ Sorry, "little man", *no one* can judge a theatrical production from production photos.
⚫ You patronising twat.
In all the years I've commented on Eurotrash (Konzept) Regietheater stagings (and I've commented a great deal) I've NEVER - not once - depended on the critical opinion of others. When I write about these stagings, stagings I've never actually seen in the theater, I base my commentary on production photos and/or video clips of the staging and on reliable, straightforward written descriptions of the physical action absent one or the other of these two pieces of data I will offer no critical commentary at all. Even given the above two pieces of data, some stagings simply cannot be commented on without actually seeing them in the theater (the 2009 LAO Achim Freyer staging of the Ring is a perfect example). On the other hand, some stagings can be easily and accurately judged merely on the evidence of those two pieces of data. Such is the Frank Castorf Eurotrash staging of the Ring for Bayreuth from which staging there is no possibility that Wagner's Ring could ever emerge. And that's the principal thing that makes this Castorf staging utterly contemptible, unmitigated Eurotrash and so richly deserving of utmost censure.The above explanation just for the record.
A.C. Douglas: It's NOT a matter of "taste". It's a matter of a Wagner staging being faithful to the FULL SPIRIT AND SENSE of Wagner's idealized dramatic and theatrical vision as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions). Eurotrash Champion: I understand your point but this surely raises the question of just what that full spirit and sense actually is. I can't see that it *is* actually made manifest in the score. You speak as if it was an absolute, an unchanging almost tangible essence, something to be recognised and described and captured (or embodied, to use what might be a better term) in every staging, however that staging chooses to present it: whatever the frame, the picture stays the same. I'm not sure that's true. I think that the spirit and the sense differ, perhaps radically, from person to person and from age to age. I think the Lohengrin in question *is* true to what I see as the essence of the work. ACD: And there in a nutshell is the pernicious, sophistic rationale and justification put forward by *every* self-involved, self-serving, parasitic vandal for his (or her) Eurotrash (i.e., _Konzept_) Regietheater stagings. *Of course* the full spirit and sense of an opera creator's vision is made manifest in the opera's score (music, text, and stage directions). How could it not be? One would have to be willfully deaf and blind to not perceive it. And *of course* it's "an unchanging almost tangible essence, something to be recognised and described and captured (or embodied, to use what might be a better term) in every staging, however that staging chooses to present it." The opera's creator depends and is absolutely dependent upon his opera's producers, during and after his lifetime, to ensure precisely that. Any material change to the full spirit and sense of the opera creator's vision as made manifest in the score results invariably in another work altogether and always involves adding insult to injury by the necessity of the parasitic vandal having to hijack the opera creator's music and text to serve his (the vandal's) own "vision". I don't want to be misunderstood here. Once an opera's copyright lapses and the work enters the public domain it's perfectly fair game for opera directors to make of and do with what they will and the resulting new work judged on its own terms. What they may NOT do, however, is call, bill, promote, or otherwise represent their new show as a new staging of the original opera creator's show. To do so is to perpetrate a fraud; one that should be actionable at law. The "Rat" _Lohengrin_ is not by any stretch or twisting of fact Wagner's _Lohengrin_. It is Hans Neuenfels's _Lohengrin_ with Wagner's music and text hijacked for use for its own purpose the show then fraudulently represented as a new staging of Wagner's _Lohengrin_.
[S]ome directors are deliberately trying to stage an opera in a way that is at odds with the music. They don't want you absorbed in the story, they want you to actively question the work. [...] I simply cannot agree that directors should abandon attempts to apply their ideas and concepts to a work. That is the creative soul of the occupation.To which we responded (here reprinted with language somewhat polished):
No, that is the "creative soul of the occupation" of a Eurotrash/Brechtian Regie, not that of an honest opera director. The "creative soul of the occupation" of an honest opera director resides in his attempt to discover, to the utmost capacity of his gift, the most vivid and compelling way to realize onstage the full sense and spirit of the opera creator's concept and vision as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions). Attempting anything beyond that involves the opera director operating within territory he has no business even so much as stepping foot into much less messing about with.And so ought it to be in saecula saeculorum.
But Leontyne Price says never sing on principal, only on interest. So difficult to keep up with all these pearls of wisdom from great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of art consists mostly of the ability to make a pretty noise in the throat.To which we responded:
You mean as opposed to all those pearls of wisdom from great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of art consists mostly of their desperate, urgent need to justify and make acceptable their parasitic hijacking of the original works of others, or the theorizing of those great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of an artform consists of a view of that artform that's long been jaded by their having been obsessive-compulsively addicted to that artform for reasons other than art? I of course dismiss the theorizing of academic types as their theorizing on an artform is provoked and corrupted by things external to art and is therefore ipso facto worthless.Usual Suspect's immediately following sally attempted the less snarky, more sober approach, managing only to dig himself into an even deeper hole:
I see nothing particularly brave in what Beczala said. Essentially he states he will refuse to work with "crazy" directors who try to "reinvent" the opera without bothering to define what constitutes either craziness or reinvention.... I would call it brave, for example, if Beczala had named names, said, "I worked with Fritz Krank in Graz on a terrible 'Traviata' in which I had to sing my cabaletta nude in a children's swimming pool filled with Jello." But he offers neither names nor concrete examples of what he considers "crazy." (What he says about a crocodile in "Lohengrin" is hypothetical and therefore pointless....)To which we responded:
Since when does being hypothetical equate with being pointless? And in the case of Lohengrin, Beczala's hypothetical crocodile is perfectly on point given the recent infamous Bayreuth Eurotrash Lohengrin — the so-called "Rat" Lohengrin — with its army of rat-costumed Brabantians complete with tails. In any case, the man is setting forth a principle and his stated rejection of any staging of Lohengrin — actual or hypothetical — in which a crocodile takes the place of the swan illustrates that principle in a way perfectly comprehensible to all — to all, that is, other than cheerleaders for and staunch fans and defenders of that malignancy known as Eurotrash (i.e., Konzept) Regietheater.We await (but do not expect) any further argument. Stay tuned.
Chaos, as Wagner himself sometimes suggested, is likely to be the rule, rather than the exception, in our world (and in productions of Der Ring des Nibelungen that try to reflect or comment on that world) until another cruel divine order emerges to force things back into unity. Rings devoted to the evils and collapse of Eastern European communism are surely on the drafting boards already, now that Rings devoted to the evils and collapse of capitalism and fascism are becoming routine. Be grateful if you have the opportunity to see a contemporary Ring that is as compelling to look at as it is to listen to; thoughtfully (not narrowly or spitefully) of our time; on the whole generous to Wagner, rather than mean-minded and reductive; one that makes provocative sense, and still seems to grow out of the music, which is (fortunately) larger than all of these postmodern Konzepts put together.Read the full text here.
Your list of production failures during Gelb's tenure may all have been ill-conceived or inept productions, and most (but not all) might be legitimately classified as Regietheater, but NONE of those productions could legitimately be classified as Eurotrash (Regietheater and Eurotrash are NOT synonymous terms; all Eurotrash is Regietheater, but not all Regietheater is Eurotrash). One of the remarkable things about Gelb's tenure is that Met audiences have been spared and saved harmless from the contemptible grotesqueries of Eurotrash, a pervasive malignancy that today infects opera stages worldwide. For that, at least, U.S. opera fans and Met operagoers ought to be grateful.My repeated use of the term "Eurotrash" in this and in my following posts in the skirmish and my contempt for such stagings provoked one forum member to label me a "narrow minded [person] who live[s] in the past" and another to declare me "a psychotic bigot". You know. All the par-for-the-course stuff as these skirmishes go and to be expected. As a participant in the skirmish, I at one point wrote the following concerning the distinction between Regietheater and Eurotrash:
Any staging where the director in some way or ways reimagines the original creator's vision and concept by, say for simple instance, moving the location and/or time of the action to a different place or period, is, by definition, Regietheater. The director has altered the original creator's instructions regarding those elements and substituted his own for whatever reason; good, bad, or indifferent. Only when the director substitutes his own VISION AND CONCEPT in place of that of the original creator's as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions) does Regietheater descend into the malignancy that we today label Eurotrash, the very worst examples of the type being those where the director's vision and concept are, at bottom, a deconstruction of or critical commentary on the work to hand, a la, say (to use the current Bayreuth examples with which I'm most familiar), the Bayreuth _Parsifal_ of director Stefan Herheim, or the Bayreuth _Meistersinger_ of Katharina Wagner, or the Bayreuth _Lohengrin_ of Hans Neuenfels. These are all out-and-out Eurotrash and Eurotrash of the most malignant sort.I'd seen detailed written physical descriptions and voluminous production photos of the staging of the Parsifal and had seen the full productions of both the Meistersinger and the Lohengrin as both were streamed live on the Web by the Bayreuther Festspiele and so felt fully confident classifying them all as out-and-out Eurotrash although I confess that confidence was momentarily shaken (but only momentarily) in the case of the Neuenfels Lohengrin when I read with utter dismay and something approaching utter disbelief The New Yorker's Alex Ross declare that staging "an austere, elegant, darkly enchanting piece of theatre" and a "great Wagner performance" that "made a particularly deep impression" on him. Needless to say, that Eurotrash classification of mine didn't sit well with the Regietheater champions on this forum the chief of these even taking the trouble to give his take on Neuenfels's Konzept for the staging of Lohengrin. The take was quite intelligent, actually, but in making it this champion for Regietheater seemed totally oblivious to the fact that he was making not his case as a champion for Regietheater, but the case for Eurotrash Regietheater's most intransigent enemies among which I number myself. For whatever Neuenfels's staging of Lohengrin may be, there is one thing it most decidedly by any stretch is not: a staging of WAGNER'S Lohengrin. This Lohengrin is not Richard Wagner's Lohengrin but Hans Neuenfels's Lohengrin hijacking Richard Wagner's music and text for its own purpose, and that's a very definition of what it means to be Eurotrash. It also, at very least, makes the promoter and presenter of this production, the Bayreuther Festspiele, guilty of fraud. Would that it were a class of fraud actionable at law.
Not only has the Festival Management remembered its own history, to judge from the recent 'Parsifal' they are trying to come to terms with it. Whatever you might say about the current crop of productions, they are -- with the exception of the dreadfully dull and dreary 'Tristan' -- boldly innovative. If that is not in accordance with the ideals of the founder of the Festival, then I do not know what is.To which our response was:
"Boldly innovative"(!)? Is that what you call the current _Parsifal_, _Tannhäuser_, and _Lohengrin_? Well, I'll allow they may indeed be innovative, but they're not, by any stretch, *Wagner's* operas and music-dramas. What they are are Herheim's _Parsifal_, Baumgarten's _Tannhäuser_, and Neuenfels's _Lohengrin_, all using Wagner's hijacked music and text. From what we know of Wagner, do you imagine he would have sanctioned *any* of these using his name, never mind his music and text, were he able today to voice his feelings, not to even speak of considering them in accordance with his ideals? Well, the question is, of course, moot. But from everything we know of Wagner and his ideals (which is considerable), far from sanctioning these grotesque Eurotrash outrages he'd be more than likely to reach for the most damaging weapon at his disposal, his pen, and give these self-involved, self-serving, self-indulgent vandals and hijackers the thrashing of their lives.
Does the concept of the transformation of the citizens and knights of Brabant into rodents work on a symbolic and theoretical level? Was the use of rats as a topos for this production carefully considered by Neuenfels and costume designer Reinhard von der Thannen, or was it merely a clever almost adolescent attention-getting device guaranteed to foment controversy and therefore become memorable? Rats? What points of reference might the opera-goer have for these creatures? What allusions might the rats evoke in his mind? Robert Browning's 'Pied Piper'? Camus' absurdist novel _The Plague_? Lovecraft famous horror story 'Rats in the Walls'?--all with of images of revulsion and repugnance? One has to wonder if Neuenfels, van der Thannen, and conceptual collaborator Susanne Ã˜glÃ¦nd were not aware of the iconic images of rats in Fritz Hippler's jarring film 'Der Ewige Jude' and their profound connotations. Are the rats merely a clever bit of novelty in a sometimes tired opera? Is the symbolism just a bit too transparent? Or is Neuenfels in fact forcing us to re-examine the opera in an entirely innovative way through his use of the [Brechtian] technique of 'defamiliarization'?To which our response was:
That's all entirely beside the point. No matter what the answers to your several rhetorical questions, the fact remains that Neuenfels's rats and Konzept have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with *Wagner's* Konzept and his opera _Lohengrin_ except, perhaps, as a commentary on or deconstruction of that Konzept and that opera, and that makes Neuenfels's Konzept and its staging a virtual definition of what it means to be Eurotrash — Eurotrash of the most contemptible and loathsome sort. And *that's* the point.And indeed it is.