[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.
[Baumgarten's] staging transposes Wartburg castle to an organic waste recycling plant and features a pregnant Venus living in a cage with giant tadpoles and furry, ape-like nymphs. The recycling-plant set, designed by Joep van Lieshout, remains largely unchanged through the opera’s three acts. It comprises a big green tank of nutrition (we’re told it’s a celery product), a blue tank of biogas (made from human excrement) and a long red storage cylinder of alcohol (distilled celery juice.) The program notes contain a detailed diagram explaining how this represents the full energy cycle from food and alcohol, through digestion and waste back to gas and energy.Sounds like the proper setting for Eurotrash.
Under his direction, actors ignored huge portions of the classical texts they performed, stripped naked, screamed their lines for the duration of five-hour productions, got drunk onstage, dropped out of character, conducted private fights, tossed paint at their public, saw a third of the audience walk out as they spoke two lines at an excruciatingly slow pace, may or may not have induced a theatergoer to drink urine, threw potato salad, immersed themselves in water, recited newspaper reports of Hitler’s last peacetime birthday party, told bad jokes, called the audience East German sellouts and appeared to but did not kill a mouse [onstage].Yes indeed. Herr Castorf sounds just about right as Katharina's choice. And the beat goes on and the hits just keep on comin'.
All the lights were turned low, so low that the congregation sat in a deep and solemn gloom. The funereal rustling of dresses and the low buzz of conversation began to die swiftly down, and presently not the ghost of a sound was left. This profound and increasingly impressive stillness endured for some time — the best preparation for music, spectacle, or speech conceivable. [...] Finally, out of darkness and distance and mystery soft rich notes rose upon the stillness, and from his grave the dead magician began to weave his spells about his disciples and steep their souls in his enchantments. There was something strangely impressive in the fancy which kept intruding itself that the composer was conscious in his grave of what was going on here, and that these divine sounds were the clothing of thoughts which were at this moment passing through his brain, and not recognized and familiar ones which had issued from it at some former time. [...] Yesterday the opera was "Tristan and Isolde." I have seen all sorts of audiences — at theaters, operas, concerts, lectures, sermons, funerals — but none which was twin to the Wagner audience of Bayreuth for fixed and reverential attention, absolute attention and petrified retention to the end of an act of the attitude assumed at the beginning of it. You detect no movement in the solid mass of heads and shoulders. You seem to sit with the dead in the gloom of a tomb. You know that they are being stirred to their profoundest depths; that there are times when they want to rise and wave handkerchiefs and shout their approbation, and times when tears are running down their faces, and it would be a relief to free their pent emotions in sobs or screams; yet you hear not one utterance till the curtain swings together and the closing strains have slowly faded out and died; then the dead rise with one impulse and shake the building with their applause. Every seat is full in the first act; there is not a vacant one in the last. If a man would be conspicuous, let him come here and retire from the house in the midst of an act. It would make him celebrated. [...] This opera of "Tristan and Isolde" last night broke the hearts of all witnesses who were of the faith, and I know of some who have heard of many who could not sleep after it, but cried the night away. I feel strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the sane person in a community of the mad; sometimes I feel like the one blind man where all others see; the one groping savage in the college of the learned, and always, during service, I feel like a heretic in heaven. But by no means do I ever overlook or minify the fact that this is one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I have never seen anything like this before. I have never seen anything so great and fine and real as this devotion.
Siegfried, Wotan, Fafner, Brünnhilde and the rest of them are real and alive and inhabit a real world. First and foremost they are NOT symbols or illustrations or decorations or abstractions. They all have their psychologies, and via them the conflicts and thereby the empathy and emotions of the audience arise. [...] It may be fine to make Wagner’s amazingly human Gods populate English industrialism or the Third Reich, but it doesn’t improve things. We don’t need parallels! Actually, parallels are directly confusing! Leave parallels and interpretations to the audience! As the recently deceased opera buff Gerhard Schepelern so persistently reminded me, “The director must not try to be cleverer than the work!” No, he must be the servant of the original intentions he finds in the words and music, and the harder the task, the more persistent he must be. If Fafner is meant to inspire terror, the director is firmly obliged to apply all his abilities to invoking terror. If Siegfried is a hero (however psychologically complicated) he must be presented as such, no matter how unfashionable, ungrateful and politically incorrect it may seem. If the Ring contained and contains humour, it is this humour that the production must bring out and not the prejudiced wit of a casual director. If we want Wagner, we want Wagner. And that’s that. Anything else is pusillanimous.Indeed. RTWT here. (Our thanks to Opera-L member Rich Lowenthal for the link.)
To explain the plan of the festival theatre now being built in Bayreuth, I believe that I cannot do better than begin with the need I felt first, namely, that of rendering invisible the technical hearth of the music: the orchestra. For this one constraint led step by step to the total redesigning of the auditorium of our neo-European theatre. Those of my readers who are familiar with some of my earlier writings will already know my thoughts on the concealment of the orchestra, and I hope that even if they had not already felt this for themselves, a subsequent visit to the opera will have convinced them of the rightness of my feeling that the constant and, indeed, insistent sight of the technical apparatus needed to produce the sound constitutes a most tiresome distraction. In my essay on Beethoven [Beethoven, 1870] I was able to explain how at thrilling performances of ideal works of music we may ultimately cease to notice this reprehensible evil as a result of the force with which all our senses are retuned, resulting, as it were, in a kind of neutralization of our sense of sight. With a stage performance, by contrast, it is a question of attuning our sense of sight to precisely apprehending an image, which can be done only by distracting it completely and by preventing it from noticing any reality than lies in between, such reality including the technical apparatus needed to produce the image in the first place.
Israeli Orchestra Breaks Boycott To Perform At 2011 Bayreuth Festival The Israel Chamber Orchestra is set to become the country's first ensemble to perform at the annual Bayreuth Festival, a month-long event showcasing the operas of Richard Wagner. The decision, announced Tuesday, goes against a long-time tradition in Israel of not performing works by Wagner, who was a vocal anti-Semite and whose writings later influenced Adolf Hitler. "The decision was not to break a taboo," Erella Talmi, chairwoman of the orchestra's board of directors, told Israeli Defense Forces Radio on Tuesday. "The decision was to accept an invitation that showed a new openness." Katharina Wagner, co-director of the festival and great-granddaughter of the composer, had extended the invitation to the Israel Chamber Orchestra in an effort to stir up what has for decades been an elitist event. [Deutsche Welle]Today comes this lone report from Israel's major daily, Haaretz:
Wagner's Great-Granddaughter Cancels Israel Trip Week Before Arrival The great-granddaughter of composer Richard Wagner, Katharina Wagner, has canceled a visit to Israel next week, fearing criticism in Israel and abroad. Katharina Wagner is the head of the annual Wagner festival in Bayreuth, which was founded by the composer in 1876. [...] Katharina Wagner's visit to Israel has been kept secret for the past year, and tensions surrounding the trip have been high. Wagner had planned to call a press conference on October 13, during which she was to extend an invitation to the Israel Chamber Orchestra to open the Wagner festival next July. She had planned to precede the announcement of the invitation with comments from German Chancellor Angela Merkel in honor of the occasion. Reports of the visit, however, were leaked in the Israeli press, and soon reached the media in Germany, Austria and around the world. Reactions to the news were mixed: Austrian newspaper Der Standard quoted Israeli journalist and Holocaust survivor Noah Klinger as saying that such a step would be seen as "capitulation" after years of boycotting Wagner's work. In light of the leaks regarding the invitation, the organizers of the festival held an emergency meeting in Bayreuth on Tuesday night, during which the decision was taken to cancel Wagner's visit to Israel; it seems unlikely that this decision will be reversed, barring a last-minute development.So, is Katharina going to Israel to extend the invitation or not? Stay tuned.