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.
How have we allowed this to come about? How has one of mankind’s most glorious achievements [viz., opera] fallen into the hands of this freakish band of directors that seeks only to demean the form in its own narcissistic, solipsistic image? How have we come to be beholden to such as one of the most outré of this ill-begotten breed who can trenchantly assert that he is ‘faithful to Mozart’, a claim that carries as much validity as would Richard Dawkins declaring he is faithful to God? It is my firm conviction that no part of the operatic world, from administrators, to conductors, to singers, critics and audiences can escape censure.*The essay is well worth one's time reading in full. (Our thanks to Opera-L member Peter Bollard for the above Early Music World link.) * To which compare our,
And what sort of respect should be shown singers and musicians — the sine qua non (literally) of an opera performance — who were too cowardly to adamantly refuse to take part in such butcheries? That's right. None at all. They deserve to share the full weight of our censure along with the butchers initially and ultimately responsible for the butchery.
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.
Opera Staging Madness (Part Three) What can be done to safeguard an endangered art form [i.e., opera]? If it is believed that an opera audience can be cowed into tolerating any abuse of text and music for fear of seeming to be old-fashioned, conservative, recidivist (who wants to be thought of as not with it, not up to speed, uncool), the manipulators, axe-grinders and Mafiosi, given a free hand, cheerfully assault the art form. One of the challenges for an opera house General Manager is to sell out the house. The ultimate say-so rests with the audience. If their beloved world of opera is being degraded and ridiculed (not too long ago. a stage director who publicly derided the art form of opera, staged one, with the cast dressed as monkeys), what to do? Boo? Certainly not. The singers and musicians do their best under trying circumstances and their work should be respected. What then? Follow the example of a gentleman who, after the First act of a Shakespeare play presented at an international festival and directed by someone who proudly said he had never read one and engaged non-professionals to "act", stood up and said in a ringing voce "George, let's go". All but thirty people left the theater. You won't get your money back but if the General Manger reads on Facebook often enough that the Opera House he/she is managing is losing its audience, he/she will soon change course. Another suggested action is pre-emptive in nature: if you read that a new production at your favorite opera house will be given of La Bohème set in a Nepalese fish market with the Sex Pistols in the orchestra pit conducted by Sarah Palin, don't go.It all sounds perfectly sensible to us — except for the part about booing not being part of the solution because "the singers and musicians do their best under trying circumstances and their work should be respected." Is that so. And what sort of respect should be shown singers and musicians — the sine qua non (literally) of an opera performance — who were too cowardly to adamantly refuse to take part in such butcheries? That's right. None at all. They deserve to share the full weight of our censure along with the butchers initially and ultimately responsible for the butchery.
We just finished watching our DVRed copy of PBS's Friday night telecast of the Met's HD film of its new production of Michael Mayer's Regietheater (but NOT Eurotrash) reimagining of Verdi's Rigoletto which transports the setting of the opera from 16th-century Mantua to 1960s Las Vegas and does so with little or no strain at all if with but little point (not even the rewording of the subtitles to comport with the opera's new setting seemed a strain).This brought an annoyed eMail objection from a hugely experienced and perceptive mainstream classical music critic who wrote that Mayer's Regietheater staging "falsified the characters, locales and even props ('gun' instead of 'sword') to match the modern Vegas locale, and even added slang [to the "translated" subtitles]." When we responded, in part, by asking what the critic meant by "falsified the characters" the response was:
Start with Monterone as Muslim sheik. Or the virginal Gilda, who Rigoletto protects from the evil outside world and who leaves home only to go to church on Sundays, living atop a casino, which she has to traverse upon exiting the elevator. And do you think a sheik's curse would upset Don Rickles in 1950s [sic] Vegas? If someone took liberties like this with Wagner you'd be horrified.That last is, of course, perfectly true, and for good reason too: there's a fundamental difference in this regard between Wagner's stageworks and conventional Italian (or French) opera. As we wrote some few years ago (2004):
Might I suggest to [critics] in the critical press that before they next think of praising a Eurotrash Regietheater Wagner production they first consider that, although there would be no dramatic or aesthetic gain or benefit whatsoever from doing so, and while, depending on how skillfully it's done, it may do no real or fundamental violence to a conventional Italian opera like, say, Tosca with all the necessary time and place changes made to the sung text to have it take place in, say, turn-of-21st-century New York instead of turn-of-19th-century Rome — a 21st-century New York where, say, Cavaradossi is a programmer of software games, Scarpia a powerful and exploitative electronics venture capitalist, and Floria Tosca herself a flaming rock star and all that implies — the same sort of approach cannot be taken with any of Wagner's canonical works (those works from Holländer forward) and most particularly and most especially none of the great music-dramas after Lohengrin. If nothing else, taking that sort of approach with a Wagner opera or music-drama results in making concrete and "fixing" a particular aspect or reading of the work, thereby robbing it of the very thing — the essential characteristic — that establishes it as the transcendent work of art that it is: its power to resonate in multiple domains and at multiple levels of meaning all at once. Additionally, all Wagner's works, even one as early and immature as Holländer, have an organic unity of text, music, and mise en scène that will brook no deconstructionist or postmodern diddling without becoming grotesque caricatures of themselves at best, and perverse corruptions of their creator's dramatic and aesthetic vision always.We stand by what we wrote, then and now.
"With the last chords of the Twilight of the Gods, I had a feeling of liberation from captivity. It may be that The Nibelungs' Ring [sic] is a very great work, but there never has been anything more tedious and more dragged-out than this rigmarole. The agglomeration of the most intricate and contrived harmonies, colorlessness of all that is sung on the stage, interminably long dialogues — all this fatigues the nerves to the utmost degree. So, what is the aim of Wagner's reform? In the past, music was supposed to delight people, and now we are tormented and exhausted by it." —From a letter of Tchaikovsky's from Vienna, to his brother, Modest, 20 August 1876 "I do not believe that a single composition of Wagner will survive him." —From a letter by noted German music theorist, teacher and composer Moritz Hauptmann, 3 February 1849
[T]he injection of a mild strain of Regietheater [in opera stagings in American opera houses] ... is a healthy development because it forces American audiences to see opera as something other than a nostalgia trip. [...] [I]t's because we endlessly repeat the same old pieces that we feel the need to reinvent them in ever more drastic fashion.Yes, well, certainly an interesting view of the matter. Consider, however, that by that same sort of reasoning it might be "a healthy development" if American symphony orchestras did away with repeating year after year performances of, say, those same old Beethoven symphonies the way Beethoven wrote them and instead reinvent them just a bit by injecting some orchestration or other that never occurred to Herr Beethoven such as, say, kazoos in place of bassoons; or, say, slide whistles in place of flutes; or, say, musical saws in place of violas. After all, if that were done, American audiences would surely be forced to see those symphonies as something other than nostalgia trips. Yes indeed. They most assuredly would.
For the past five years, the New York Times Magazine has offered an end-of-year feature called "The Music They Made" — an audio collage of musicians who died that year. [...] [W]ith the exception of David Mason, the trumpeter who played on "Penny Lane," no Western classical musician has appeared in these compilations. The omission is particularly maddening this year, since we lost two gigantic figures: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elliott Carter. Almost every other genre has been represented at one time or another....We might point out to Mr. Ross that Western classical musicians have no place in such a compilation and would, in fact, be made to appear ridiculous by their inclusion. They require a completely separate compilation of their own and it's shameful, especially considering the publication, that no such compilation exists there. However, Mr. Ross's complaint that an annual compilation by the same publication called "The Lives They Lived" is also absent any Western classical musicians is a thoroughly justified one and the New York Times Magazine should feel doubly shamed by the omission.
[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.