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Piotr Beczala: I have a little list of directors I will never work with

The Polish tenor is deliciously indiscreet in an interview for Luister magazine with the Dutch music writer, Basia Jaworski. Slipped Disc has been offered  highlights in English of Piotr’s pet hates:

piotr beczala2

Piotr Beczala :

I have a little “black book ” with the names of stage directors – and conductors – with whom I don’t want to work any more.

Calixto Bieito to start with. Also Hans Neuenfels and Martin Kusej, not for me. I am absolutely not against updating an opera, I am not against modern. I am against stupid, idiotic and  far-fetched. I refuse to work as a group therapist for frustrated stage directors, I refuse to pay for their therapy.

Sometimes we do have words, lately with David Pountney in Zurich (Ballo), but after two days chat we came out, we managed. I’m in the very lucky position that I can choose. Most of my colleagues
(especially the beginners) are not.

Some think they will make it if they are in a “sensational and controversial” production, but it doesn’t work like that. In our profession you have to rely on your musicality, and your integrity.

There are  stage directors who think they are God, but you owe them nothing, you have to give yourself to the genius of the composer.

zeffirelli

My favourite stage director? Franco Zeffirelli. He is more then a stage director, he is a monument, he belongs to our cultural heritage. I also admire Guy Joosten. His Romeo an Juliet at the Met was absolutely
fantastic, we, the singers, enjoyed it enormously.

There are conductors I don’t like to work with but I won’t mention names.

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Comments

  1. Well said! If a few more singers took that attitude we’d have less half-baked productions.

  2. Excellent.

    He’s taken a stance on Calixto Bieito! It’s about time someone did! The opinion of a singer of Beczala’s level will make an impression, I hope.

  3. Willem Bruls says:

    What a coward not daring to mention any names of conductors. It’s the typical mentality and attitude of the category of singers that are not at all committed to the composer and the composition but only interested in the conductor as a future employer and themselves as egocentric performers.

    • katrin Hilbe says:

      I completely agree w William. Bruls. Shitting on directors costs nothing, for they don’t get to cast the singers. They’re stuck with what the artistic directors and conductors deem worthy. And they often don’t think in musico-dramatic terms, thereby forgetting that opera is a mixed genre of music and drama. And of course he would never want to name conductors, for their word is a singer’s bread and butter.

      • I don’t think you are well-informed. These stage directors are not only changing librettos but they are also picking singers by their physique. He is right about not naming conductors, because compared to stage directors they do no represent a huge danger to operatic tradition and most of them understand the singer’s needs.

    • oh dear Bruls seems to be insulted and calls beczala a coward. Well Bruls is the author (big word) of a few books on opera which never sold and after publication always ended up in the remainder section of Holland’s biggest second hand bookstores to stay there forever. One of his books was on ‘the orient in opera’ a farce, extremely badly researched, totally uninteresting and…..of course written in the right politically correct vein, the vein of the subsidized theatres of the audis and the mortiers, also as a music critic he messed u things and showed a lack of understanding of the art of singing. The age of the director will soon enuff end forever as our world of classical music is doomed to end as well due to people like bruls and the like.

      • Willem Bruls says:

        Geachte heer Fred,

        Over uw reactie heb ik twee zaken te zeggen:

        1. U bent een nog grotere lafaard dan Beczala omdat deze zanger zijn domme opmerkingen ten minste nog onder zijn eigen naam en voor eigen rekening maakt. Als u ook maar een greintje lef en ballen in uw lijf heeft, schrijft u uw kleinzielige scheldpartijtjes onder uw eigen naam.

        2. In elk woord dat u over mij te berde brengt, proef ik een enorme frustratie. Elk woord schreeuwt uit: ‘Bruls wel en ik niet…’ Wat treurig dat het u niet is gelukt om te bereiken wat u zo graag wilde. En wat prijs ik mijzelf gelukkig dan.

        Met vriendelijke groet, Willem Bruls

      • Willem Bruls says:

        P.s. Helaas moet ik u betrappen op een onjuistheid. Mijn boek over Wagner heeft een tweede druk beleefd. Dus uw stelling over vermeende onverkoopbaarheid is grotendeels onjuist. Willem Bruls

      • Willem Bruls says:

        Dear Mr. Fred,

        I have just two things to say about your reaction:

        1. You are even a bigger coward than Beczala because this singer makes his silly remarks at least under his own name and for his own responsibility. If you just had a tiny bit of guts and balls, you would publish your little shoutings under your own name.

        2. In every single word you raise about me, I can only read an enormous frustration. Every word screams: ‘Bruls did it and I didn’t…’ What a pity to see that you didn’t succeed in what you longed for so much. And I can praise myself every single day.

        Yours sincerely, Willem Bruls

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Dear Mr Bruls,

          If you want us to believe that Mr’s Beczalas remarks are “silly”, you will have to prove that they are. Otherwise, your epithete shall remain what it is right now : an empty insult. And, worse again, someone could think an insult is all you have.

          Because it’s not time you’re lacking : you’ve just sent three answers to one participant on one subject : yourself.

          • Basia Jaworski says:

            I am absolutely sure most people reacting to this subject didn’t read my interview. Pity, actually ….

          • Willem Bruls says:

            Dear Mr Backson,

            If you would have taken time to read the reaction of Fred, you would have understood that I took the time to answer him. He is Dutch and I am too, and I think I know who he is, so I answered him in Dutch. Then I realized it would be a pity for all the others being unable to understand what I said.

            Secondly, I am not interested in the discussion about modern versus old fashioned productions. There are just good and bad directors. Every production, even the most conventional and uninteresting are modern, because they are made here and now. My personal preference are modern productions that show both the eternal and our contemporary themes. That’s what I am interested in as a collaborator in opera. The longer I work in opera, some 25 years now, the more I discover that many operas are so rich and multilayered that it is impossible to show that in one production. So I am terribly happy that as many director make their own choices. I saw a few good so called old fashioned productions, but they didn’t reveal anything interesting or striking for me.

            Having said this, I regret the fact that the art of opera is somehow taken hostage by a group of people that are mainly interested in the ‘iron repertoire’ performed in the post Second World War aesthetics of denial of reality. An opera style of staging heavily influenced by Hollywood. Many misunderstand this style as being what ‘the composer intended’. Unfortunately we do not know what most of the composers intended, because most of them are dead. Everything is therefore an interpretation, Mr Zeffirelli as much as Mr. Bieito. You can like them or not, they both can be good or not, but they are both valid as 20th century or 21st century interpretations. It is exactly the in all the arts. Many people condemn contemporary art. But it is what it is. You can’t limit artists in doing what they are doing. You can’t tell Van Gogh to be completely free unless he doesn’t use the color yellow. I admit that there is a difference between creational and recreational arts, and that the last one has a different angle, but even in the recreational art you cannot put limits, because otherwise it would turn into state art, soviet art or even worse.

            The only reason I reacted on Beczala was an ethical one. It is cheap crowd pleasing for the own parish expressing these base resentments against directors. If you are so brave to name directors, you have to be brave to name conductors as well. Funny enough in my professional work I encountered as many bad conductors as I encountered bad directors, not to speak of singers… But strangely enough, nobody starts to scream about conductors as such because of some bad ones. Whereas many start to scream about directors as such because of some bad productions, or productions someone didn’t like or didn’t understand or showed him or her something he prefers to hide. There are loads of directors, they are all different, a specter between museum cases and enfants terribles. So it is impossible to talk about any generic modernity.

            Furthermore I see the wonderful contribution of singers in opera, they represent the living emotions. But opera is a Gesamtkunstwerk. It is as much about singing as it is about orchestra, stage, design etcetera. That is what I call the commitment to the composer and the composition. It is my personal experience that (good) directors and (good) conductors are more involved in the whole picture than singers are. Professional singers are aware of this. Beczala isn’t, I presume.

            Yes, I took time again, completely aware of the fact that the reactions here will be on the level of Mr. Fred.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Dear Mr Bruls, as it happens – I have treated all the points you are making and answered all of your arguments – by anticipation, so to speak. Too bad you don’t seem to have read it – which is, of course, your right.

            Only one question: by “productions influenced by Hollywood”, do you mean productions where just about any female character can be dressed and made-up to look like Marilyn in Seven Year’s Itch, or those where the misdeeds of capitalism are symbolized by the immortal figure of Mickey Mouse?

      • Willem Bruls says:

        P.s. I am awfully sorry to tell you that you made a slight mistake. My book on Wagner saw a second edition. Your assertion about the supposed unsaleability is to a large extent inaccurate. Willem Bruls

  4. I have a list of “black book” of singers I never want to see/hear again. I was thinking of putting Piotr Beczala on this list because of his attitude to directors reported a few weeks ago and now given more substance by your report, but could not do so before seeing him on stage. I have now had this doubtful pleasure in his Duke of Mantua, surely one of the dullest, two-dimensional, interpretations of the modern operatic stage. He is handsome, clean-cut and, for me, quite simply boring, with a voice that gets the notes, is fairly musical, but has no individual personality. Perhaps this is one of the “modern” productions Mr Beczala is not against, but the “Las Vegas” Rigoletto at the Met was a completely traditional Rigoletto clothed in “Rat Pack” sets and costumes: it told me no more about the opera than I knew before.

    Mr Beczala is now the latest addition to my “black book” principally because of the stage dullness, but also because I can’t be bothered with an opera-singer who is not excited by modern, daring, directors, but who it would seem would prefer the comfort, safety and traditional stagings (however well done) of his favourite Zeffirelli. I go to opera for live theatre, not museum pieces I could watch on DVD. I would far rather a director tried and failed, than just showed us the composer’s (usually pretty limited) stage directions. Opera is not about the notes, it is about the people!

    • No, opera is about the voice, the singing. You, who failed in straight theater careers, are ruining an art form with centuries of beauty and meaning. Acting comes second, if not last. Give me a great voice anyday over a pretty figure who looks nice and shows her ass onstage. Do not go to the opera. I recommend you go to a sex club instead.

      • Graf Nugent says:

        Roger – If all you’re interested in is the voice, then buy a CD and stay at home.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Graf Nugent, that’s what I have ended up doing. And I am sad that my young children are gettomg tp know good old productions primarily from DVDs.

          @Michael: if I want to understand better an opera, I read the libretto.

      • Opera Lover says:

        I agree, Roger. Well said.

      • Roger, Opera is all this. the voice. Very well said and my compliments to P. Beczala for his courage. Those singers adopting this attitude are keeping up opera and assure us lovely evenings. Being liberated from thoses frustrated directors is the goal of my life. Indeed, I don’t want to pay for their therapy. Also, those directors don’t care about the libretto, the music even the story. They event and develop their sick phantasie.

    • Yet, Lucic made it clear he thought the Rat Pack staging did nothing for the opera, and he underacted, too. Rigoletto was disappointing because of more than one singer–again, one who hits the notes well.

      I’ve seen Beczala put more out there in other productions. He has a right to an opinion, and he’s wise not to sign on for an uncomfortable experience.

    • Bravo!

    • John M. Russell says:

      B. is one of the top 3 tenors in the world. He has most of his career ahead of him. He needn’t worry what some lonely, powerless bloggers say against him. AND, if you want To see Eurotrash, find it now, because the pendulum is going to swing the other way.

  5. Totally disagree, Michael.

    Mr. Beczala is rightfully objecting to stage directors who place their work above that of the music itself.
    Calixto Bieito, for example, is so intent on shocking audiences and calling attention to himself and his “modern, daring” stagings that it eclipses the music itself. Lesser singers are willing to subjugate themselves to this. Someone of Mr. Beczala’s caliber does not have to. And he’s said so.

    I say, Bravo, Piotr!

  6. SchleppaG says:

    And yet he participated in that utterly absurd (and if you think, really ridiculously traditional) production of “rat pack” Rigoletto at the Met! What double standards!!! If he feels the way he – claims to- he should have walked out on that production!

  7. This from a tenor who just finished singing “La donna e mobile” while bumping and grinding on a stripper pole. That’s what I call integrity.

    • integrity is writing under your real name and not under a sort of operatic pseudo referring to an american ‘vulgar’ blog of retards and psychos. Why does opera nowadays attract that kind of people do you think?
      Can you imagine a present-day 12 – 18 year old lad be attracted to this kind of stuff? While opera was three decades ago still considered a major art form respected by most it has become a haven for lunies, no lower middle class people (to use this passe expression) are in the least interested in it while in the older days they still did…..Beczala whose record of slavic arias is one of the best tebnor recitals of the last 5 years or so is to be complimented on his firm stand

  8. His opinion is immediately discounted, of course, by his mention of Zeffirelli being his favorite director.

    Still going on about directors deviating from composer’s “intentions?” YAWN.

  9. Karolina says:

    I’m studing to be an opera singer and I can’t agree more. Acting is super important and we love to try something new but… reight now in many theters is some type of “fashion” I just don’t understand to sing/act naked everytime you can – for example in the libretto there are words like “heal my with your hands” and many stage directors are telling you to undress and put the fellow actors hands you-know-where… I’m sorry but is this fresh? Is it nice to watch? And the most important thing – in this type of setting will you be relaxed enough to produce beautiful sounds? It’s not like I’m absolutly saying now to artistic nudity (In “Salome” there must be some nudity after her dance) but come on! Opera is not some pornographic expirience.

    • Martin Locher says:

      You say “Opera is not some pornographic experience.” Why can’t it be? We see nudity in movies, so why not in theaters too? Neighter are movies with non-sense nudity for me, nor are theatre productions. But let’s be honest, there’s an audience for such shows.

      I always point to the viewer numbers of the German speaking Sunday night crime show “Tatort”. The most idiotic, gunshooting stupidness, likey paired with scenes out of the private bedroom of the stars, gets high ratings, while episodes which try to show real police work are liked by few.

      But then, some time last year, I saw a pretty rough Polish theater perfomance of Macbeth from the Edinburgh festival. Like an action movie and I truly enjoyed it. So I’m guilty myself of enjoying such “rubbish”.

      After writing this, I did a quickly search and found that Macbeth is still available to view online. But attention “The production is violent, and some scenes contain nudity”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/video/2012/aug/15/2008-macbeth-edinburgh-festival-video

      I go to the opera to see our time mixed with the tradition of opera. Our time can be represented by costumes, hip-hop dance instead of traditional ballet scenes and many other things, I can just not think of right now.

      Rather, I’d like to see productions fail (like this season Jenufa in Zurich did in the scene where the dead baby is found), than repeating something I could watch on dozens of DVDs. I certainly expect more of an opera than just hearing great singing. For singing only, one can attend a “Liederabend” or a concert performance of an opera.

    • Nudity = pornography ? That’s interesting.

      • Martin Locher says:

        It wasn’t my intention to make you think that.

        I actually cut out a few sentences between the “Why can’t it be?” and “We see nudity in movies…”, which would have explained that I see a difference, but also contained some rather inapproriate suggestions of which new form of crossover could be done.

  10. Gonout Backson says:

    Willem’s and Michael’s reactions are sadly typical. As soon as you speak up against the “modernistic” opera directors, you become something foul and nasty: a “dull singer”, and why not a “fascist” (heard that many times). No honest debate is possible here, I know, I tried : the best answer you can expect is silence, but abuse is not infrequent. Because this is not an intellectual discussion over some question of aesthetics: it has become a ideological war. Try to argue with a scientologist.

    Roger is perfectly right. In many theatres, the conductor doesn’t get to pick the cast. The director does, with the manager’s total support. There’s more: the director makes the cuts, sometimes even adding music. If the conductor doesn’t agree, he has two choices: he shuts up or gets fired. Riccardo Muti is a good example of this ominous evolution: years ago, he left Salzburg because he hated the production he was supposed to conduct and nobody would listen. Good for him. Ten years later, still in Salzburg, he was given a much worse production of another opera – and he stayed. He knew damn well that in the meantime power has definitely switched sides. And that was Riccardo Muti!

    Mr Beczala is a brave man who can now expect to be blackballed in some places. Many others think the same, speak about it in private, but wouldn’t say a word in public. They know the risks.

    P. S. Dear Michael: opera IS about the notes. Without the notes, it wouldn’t be there and we wouldn’t have this conversation. And, BTW, what’s wrong with the museum? We live in a museum.

  11. Oh what an idiot. Some artists are so absorbed in their own little corner of the profession that they completely fail to see the bigger picture. There is an audience for a more straightforward, traditional approach a la Zeffirelli and there is an audience for a more avant-garde approach a la Kusej et al. Thank god that both these audiences still exist, both of them keeping opera alive. As a fan of (dare I say it) ‘arthouse’ cinema and more experimental dance and theatre groups my own tendency is towards the likes of Pountney etc. but I do not resent those who dislike this approach. If Piotr doesn’t want to be involved in this type of opera interpretation, that’s his business – but to openly deride it in the press is pathetic. Thank god for the singers who DO want to work with directors who have a new, exciting approach and a desire to make opera connect to the world as it is now.

    • Catherine says:

      There is audience for both approaches to opera, but Regietheater productions are a majority and this is unfair. Nowadays it’s hard to find a good, traditional staging in Europe. Eurotrash is everywhere! Not all people can afford a trip to America(and even there, the Regie-disease has started to spread). Stage directors have completely taken over opera houses and they even don’t respect the audience. We don’t want to ban updating stage settings, but we want to have more productions that we think are beautiful and move our souls, to put an end to a monopoly for Regie.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Completely agree with Catherine.

        So refreshing to hear a contemporary singer stand up for Zeffirelli, especially now that Peter Gelb is having a feast undoing his great MET productions.

    • Bassocantante says:

      What a comment… Obviously you have no idea what our profession is about. In most cases it’s not a question about “singers who DO want to work with directors who have a new, exciting approach” but rather:

      “you have no other chance than to accept the directors because otherwise you’re out of work”!

      Opera is basically about singing, by no means less than ballet about dancing.

  12. Gonout Backson says:

    Of course, as could have been expected, this turns – on the “modernists’” side – into a personal attack against Beczala, including a very elegant “idiot” epithete. Thank you, Tom.

    Otherwise: same old same old.

    Tell me, Tom, why must “opera connect to the world as it is now”? Doesn’t it as it is? Does it mean that Monteverdi’s Orfeo, as conceived and written by a 400 years old composer, doesn’t? That Giotto doesn’t? That Homer doesn’t? That the past is… well, past, and unless we bring it to our level (up or down, you decide…), it will never “connect”?

    I rather think that the effort to “connect” should be ours. And some of us usually succeed – I mean, not Mr Bieito, obviously. His little finger seems to be more important to him that the moon.

    Dear Salome : why the “intentions”, quote-unquote? Is it to say that the composer didn’t have any, didn’t act on them, and that the music he wrote has nothing to do with it?

    Interesting questions – you never get any answer to.

    • I hear what you’re saying but unlike Giotto, Homer etc. we DO have to find a way to interpret opera within the context of our world now because it is not a picture on a wall or a written text – it is a piece of music THEATRE, made up of music and staged drama. It is a complex living entity that has to be presented by directors, designers, performers etc. The composer meant it to be staged and by staging it, much creative input and decision making has to take place in order to put it on stage. This is bound to vary with different artists involved in the process. What I’m saying is that this variation is a wonderful thing and the result of hugely imaginative directors/designers/performers being involved with this process. That a Monteverdi opera can be interpreted and staged in a myriad of different ways is a GOOD thing! It is what keeps the genre of live opera performance alive. I am a singer and a musician and I love and respect the original score but it would be a sad day to find ourselves in a world where theatrical presentation of opera dies out, and we’re left only with recordings and concert performances.

      • Gonout Backson says:

        You say: “we DO have to find a way to interpret opera within the context of our world”. If I understand you right, I can only ask: WHY? What has “the context of our word” to do with the interpretation of a work of the past? Is this “context” wiser? More beautiful? Deeper? Do we rewrite Beethoven symphonies to make them fit? Why do so with opera or, for that matter, Sophocles and Shakespeare? Give me one good reason.

        What do we gain by that? What has Mr Bieito told us about Mozart’s Abduction, that we hadn’t known before? It’s a question I have been asking for many years, and never got a sensible answer. Must be a very embarrassing one.

        The composer “meant it to be staged” : that’s for sure, but did he meant to be staged – violating every single aspect of his work? Text, music, characters, situations, relations between people – all these things he so painfully and carefully crafted? Do you seriously think Monteverdi, Mozart, Verdi or Wagner would applaud ?

        Did I say something against the variety of choices? Never. I’ve seen many great productions of, say, Le Nozze, not one of them was similar to any of the rest, and all were identifiable as Mozart’s Nozze. Mr Marthaler’s Nozze (Salzburg, Paris, DVD), as virtuoso as it is, is not. There’s not one stone not left unturned.

        What keeps the genre of opera alive – are the masterpieces, their power to “hold the mirror up” to ourselves. The theatrical presentation, indeed, does die out, but the “renovators”, self-centered directors and their frustrated “would-be-artist” managers, are not the medicine: they’re the symptom.

        • Thank you, I wish I could have said this as well.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Thank you very much, ishtarra. As you could have noticed, I never got any answer to this. Somehow, you never do. Because this is not an opinion : it’s an article of faith.

  13. Graf Nugent says:

    As ever, I think the truth is somewhere in between. There are superb modern takes on works just as there are lifeless and tedious traditional readings. It’s also not always easy to judge the effect a production will have on an audience after you’ve been in the thick of things every day for a month or so, especially if you don’t consider your time there to have been particularly rewarding.

    That said, there are a lot of singers who don’t want to be bothered to think about a new approach and are content to just phone in their performances and pocket the cheque. I could give you a list, but I couldn’t afford the ensuing court case.

  14. Basia Jaworski says:

    @Willem Bruls – read the entire interview first (it’s in last issue of Luister), then we’ll discuss it :-)

  15. Gonout Backson says:

    And now he’s getting it from both sides : for hating this stuff, and for not hating it enough.

    As always, the middle ground is the worst place to be, and moderation – the most dangerous stand.

  16. Basia Jaworski says:

    @Michael – you can have an opera without the stage designer. You can have an opera without an orchestra. You can have an opera without a conductor. But you CAN’T have an opera without the singers!

    Just read Mr.Beczala’s (yes, HE IS one of the greatest tenors now a day!) sentences once again:

    ” I am absolutely not against updating an opera, I am not against modern. I am against stupid, idiotic and far-fetched.”.

    Did you see La Boheme from Salzburg? Try!

    • “You can have an opera without an orchestra”. Oh yeah, try to listen to the Walküre in a piano reduction. Will you still be awake at the end of the performance ?

      • Basia Jaworski says:

        Yes, I will. With all the yohotohoo’s I´ll be awake for sure!
        But try to listen to The Walküre without the singers ….. Great music for sure, but are you still going to call it an opera?

        • Your comment that you could have opera without an orchestra, completely loses your credibility as a valuable journalist in opera.

          And I’m telling you this – Beczala needs directing to make his singing bearable. Over the radio he sounds like a character tenor with no top. I’m almost positive Bieito and Neuenfels aren’t losing sleep because the greatest Duca since Dénés Gulyas won’t be joining their cast

          • Basia Jaworski says:

            @Salome – are you a tenor, jealous of Mr. Beczala’s success? You sound like you are…
            No comment further.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Please, be serious, if only for a second. What Basia obviously means is that without an orchestra an opera shall still resemble an opera (I’ve seen such semi-amateur productions and they were quite enjoyable) – whereas without the singers you can just as well stay at home and watch Mr Neuenfels’ rats.

            But you’re right about one thing: Bieito and Neuenfels aren’t losing sleep. Yet.

            Otherwise, your method of discussion is so classical! “If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger”. Here : insult the artist, or even two. Bravo.

        • @ Basia Jaworski : Well good for you. I guess we just have finally found the way to cut costs of opera productions : just make the singers sing a capella the whole thing, Mrs Jaworski won’t see the difference.

          (Well, maybe Walküre was not a very good example. Try Pelleas!).

          • Basia Jaworski says:

            Thanks, Gounot. That’s exactly what I meant.
            Mathieu – read Gounot’s post.
            And to answer your question: no. I will never ever feel asleep while listening to Peleas, even without the orchestra. But I don’t give a dime for the score without the singers.
            I guess Salome is going to insult me again – go ahead, Salome! But please – don’t lose your head too early!

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Pelléas? Thanks for the example: in 2002, at the Warsaw National Opera House they gave the first ever staged Polish performance of this. With two pianos, because, as I hear, the orchestra proved unable to play it.

            Absurd? Of course, for a great theatre in a great capital, it certainly was. Desirable? No one would pretend it. But was it useless? I doubt it. The people who went there, did they hear an opera? I’m sure they did.

          • I do not condone Salome’s tone and I think this matter should be discussed with civility. I am going to make my point clear and I won’t comment any further, lest I become a troll in disguise.

            Singers are a necessary condition for there being an opera performance. The orchestral arrangement of the Liebestod is not an operatic, but a symphonic piece. But singers are not a sufficient condition for there being an opera performance.

            The conception according to which opera is (hopefully) beautiful singing accompanied by something (an orchestra, a piano, an ocarina, or whatever, or even nothing) would give the nausea to every operatic composer. The orchestra is a necessary part of the operatic experience. What makes Marie’s death so moving is not the view of Wozzeck killing her, it’s not the singing (there is none), it’s the growing and electrifying intensity reached by the orchestra.

            Besides, there is a contradiction in blaming adventurous (or simply bad) stage directors for betraying the composer’s intentions and approving of depriving operas of their intended orchestral setting.

            And as far as Pelleas is concerned, I do not think Debussy would have been thrilled to know that the premiere of his greatest composition was given in a piano reduction.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Please, Mathieu – you’re fighting with ghosts. ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ever pretended here what you so fiercely reject – that singers are a SUFFICIENT condition for opera to exist. The whole thing has been advanced here as a paradox in an argument, not a desirable state of things.

            Of course, Debussy would have been dismayed by this non-orchestral performance. But I’m quite sure, he would have been even more dismayed to see Pelleas as Mickey Mouse, Melisande as Marilyn, and the whole played in a old, empty and dirty swimming pool…

          • Mrs Jaworski will be glad you called her a ghost. “You can have an opera without an orchestra. You can have an opera without a conductor. But you CAN’T have an opera without the singers!”

          • Gonout Backson says:

            No, Mathieu, Mrs Jaworski didn’t mean what you’re trying to imply. That’s what – unsuccessfully, it would seem – I tried to explain.

            Without an orchestra (which is, let’s stress this again, NOT a desirable situation), you can still have something that vaguely resembles an opera : characters, situation, story.

            Without the singers, you have only a beautiful, if just as incomplete, symphonic piece, a “Ring without Words” so to speak : pretty, even beautiful, but “signifying nothing”.

          • I am sorry I was not clear enough. Nobody denies that an opera without singers is not an opera. I said so explicitely when I referred to the orchestral arrangement of the Liebestod, which, of course, is not an operatic performance.

            Now let’s be clear. The matter we are discussing is NOT merely conceptual or analytical (an opera is ex definitione something that involves singers! Nobody denies that). The point is not to define what an opera is. The point is to figure out what aesthetic conception we have of this genre. We can conceive it as a performance involving singers, playing characters, and being accompanied by something. Or we can conceive it as a complex experience involving, among other (very important) things, singers (of course, without them, it won’t do).

            Something that “vaguely ressembles” X is not X. And to be frank, something that ressembles X, vaguely or not, is not X at all (no need to dwell upon Plato’s Republic, X to understand that).

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Please, don’t play with words : my “vaguely resembles” really doesn’t pretend to give a precise definition of what opera is. Even then, X that “vaguely resembles” Y is, I hope you’ll agree, a little closer to Y that Z, that doesn’t resemble Y at all, not even vaguely…

          • Jorge Martin says:

            Funny you should mention Pelleas. I started out loving that opera, then over the years I fell out of love until I stopped going to it. Then after years away from it, I went to a staged performance at the AVA in Philly with one piano. It was a revelation. It ignited my love for the piece all over again. You can hear things in piano reduction that are lost in the wash of beautiful orchestral sound (and Debussy not only was a great orchestrator but also writer for the piano). Of course you can have opera without an orchestra, and you can even have one a cappella, if it is written to have no instrumental accompaniment. I love many of the points made in this thread, among them the fact that part of the magic of opera is that through the beauty and acting IN THE VOICE we can suspend our disbelief. Just as ballet is all about the body in motion, opera is about the expressivity and metaphysical mystery of the human voice. (And yes, song is to opera as a five-minute dance is to Swan Lake, and the analogy is not perfect.) Another point I liked: directors assume audiences are lazy and can’t relate to other periods and places in human history. It’s hard to create a really good theatrical experience whether you’re updating or setting in period. Just because you go against the libretto does not guarantee freshness, interest, or good theater.

          • You are obviously right, but you are still treating the matter as a purely definitional one.

            But even in a merely definitional or conceptual way, your argument has his shortcomings.

            A staged production of Winterreise, with the piano in the pit, looks more like (ressembles more) an opera than the whole Ring in an orchestral arrangement. Of course, none of them are opera in a definitional sense.

            Se let us talk about ressemblance.

            Now, you must not forget that X ressembles Y in one or more respect. If it ressembles Y in all respects, then X is Y. But X may ressemble Y more than Z in respect A, and Z may ressemble Y more than X in respect B.

            So, maybe a piano-reduced Ring ressembles more the “real” Ring in one respect (there are singers on stage), but not in another respect, for instance the richness of the score. In this latter respect, the purely orchestral Ring ressembles more the “real” Ring than the piano-reduced one. Everything depends on the properties you deem relevant for the comparison. You and Mrs Jaworski assume that the presence of singers is the only relevant property for there being something that “resembles (even remotely) an opera”.

            You must not forget that I never said that the purely orchestral Ring ressembles more the real Ring than the piano-reduced one. I just said that the “richness of score” aspect is as important (not more) as the “presence of singers” aspect, at least in most cases. In some cases, one aspect is more important than the other. In most belcantist opera, a piano-reduced version ressembles more the real deal than a merely orchestral version, because, well, the orchestral score is not so rich after all (exceptions aplenty) and the whole thing is designed to focus on the singers. Hence the cadanzas, the roulades, the trills, etc. In Pelleas, where the singers do not actually sing, but rather declamate some (very beautiful indeed) Sprachgesang, whereas the orchestral score is maybe Debussy’s finest achievement in his whole career, well, I guess an orchestral version ressembles more the real opera than the piano-reduced version.

            But all this is beyond the point I was making in the previous post, which was not defnitional.

            PS I must make clear that I am not a conductor nor an orchestral player!

      • Lidija Suchanek says:

        Opera WITHOUT singers???????? I saw Parsifal new production in MET! Great stage,great orchestra,but SINGERS ruled the performance! Do I have to say more? I think not!

  17. “Opera is not about the notes, it is about the people!”

    Huh? For me opera is music, and music are notes.
    If I want to see naked males who jump on the stage, sado-masochistic people and even some people who do some soft porn on stage, or as I have been told by an opera singer, have to act like she swallowed semen on stage….. then I just prefer an porn website on the internet.

  18. Gonout Backson says:

    @Martin Locher

    “I go to the opera to see our time” – why? Do you read books, contemplate Mona Lisa, go to movies, listen to Beethoven “to see our time”? And if such is the case – why? Because “our time” is the only thing you can comprehend? And otherwise – you’re lost? I hope not.

    To return the recurrent argument: to “see our time”, switch on the TV. I, for one, don’t go to the opera to “see our time”, to watch my square yard of sidewalk. I go there to “see all times”.

    • Martin Locher says:

      Books are written when they are written, paintings painted when they are painted. So they reflect the time of creation.

      An opera staging is created now, so it seems normal to me, that it would reflect our time and connect it with the time the piece was written.

      • Gonout Backson says:

        Books are written when they are written – and some of them are then read for centuries. No complaints.
        Paintings are painted when they are painted – and ditto.
        Pieces of music are etc. Like operas, for instance.

        They reflect the time of creation, but they are – miraculously – just as much a reflection of us, centuries later, and, reading Sophocles, we know it’s about us and our time. They express and explain it better than we could – what’s why we still look up to them.

        Opera staging is “created now”, but, first and foremost, the piece itself was – to use your words – “written when it was written”. Moreover, a stage director doesn’t really “create” anything. He’s just an interpreter, nothing more. Just like a pianist playing Chopin.

        But if he wants to be a Creator, he’s absolutely free to: let him ask the manager to put his name where Mozart’s name was, and watch what happens. That would be really courageous – unfortunately, they rewrite other people’s works, and then they hide themselves behind the autho’rs name.

        Too chicken to sign? Or do they want all the rights – and no responsibility?

        • Martin Locher says:

          One can choose a historic setting or create something modern. While I’d likely prefer a modern one, I don’t see any problem with the former – if it’s done well.

          I can’t see where you get the idea from, that the stage director should replace the composers name with his own. Unless the production changes the music or libretto, I see no reason for such an action. In case they do, they should mention the re-arranger’s name beside the composer’s.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            @Martin Locher

            “One can choose a historic setting or create something modern. While I’d likely prefer a modern one, I don’t see any problem with the former – if it’s done well.”

            What’s a “modern” setting? Were Strehler or Ponnelle un-modern in 1975? What do you gain by putting characters from Sophocles, Shakespeare or Tchekhov – in txedos or old, dirty jeans? Tell me what we understand better, and feel deeper thanks to such setting.

            “I can’t see where you get the idea from, that the stage director should replace the composers name with his own. Unless the production changes the music or libretto, I see no reason for such an action. In case they do, they should mention the re-arranger’s name beside the composer’s.”

            Where have you been all these years? The libretto is changed almost constantly: if not the words (it has happened more than once, subtitles have been falsified as well), at least the meaning, the characters, the situations. Words lose their meaning, because they describe precise situatiions, gestures and objects – and the director chose to ignore all that. And, as history teaches us, we should be very careful there: where words don’t mean anything anymore, or lie to us, barbary cannot be far away.

            Marthaler, Konwitschny, Warlikowski, have added music “of their own” to the scores. They cut them and rearrange them at their will, and the conductors agree : they know their ruler.

            But, more importantly, we should remember that there is a strict relationship between the score, and the characters, situations, the whole story. Not one note in Monteverdi or Verdi is an accident. I’m sure Wagner could describe a bunch of rats or an industrial plant, had he wished to. He didn’t. His – and the others’ – music speaks of something else. It speaks precisely, sometimes very “realistically”.

            I could say most of the “modern” productions lie to the public, and it wouldn’t be far from the truth (because their authors lie constantly, blatantly, when they pretend to be “faithful to the composer’s intentions”). Let’s be nice and say that their productions are paraphrases, transcriptions. And these have to be signed. I’m sorry, but Neuenfels’ Fledermaus (with one hour of tedious, spoken monologue added to the piece) is NOT Strauss’ Fledermaus.

          • Martin Locher says:

            “all those years”— where have I been? In at least one of the years you mentioned I have not even been born and have started to go to the opera just recently. Beforehand I felt it was some snobbish thing for half dead people who like sirens.

            My general idea of music and staging is, that one shall not be a slave of scores and books. It’s a base, a general idea. If producers want to take liberties, they shall be free to do so. But be open and honest about who changed what and why – even if “new” audience members like myself, in all likelyhood, wouldn’t notice certain changes.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            You answered yourself: people of your generation “wouldn’t even know the changes”. They buy a ticket for Aida, and what they see is something else entirely, but since they have been born in a world where “Aida” can be just about anything (since, as they say in modern circles, “the text is just a pretext” – a theory you seem to agree with), they accept the lie. They’re helpless, disarmed, like Mario by The Magician. And they could never know what Aida really is.

            “My general idea of music and staging is, that one shall not be a slave of scores and books.” Do you apply this to symphonies and string quartets as well? Because operas are just the same: carefully organized musical works.

            So, one thing, all over again, until someone finds a good answer to it : if the producer wants to take liberties, it’s OK – but only if he has the courage to sign his work and take the responsibility for it. Because IT IS NOT the work he pretends to sell. And if a different name and a different title appear on the poster, he’s – well, lying to his audience.

          • Martin Locher says:

            @Gonout Backson:

            I said, I wouldn’t notice – not people of my generation in general. I can only speak for myself and, in certain case, maybe for people I know. Also, I clearly wrote, that I expect producers to explain changes they make to original scores and librettos. This helps me to understand the world of opera in general and the differences in performances. I don’t want to see anything completely apart from the original opera, if it’s announced with the original title. But I expect and accept certain liberties – otherwise I could just watch a DVD or operas could stage the same production over and over again. I know the Zurich audience asked the opera to repeat productions more often. It’s fine, I can accept that. Just like I can accept that some people like to watch movies more than once. I however have seen just a handful of movies twice or more.

            The words you chose “people of your generation” might lead me to think, that you’re generalizing everything a bit too much. Sorry if this sound aggressive, I don’t mean to, but can’t think of another way to phrase it.

            I see theatre and opera productions like ice hockey games for example. Some like many goals, some like low scoring games. I do the latter, but that’s for another type of discussion board (although Norman recently posted some football). Some people like a certain theatre productions, others don’t. One can’t make everybody happy. As mentioned above, I didn’t like a certain part of the Jenufa staging in Zurich, actually I got a bit angry, someone else even left and slammed the balcony door. But that’s no reason for me to question modern stagings in general, it’s just a part of a staging that didn’t work for me. Overall, I still enjoyed the performance.

            Quote from above
            “My general idea of music and staging is, that one shall not be a slave of scores and books.” Do you apply this to symphonies and string quartets as well? Because operas are just the same: carefully organized musical works. ”
            Quote end.

            I would apply the same rules. If changes are made. Identify them, as this helps me as an audience member to understand the music better. I give you an example of why I think music scores can be changed further below.

            But, I do see opera on a different level than symphonies and chamber music. Opera includes a stage setting, costumes and acting. I think sometimes a change in music or libretto makes sense to adapt it to a certain staging.

            We differ on this, you feel the staging should be adapted to the music score and libretto, I think both ways of creating a production should be valid. We don’t differ however in the point that changes made to original scores should be identified.

            As mentioned above, let me give you an example of why I think one should have the freedom to change music scores – even if it’s not an opera:

            This weekend, a local amateur group my father was part of, performed Peter Roth’s Toggenburger Passion. A kind of mass (or whatever the english word would be) paired with Swiss folk music. Very nice. With one, in my eyes, huge flaw. They sang “nail him (Jesus) to the cross, nail him to the cross”. A scene which sounded joyful. For me it’s no joyful occasion, but a huge mass of anger. If I would have the ability to change the score and would perform this piece, I would take the liberty to give this scene some aggession, rather than almost folk dance music. Of course I would be open about why and what I changed.

            My original intention was to state that I think producers should have the liberty to stage whatever they want. If they wanna show a love scene with naked singers having sexual intercourse, they shall be free to do so. I wish good luck to them in trying to find great singers to participate in such actions and audience members who wouldn’t write to the local government and ask for arts subsidies to be diverted to a different organization.

            I spent way more time on this discussion than I planned. Hopefully I have found the right words to explain my point of view a bit better.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            @Martin Locher

            Sorry for the “generational” misunderstanding, I thought that was what you meant by ““new” audience members like myself”. But, of course, this is not generational.

            I don’t really understand why the only alternative you see is between a “bieito” (to make it short) and a movie-like, “always the same production” experience. As I have wrote before, I have seen many productions of Le Nozze (Felsenstein, Strehler, Ponnelle, many others), which were all completely different, all excellent, and all unmistakably – Mozart’s Nozze.

            Is the alternative “studio recording” or “live paraphrase”? Don’t you/wouldn’t you listen to the same Beethoven Sonata live with many different pianists, or even with the same pianist year after year? The notes are the same, but it’s never the same twice. BTW, even the same opera production is Oh-So-Different from night to night, let alone – with a different cast.

            There is a huge difference between “new production” and “a completely new piece, written all over again by the Dramaturg (Who Happens To Be The Director’s Brother In Law Who Needed A Job)”. I promise: you can have a completely new production of the same piece without touching the nature of the piece.

            You write: “I expect producers to explain changes they make to original scores and librettos.” And then: “I think sometimes a change in music or libretto makes sense to adapt it to a certain staging. We differ on this, you feel the staging should be adapted to the music score and libretto, I think both ways of creating a production should be valid. We don’t differ however in the point that changes made to original scores should be identified.”

            But the problem is elsewhere. It all depends on the author/title on the poster. I’m for complete freedom in arts. But rights come with responsibilities, it doesn’t work otherwise.

            The director can do whatever he pleases IF IT’S CLEARLY STATED BEFORE THE TICKETS HAVE BEEN PAID FOR. Otherwise, it’s cheating.

            Because if he has made these changes, it’s not the same piece anymore. The theatre and himself should honestly inform the public beforehand to avoid a double drama: 1. the spectator has seen something else than Le Nozze, loves it and naively thinks it’s Le Nozze; 2. the Spectatoir has seen something else than Le Nozze, hated it and thinks he hated Le Nozze.

            I don’t know which is worse – and, as you stated yourself, it’s not a fantasy. The “new” public is being lied to. It has to stop.

          • Basia Jaworski says:

            BRAVO Mr.Backson!

          • Martin Locher says:

            Argh, hit the “post comment” button to early. In no way I want to “lower” opera to the level of a hockey game. It’s the “taste” issue that I intended to compare, not hockey and opera.

          • Martin Locher says:

            @ Gonout Backson

            I agree with you 100% that changes to the original score or libretto should be made known BEFORE tickets are sold.

            Until I have just started cooking my own ketchup, I was under the improssion that it would be enough to inform about small changes to the original in the information text, that comes when companies announce a performance.

            However, when one looks what artificial ingredients can be found in factory produced food and are hidden in small print under sometimes misleading names, I think it would make sense to print those re-arrangements into the title by i.e. calling a ketchup “ketchup with additives” or in opera terms i.e. “Tosca by *director* based on Puccini”.

          • Gonout Backsopn says:

            Bravo, exactly my point. I usually refer to mayonnaise and toothpaste (both very useful things, but you don’t like to pay for the one and get the other), but ketchup is excellent!

        • Jorge Martin says:

          I meant Bravo! Bravo! @ Gonout…

  19. Bravo Piotr! We are so glad that finally a famous singers speaks openly! You have my greatest respect , and I hope many singers will follow his example!
    And to those who call that great singer “idiot”….. Is there a mirror in the room ????

  20. Gonout Backson says:

    @Graf Nugent

    I could also give you a list: of serious singing artists, profoundly devoted to their art and craft (Florestans and Second Prisoners alike), who talk in private of their frustration and humiliation in the hands of these people. One of them, a Big Name, trapped in a ghastly production (top notch theatre, famous director, famous manager), didn’t walk out (this particular one could) only out of solidarity with the fellow musicians, and then spent the whole production looking down, out of shame. And this is only one example.

    I’m not making this up, in the immortal words of AR.

    • Graf Nugent says:

      I believe you. I know many of them, too.

      • Gonout Backson says:

        So maybe you’ll agree that it’s been enough and there is time to do something right here?

        Because there is one phrase I understand in Mr Van Dam’s (certainly not your – I know them too! – cellphone and checkbook kind) Dutch statement : “Ze kennen het werk niet”. Many of them don’t even bother to know the piece, and some of them openly despise it (and all opera). They go there only for the money. Not all of them, to be sure, but many do. And they can always count on the friendly, oh-so-progressive critique, to explain away, in very deep, philosophical terms, why there were buckets of shit on stage for Tannhauser, and why does the court of Brabant in Lohengrin walk around disguised as rats.

        • Graf Nugent says:

          I agree wholeheartedly with you, Gonout. There are many stage directors who should never have been let within a mile of the operas they’re handsomely paid to ‘direct’. Sadly, there are, as you say, friendly critics who consistently go to the ends of the earth to explain how the rubbish we’ve had to endure is, haha, too profound for us cretins to understand and teh circus of mutual, mediocre back-slapping lives to fight another day, invaraibly on public money.

          I’ve seen Neuenfels’ Lohengrin about ten times, now, and it still hasn’t grown on me. The Bayreuth audience has become less critical of it since an even worse production – in fact, the worst thing I’ve ever seen – namely Sebastian Baumgarten’s dreadful ‘reading’ of Tannhäuser has been on display. I take it you were referring to these two, weren’t you? They are utterly shameful.

          • Graf Nugent says:

            A couple of typos in that post, sorry.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            I’ve seen the Lohengrin on video, and Tannhauser live. Lohengrin has some singers. Tannhauser didn’t have even that (Groissbock and Nagy excepted). I completely agree : both are shameful, and the Tannhauser (with fifty pages of exegesis in the program, diagrams and all) unspeakably stupid.

    • He spent the whole production looking down? Unprofessional. He should be ashamed of himself, for behaving so unprofessionally. If he didn’t like the directing, he could have quit. But no, the poor misunderstood singer had to be SAD and look down at the floor. POVERO.

      There should be a little thread devoted to all of you and your sad little memories of the good old days when everyone stood in front of cardboard castles and styrofoam boulders but it was okay because it’s what the “composer wanted.”

      • Gonout Backson says:

        Please, dear Salome – I’m sure you can do better than that…

        For instance: understand a metaphor (I assure you the said singer – never did I say it was a He… – looked up from time to time to see the conductor, even from the grotesque and humiliating positions the directing genius put “him”), and imagine a reasonable middle way between Bieito’s toilets and cardboard castles…

  21. Opera Lover says:

    Look, there are modern opera productions which respect the score and those which do not. Mr. Beczala has made that distinction in his interview.

    Las Vegas Rigoletto, for all its glitzy updates, respected the score. The director justified his modernizations point by point, and tirelessly explained how his view was faithful to what Verdi wrote. If you were watching carefully, he was, indeed.

    I find it refreshing to hear a star tenor express his opinions on such a relevant topic. Consider who’s in the playing field here and what they’re talking about: Alagna and his tempestous love life, Pavarotti’s food obsessions (may he rest in peace), Domingo’s deific interventions in sporting events & wars with critics who don’t like his conducting, Flores’ incredible arrogance which fortunately he doesn’t share with the press much.

    Beczala is the brightest young tenor on the scene today, and he’s not afraid to express opinions relevant to his profession. He strikes me as down-to-earth, unpretentious and a very nice guy. I was absolutely delighted to read about this interview. Thank you, Mr. Lebrecht, for sharing excerpts here!

  22. Basia Jaworski says:

    Mr.Beczala wasn’t the first great singer to express his feelings about _some_ stagedirectors.

    Jose van Dam (I’m sorry it’s in Dutch):

    “Dat ik drie jaar geleden heb besloten om niet langer operarollen op me te nemen en me vooral aan liederenrecitals te wijden, heeft zeker met de evolutie van de regisseurs te maken. Er hangt een sterrenstatus rond operaregisseurs, en dat is nefast en het maakt me droevig. Meer en meer regisseurs vinden het fantastisch om met hun uitvoering internationale podia te beklimmen en om, op korte termijn, wereldwijd de media te halen. Helaas weet ik uit ervaring dat ze van de opera’s die ze hebben geregisseerd, geen kaas hebben gegeten. Ze kennen het werk niet. Ze willen koste wat het kost modern zijn en experimenteren met de kunst om hun eigen ego in de kijker te plaatsen. Die attitude, waar inlevingsvermogen en verbondenheid amper aan te pas komen, maakt de opera kapot. Ik ben bang dat het publiek van de opera door deze evolutie geleidelijk aan zal uitsterven. Want wanneer lijdt opera? Als zijn publiek lijdt.”

    • Gonout Backson says:

      The automatic translator is a nightmare, but it proved at least that I got it all wrong : “Ze kennen het werk niet” doesn’t mean “The don’t know the piece” but “They know it doesn’t work”.

      Son that was the translator’s (mine) wishful thinking…

      • wrong: “ze kennen het werk niet” does mean: “They do not know the piece” as you thought initially. Do NOT trust automatic translators! they have it wrong more often than right.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Thanks again : my instincts were right the first time !

          I know from experience that many of them don’t even bother to read the libretto, let alone – study the music (maybe they play the records while ironing their shirts). Sometimes they don’t even speak the language of the libretto, and they don’t care. Try to raise that question once: they’ll laugh in your face.

    • ishtarra says:

      for those interested in a translation. Note: english is not my native tongue either, but I’ll do my best.

      “The fact that I have decided, three years ago, no longer to take on any opera parts (roles), but to devote myself exclusively to lied recitals has absolutely everything to do with the evolution of the directors. There is a star status created around opera directors which is detrimental and makes me sad. More and more directors consider it wonderful to climb onto the international podia with their performances in order to obtain, in as short a time as possible, worldwide media attention. Unfortunately I know from experience that they don’t know anything about the operas they have produced. They do not know the work. They want to be modern at all costs and experiment with the art in order to put their own ego’s in the spotlight. That attitude, where empathy and connection with the work hardly come into play, destroys opera. I am afraid that the public of opera, because of this evolution, will slowly die out. Because, when does opera suffer? When it’s public suffers.”

  23. Opera Lover says:

    Basia,

    Is there somewhere we can read you complete interview with Piotr Beczala in English? Thank you!

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      No, I’m sorry. It’s in Dutch and my English isn’t good enough to translate it.

      • Martin Locher says:

        Maybe you could link to it and one can try to use an online translator? Most of the time one gets a fair idea of what is said.

        • Basia Jaworski says:

          It was at the paper edition, so no link.
          But you can use the text I published?

          • Martin Locher says:

            Of course I can. With Google translator I understand such royal German dialects as yours :-P

  24. How wonderful to read this blast against the men who “put the CON in KONZEPT !! These directors have all made themselves THE EVENT – over and above all else. The worse ever example of this (in size) was the Valencia RING by La Fura dels Baus (known around here as La Fura dels B*ll*cks” and who indulge in theatrical hooliganism). Their work is designed for those suffering from ADD.

    Then there were the truly ghastly Bayreuth productions of Lohengrin and Parsifal (Parsifal dressed as Bily Bunter in a naval costume for boys of 12 ; Act II set with Rommel in the desert with bonking Red Cross nurses). A continous stream of offensive irrelevant rubbish ending with swastikas crashing to the stage.

    Some will remember the crass Zauberflote of Peter Sellars at Glyndebourne in 1990 (Monostatos as a drug dealer operating from under an LA freeway). And then there’s Calixto Bieito – a man who wrecked the sad poignant end of Wozzeck (Barcelona) by having the whole chorus (of all ages sizes and droopinesses) walk stark naked from deep stage to the front. And a 30 year old pupil of Bieito who messed with Ballo in Dresden (Oscar played by Amy Winehouse ….and the closing chorus stripped to their underwear).

    It’s not only singers who need to speak up for us but also conductors for we all need their help to bring the era of Regietheater to a close. We’ve had enough !!

    • Graf Nugent says:

      Sorry you didn’t enjoy Herheim’s Bayreuth Parsifal. I found it an absolutely magnificent piece of Regietheater – the history of Germany from 1870 to the present day aligned with Wagner’s version of the Parsifal legend. Herheim’s stagecraft was even more apparent alongside the Lohengrin rats and the Tannhäuser waste recycling plant.

      Fully agree with the rest of your post, though!

      • Gonout Backson says:

        Excuse me, Herr Graf (let’s be a little “passé”, just for fun…) – are you sure Wagner composed “the history of Germany from 1870 to the present day”? I know for some he was a prophet, but this seems a little farfetched…

        • Graf Nugent says:

          Haha, nice one. No, I’m just saying that if you want to put a slant on a plot and keep it relevant, then Herheim did an incredible job. What was apparent in this production was that he knew the work inside out (he directed from a piano score, not from a CD booklet, like many…) and the result was not only coherent but entertaining and respectful at the same time. Did anyone out there see it, by the way?

          • Gonout Backson says:

            This the perfect case: a wonderful production (let’s get rid of the “quality” question to make things easier) based on Wagner’s Parsifal, but not Wagner’s Parsifal anymore.

            Understand me right: I do not compare this Parsifal to our beloved Tannhauser. Even among paraphrases and transcriptions there can be masterpieces and pieces of crap, like in everything else.

            Why not admit it ? Why not sign it and be proud? When Peter Brook produced his personal version of Carmen (a fabulous experience), he didn’t call it “Georges Bizet – Carmen”, but “Tragedie de Carmen” (he did the same with Pelleas some years later), and everything was OK.

          • Basia Jaworski says:

            I didn’t see his Parsifal, but I saw his Onegin in Amsterdam. It was about – yes, you guess it already! – It was about the history of Russia (and CCCP) from the times of the tsars till present days.Nihil novi…..

          • Gonout Backson says:

            That’s a very interesting observation, quite to the point: most of these “original” productions seem to be shopping in the same, rather small boutique…

            I’ve just seen Christof Loy’s viennese Lucrezia Borgia, a monument of refinement: shiny floors (two out of three Carsen’s productions), rows of chairs (you name it), huge “signifiying” letters (Borgia becomes Orgia, just like Germania becomes Mania in Kraemer’s Walkure – in case someone missed the point).

            So new! So enlightening!

  25. Kulta Heila says:

    Excerpt from NYT – Karita Mattila about Hans Neuenfels of Mozart’s ”Cosi Fan Tutte” at the Salzburg Festival 2000:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/13/movies/a-soprano-takes-a-dramatic-turn.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

    “But admirable as it is, the willingness to take dramatic risks has gotten Ms. Mattila into situations she regrets, like the new production by Hans Neuenfels of Mozart’s ”Cosi Fan Tutte” at the Salzburg Festival this summer.
    This updated production cluttered the stage with bizarre props, including monster-size insects, and distracted attention from the singers with background videos, some of them erotic. When Ms. Mattila sang Fiordiligi’s fiery aria, ”Come Scoglio,” in which she declares her constancy to be as unassailable as a fortress, she arrived onstage walking two men like dogs on leashes, both scantily clad in leather and chains, crawling on all fours. What was the point? There was none, Ms. Mattila said.
    ”It was one of the worst experiences I’ve had for a long time,” she said. ”I didn’t believe in the production. Nobody understood what they were doing or why. I’ve done many crazy things, but there is also a line one cannot cross.”
    That production was especially unfortunate because Ms. Mattila had decided beforehand to retire this role, and she wanted her final performances to be meaningful. Such is the quandary of singers today who work hard to form interpretive ideas and then have no choice but to comply with a director’s concept, however offensive.
    ”I was so depressed,” she said. ”I felt like a beaten dog after every performance.

  26. harold braun says:

    BRAVO! BRAVO!!BRAVO!!!I Long overdue!!!!

  27. Lidija Suchanek says:

    @Gonout Backson! Great answers! You have my full respect! :)

  28. Erika Gnauer-Winter says:

    Pjotr Brzala und Elisabeth Kulann müssen unterstützt werden!!! Editha Grunerova und ieana Cotrubas machten diesen Regiewahnsinn nicht mit. Das ist ja die reinste Opernmaffis. Die wahren Opernfreunde und Opernkenner wollen damit nichts zu tun haben. Vor einiger Zeit hatten wir in Wien einen wunderbaren und” modernen” Falstaff. So kann man es machen! Warum verhunzt an immer Opern? Keiner übermalt die Monalisa im Museum!!!

  29. Novagerio says:

    Marek Janowski On Current Opera Production

    Marek Janowski: I increasingly leave opera aside. The development of stage directing during the last 15 years is such that I was not able to follow the philosophy, especially in Germany, which, as you know, is rather terrible. In the United States, it is much less like this. In the early 1990’s, I decided to finish with opera in the pit. From time to time, I do an opera in concert. I have to say that, from time to time, I miss a little bit this repertoire, but not the opera world.

    Interviewer: Would you consider doing a stage production if you had a stage director that . . .

    Marek Janowski: My choice? Yes.

    Interviewer: Do you have any stage directors you would like to work with?

    Marek Janowski: They’re all dead.

  30. Kulta Heila says:

    Something from interview with Christian Thielemann in Zeit Online (August 2012):

    ZEIT: Hilft Ihnen das auch im Umgang mit unliebsamen Regisseuren? Sie gelten nicht gerade als Apologet des Regietheaters.

    Thielemann: Meiner Meinung nach ist das Regietheater tot.

    ZEIT: Sind Sie sicher?

    Thielemann: Ich bin froh, in Bayreuth etwas wie die Tannhäuser-Inszenierung von Sebastian Baumgarten zu dirigieren. Anfangs hat mich die Szene, Jaap van Lieshouts Alkoholator, diese monströse Selbstverdauungsmaschinerie, nun ja, verwirrt. Inzwischen nehme ich sie als geistiges Trainingslager. Aber ich bin wirklich dankbar dafür, weil ich glaube, dass diese Art der Provokation der Vergangenheit angehört – und dass es gleichwohl wichtig ist für die Zukunft, sie mitbekommen zu haben. Wir müssen keine Klassiker mehr vom Sockel stürzen, die sind alle unten, wir dürfen sie heute wieder draufstellen. Schlingensiefs Parsifal war zweifellos eine außerordentliche Arbeit, aber schon 2004 hatte ich das Gefühl, dass sie den Endpunkt einer Entwicklung markiert. Die Frage ist nur, was jetzt, was danach kommt.

    ZEIT: Ob überhaupt noch etwas kommt, und was es soll, die ewig gleichen Werke immer neuen Interpretationen zu unterwerfen?

    Thielemann: Abstrakte Sinnfragen wie diese stelle ich mir nicht. Ich weiß nur, dass wir uns wieder aufs Handwerk besinnen müssen, in allen Disziplinen. Das Handwerk wird uns den Weg weisen………

    http://www.zeit.de/2012/33/Dirigent-Christian-Thielemann

  31. Kulta Heila says:

    Shortly before the premiere of Rusalka in Munich it emerged from some insiders that Mr. Kusej wants to have on stage for each performance freshly killed deer – doe. The newspaper published it, animal rights activists protested, and so it was not made. The management of the theater had to deny that it was the intention of Mr. Kusej do it. But a few believed it.
    Sorry, I can not find an article about it.

  32. Odile Steller says:

    Thanks, M. Beczala to have the courage of your opinions.
    Thanks Basio for the interviex
    Thanks Gonout Backson, Opera Lovers and some others for uour arguments

  33. Sandra Warnung says:

    I am astonished. Mr. Beczala was best in such controversial productions such as Rusalka in Salzburg (Jossie Wieler) and some years later in Munich (Martin Kusej). Singing in the Kusej production of Don Goiovanni in 2006 I wonder why did he sing 2011 in Munich the part of the prince if Martin Kusej is on his black list? He did even surpass the singer of the firstnight series (Klaus Florian Vogt) not only with his superb singing but in one scene baring his ass when Vogt had covered his with his shirt!

  34. Was ich schon seit Jahren sagen, die einen gehen wegen ihrer Kindheitstraumata zum Psychiater.
    Andere hingegen tragen diese in die Welt hinaus, zu lasten des Opernpublikums, hoffen wir das diesen Diletanten sehr bald das Handwerk gelegt wird.
    Der erste Schritt war Konwitschnys Abschied in Hamburg und das er Dresden verlassen ” durfte”.
    Hoffen wir das andere Opernhäuser mit derartigen Regisseuren sehr bald ähnlich verfahren.

  35. P.J. van de Weg says:

    I remind you of Gré Brouwenstijn. Once she refused to sing in Bayreuth, because (I hope I remember that reason quite well) she already had an engagement.
    Wagner never asked her again for singing there.

    Why should him be allowed to have a list of singers, who are not welcome, but should it be forbidden for singers?

    In my opinion Beczala openly said, what he meant. Well done.

  36. And after the ghastly Bayreuth Parsifal comes another irrelevant and disastrous travesty of the work – and how Mr. Beczala would have been pleased to find another theatrical hooligan to add to his list – Michael Schulz – the director of the new Salzburg production televised live (3SAT) last weekend. Schulz made a complete mess of the work and rendered the last act incomprehensible (Amfortas was seen groping two 12-year-old girls).

    Unlike Bayreuth, where the audience is now too ignorant to know one shouldn’t applaud at the end of the first act, the Salzburgers know the rules and remained silent. Bravo for that ! But at the end of the show the production team appeared on stage and were booed by the whole theatre. We raised a glass to their criticism of the rubbish they had just seen. The correspondent of the Financial Times described the reaction as “heartwarming” ! And so it was, for here was a major audience in a major opera house voicing its disgust at yet another act of “regietheatral” vandalism. The performance was near sublime with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Thielemann (as the FT pointed out) playing like angels . Stephen Milling was outstanding as Gurnemanz.

    It is being broadcast again on ORF2 at 22:00h on April 1st (too late for an April Fool’s joke where, strictly, this rubbish belongs !!). Not a good start to Peter Alward’s regime but I suspect he inherited this mess.

    • Martin Locher says:

      The correspondent of the Financial Times described the reaction as “heartwarming” !

      Wasn’t it warming your heart to hear so many people booing?

      I actually stopped looking at the screen and just listened. According to my Tweetdeck Parsifal in Zurich was much better. Salzburg’s dismal production made me change my plans for Easter Monday. I’ll be in Zurich to hopefully see a proper Parsifal.

      Btw, I like this Salzburg review in Switzerland’s NZZ (In German).
      “So kam es zu einer konzertanten Aufführung, die durch den bedeutungsschwanger aufgeblähten optischen Tand mehr gestört als ergänzt wurde. Mit Musiktheater hat das nichts zu tun.”
      http://www.nzz.ch/aktuell/feuilleton/buehne_konzert/dunst-und-tand–aus-deutschem-land-1.18052859

  37. BACK TO THE SOURCES
    Interesting article, interesting discussion….. The subject of ‘opera direction’ touches a very sensitive string in the musical world. It seems that in the end, Thielemann hits the nail on its head: the regietheater period has ended and it’s time for something different. But how different? And from what? From regietheater. The only conclusion can be: back to the sources and that means: to the work itself, and to try to produce an opera according to the nature of the work itself, without any meaning and references that cannot be found in the work itself. This still leaves an enormous range of free interpretation, both visually and musically, and indeed one can still avoid the aspects which are outdated in operatic practice, like the over-pathetic acting of the 19th century. Opera has always been a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, already from its early beginnings. If all participants of a production want to realise the work itself, and not use it for one’s own ideas, a good production is always possible.

    INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR
    In opera, what we see is exterior reality, and what we hear is interior reality, and the whole is represented in a stylized way, so it is reality interpreted. This means that realization into a production is not the ‘first’ interpretation but the second, and that is why the stylization of the work itself has to be followed and translated into what we can do in the here and now. But intervention with ideas and ‘meanings’ of which there cannot be found a reason in the work itself, are damaging the work. This is the real reason audiences protest against regietheater, and not that it does not understand the ‘contemporaneity’ of a production. For instance, the timeless dramas of Wagner work best in Wieland Wagner’s type of representation, with reduced decor and highlighting the interiority and human interaction.

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      John Borstlap – agree! Agree for 100%!
      Very, very good comment!

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Bravo, John Worstlap, these are Words of Gospel.

      The only question being : why has such a simple, sensible and reasonable principle (“if we’re performing The Work, everything we need is IN The Work”) – become such a revelation… How has it come to this? After years and years of “2 + 2 = Anything But Four” ?

      • But isn’t that one of the curses of modernity? The normal, the universally human, traditional culture, etc. etc. had become conventionalized, codified, i.e. boring and stiff, so people wanted to break-out of something that felt as a deadlock situation. Plus: 20C erosion of belief in high art and hence, creative impotence, and hence the urge to bring-down great works from the past – it’s so much easier to deconstruct something than to construct. It is easy to see all this as ‘decadence’ but it is also the difficulty of being born ‘late’ with ages of great cultural achievement behind us; so, to create some space for ‘ourselves’, opera directors of the regietheater intervene with the works to bring them ‘closer’ to our own, so much more miserable times, instead of showing their greatness. Also it’s the misunderstanding that contemporary audiences cannot understand a Mozart opera if it is set in the 18th century, which is simply not true, given the perfectly accessible and populair revivals of baroque operas in more or less baroque presentation, enriched with contemporary stage effects. But sometimes a relocation of the story to contemporary times and setting does indeed improve upon the original; there is for instance a film made of Samson et Delilah by the Dutch director Corina van Eijk who put the story in contemporary Middle East, giving the drama more profile and adding to the rather traditional and ‘bourgeois’ music a layer of irony which makes it, strangely enough, more, not less, expressive. But van Eijk directs from the work itself, and that makes all the difference.

        • Basia Jaworski says:

          John – I agree. Mostly.
          But:: Samson and Dalila in the ME – that’s where the story plays????
          And changing the roles of the Jews and the Philistines ( no, not Palestinians!!) is nothing new.
          Actually – it’s just a standard now a day. We saw it in Antwerp as well. And all of us can understand the clue.
          As we don’t need Romeo and Julliet in Srebrenica to understand the problem. If you want to take it to the modern times do it as Mr. Bernstein did: compose your own opera!

          May I end with a quote?
          ‘My real worry about some of today’s young is their denial of the past. Whether we like it or not, we are all children of our fathers and I’m not going to dislike Mozart or Schubert or Bach for anyone’ – Benjamin Britten, 1970.

          • That is a great quote, by Britten. Another one, from Verdi: ‘Torniamo all’antico: sarà un progresso’. Another, funny one by André Gide: ‘Everything that needs to be said, has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.’

            It is a misunderstanding that respect for, knowledge of, interest in the past – culturally or otherwise – would hinder contemporary invention or originality, as the Italian Renaissance amply shows when antique culture became a model to be followed and emulated.

            Re Samson: wat is striking in this Van Eijk film is the effective way in which the new setting has been achieved, reflecting well upon the music. I don’t think this could be done easily with other operas.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Again – agreed completely.

          Of course, the ideology of the Regietheater doesn’t have a leg to stand on, and that’s why there is virtually no debate. Look: all its advocates here have mysteriously disappeared. Why should they accept a discussion? They have nothing to gain from it.

          The absurd paradox of the situation we inherited from the ghastly 20C is that our only rescue is to go hand in hand with the “Masters”, not against them : “Verachtet mir die Meister nicht”, in the immortal words of a certain Schuster who’s immortal father is one of the most desecrated Masters of all… Whereas how the things are today, it looks more and more like a suicide.

          As for the alleged incapacity of the contemporary audience to “understand a Mozart opera if it is set in the 18th century”, it only proves that the whole ideology is one sad joke : people run to sci-fi and heroic fantasy movies, where the rules, codes and costumes are purely fantastical, and they get it in a second. But in opera, OH MY GOD! give them Violetta in an 19C salon, and they won’t be able to tell her from the furniture…

  38. Gonout Backson says:

    So point them out, and show why and how they’re irrelevant. That’s what a serious discussion is about.

  39. Opera Lover says:

    Hi, Gonout,

    Not entirely clear which question here you’re addressing, but if it’s about the modernization of Rigoletto to 1960′s Las Vegas, director Michael Mayer spent an extraordinary amount of time in interviews, both videoed and in the press (ie NY Times) explaining his rationale for the updated setting for the opera.

    Quickly & randomly plucking a couple of them off of youtube -

    Here’s a short version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5m83Xqtuf0

    And an in depth interview (the interview with Mayer starts at 5:17, after Damrau & Beczla sing live in the studio)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_QCXTyRqFs

    No question in my mind that Mayer’s modernization was well-researched, intelligently designed and artistically justifiable. Apparently Mr.Beczala agrees.

  40. Gonout Backson says:

    This was an answer to a La Cieca’s statement (about “irrelevant and unproven tidbits of gossip”) I Got in my mail, and which, apparently, didn’t make it through the “moderation” net.

    I didn’t see this particular production (thanks for the links) – but I’ve seen an old and rather famous production at the ENO (Jonathan Miller?) where Rigoletto was staged in a gangster “milieu”, somewhere between Some Like It Hot and Tony Soprano. It made good sense.

    Some of these pieces can be “beamed up” to different time, some lose their meaning completely (like a contemporary Nozze for instance – and this goes even for the otherwise very beautiful and obviously Strehler-indebted McVicar production).

  41. Arthur Warren says:

    Yes, but libretto was changed to accommodate the setting and action. Changed in English not in Italian. This was not good and inaccurate…..

  42. Gonout Backson says:

    What “hominem”? I might not agree with Roger (I think opera is not “about the voice”, just like Chopin is not “about the piano”), but there is not one name in his outburst, no personal finger pointing.

    But there is one in Michael’s furious post : the name of a great artist, whom he insults and disqualifies, because he doesn’t share his enthusiasm for a certain kind of opera directors.

  43. Gonout Backson says:

    Exactly, and your irony proves how little you understand of opera’s aesthetics and rules.

    In opera the characters “are” not, they sing about being. It’s a wonderful place where two fatsos named Flagstad and Melchior turn into a pair of young, divinely beautiful lovers. And if you cannot “see” it – it’s really too bad. Maybe opera isn’t for you, really.

    Next thing you know, they’re ask for a Butterfly who’s really fifteen years old.

  44. Most of these “good looking” singers have an average voice at best,
    But they are on the stage because they “look good” to the mafia of gay
    Opera casting managers and stage directors.

    I never had anything against gay or lesbian, as I grew up with my dear
    Aunt who and her partner who are lesbians, and have always fought for
    Equality, because I truly believe in it. But sadly, and with a lot of anger, I
    see, and have experienced personally, the rampant discrimination that gay
    and lesbian opera general managers, agents and stage directors do on a daily
    basis, everywhere in the world against singers who are a bit overweight and don’t
    Look like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. They do this as they say “because opera is
    a visual art”..but we all know is because we don’t fit their vision of “beauty” and also
    Because they have forgotten that because artists like me have fought with them hand
    In hand so they are respected and accepted by society.

  45. Ph, Jose! I hope you’re writing a book about those bitter, jaded lesbian opera general managers, who are only concerned with physical beauty! Please be sure to dedicate it to your dear Aunt and her partner!

  46. Have you ever heard about suspension of belief in theater? It’s very clear in each statement of those pro-Regietheater people that they don’t give a damn about the music. It’s only a vehicle for their lunacy, egomaniac cult and perversions.

  47. Derek Castle says:

    “A Butterfly who is really 15 years old”. Miss Evancho, get prepared!

  48. Gonout Backson says:

    Is that really the best you can do?

    You seem to forget that the censor forced Verdi to accept it. Is your intention to compare our progressive artists – to 19th century censors, rewriting other people’s works “to follow the contemporary taste” ?

  49. Please cut out the aggression. The spammer will automatically eliminate future responses of this kind.

  50. He has received a final warning.

  51. Dr.Marius Rimbasiu says:

    CHAPEAU ,Herr Beczala !
    Herzlichen Glückwunsch für den Mut, dass Sie diese Regisseure, die öffentlich kritisiert wurden und die skandalöse und provokative Opernproduktionen r zeigen. Den gleichen Mut hatte vor über 15 Jahren meine Landsmännin, die große Sopranistin Ileana Cotrubas . Ihre Kollegen sollten sich mit Ihnen solidarisieren und mit uns, dem wahrhaftigen Opernliebhaberpublikum sich von den unerwünschten „Regiesseuren“ lossagen.Voll Respekt, dr.Marius Rimbasiu -Essen

  52. M. Wuelfert says:

    Es gibt einige Künstler die sich von schlechten und skandalösen Produktionen abwenden, leider haben sie oft mit Schwierigkeiten zu rechnen und nicht jeder schafft es, diesem Diktat zu entrinnen. Viele Regisseure kommen vom Sprechtheater und haben keine Ahnung vom Musiktheater, deshalb gibt es so viele schlechte Produktionen. Es sind nicht immer die modernen Inszenierungen, auch da gibt es ganz tolle Aufführungen die schlüssig und nachvollziehbar sind. Hoffentlich bekennen sich noch einige Künstler zu Pjotr Beczala, vielleicht verschwinden dann auch so einige Schmutzfinken von der Opernbühne, zum Wohle und Vergnügen der wahren Opernfreunde.

  53. Derek Castle says:

    To me, it’s a play on “reine Torheit” = pure stupidity. Perhaps he’s being rather modest!

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