an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Breaking: Düsseldorf scraps Nazi-themed Tannhäuser

Just in from the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. The statement says that some operagoers were so severely affected by the production that they had to seek medical treatment. The management of the company came to the conclusion that it could not justify such extreme impact. Changes were discussed with the  director Burkhard C. Kosminski. He refused on artistic grounds and asserted his legal rights. The production is cancelled, as we reported, after one performance. The work will be performed in a concert version.

 

tannhauser nazi3

Wagners „Tannhäuser“ ab 9. Mai konzertant im Opernhaus Düsseldorf

 

Der Leitung der Deutschen Oper am Rhein war im Vorfeld der „Tannhäuser“-Inszenierung von Burkhard C. Kosminski bewusst, dass sein Konzept und die szenische Umsetzung durchaus kontrovers aufgenommen werden würden.

 

Mit allergrößter Betroffenheit reagieren wir jedoch darauf, dass einige Szenen, insbesondere die sehr realistisch dargestellte Erschießungsszene, für zahlreiche Besucher sowohl psychisch als auch physisch zu einer offenbar so starken Belastung geführt haben, dass diese Besucher sich im Anschluss in ärztliche Behandlung begeben mussten.

 

Nach Abwägen aller Argumente sind wir zu dem Schluss gekommen, dass wir eine solch extreme Wirkung unserer künstlerischen Arbeit nicht verantworten können. Ein völlig unverändertes Weiterspielen dieser Produktion ist uns vor diesem Hintergrund nicht möglich.

 

Im intensiven Gespräch mit dem Regisseur Burkhard C. Kosminski haben wir die Möglichkeit der Abänderung einzelner Szenen diskutiert. Dies lehnt er aus künstlerischen Gründen ab. Selbstverständlich haben wir auch aus rechtlichen Gründen die künstlerische Freiheit des Regisseurs zu respektieren.

 

Wir haben uns daher entschieden, den „Tannhäuser“ ab dem 9. Mai konzertant aufzuführen.

 

Gekaufte Karten behalten ihre Gültigkeit. Sofern ein Vorstellungsbesuch nicht gewünscht ist, kann im Vorfeld ein Umtausch der Karten erfolgen.

___

 

Karten und weitere Informationen sind erhältlich in den Opernshops Düsseldorf und Duisburg,

Tel. 0211.89 25 211, sowie über www.operamrhein.de.

 

Monika Doll
Pressestelle


Deutsche Oper am Rhein
Düsseldorf Duisburg
Heinrich-Heine-Allee 16a
40213 Düsseldorf

Tel. +49 211 89 25 214

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Basia Jaworski says:

    Thank God!
    Shall we now get the reviews oft the singers?

    • José Lastarria says:

      Singers? What were they doing in a German Regietheater production? Shome mishtake, shurely…

  2. David Boxwell says:

    Could this (gasp!) be the Beginning of the End of Eurotrash Regie?

  3. Urania says:

    Hopefully DB, Germany is on the move….on many levels of society…lets see what will happen in Bayreuth this summer with these huge stagings for the RING/Carstdorf they do not know where to put….. :-)

  4. Monica Berserk says:

    Nothing says “artistic freedom” like knuckling under to complaints from a pressure group.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      Yes, it’s certainly an affront to Kosminski’s “artistic freedom” to pull his unsuccessful production.

      • Monica Berserk says:

        Yes, in fact it is such an affront, not only to Kosminski to to any other artist who may intend to work with the company in the future. All it takes is a handful of malcontents claming “injury” from an artistic representation, and the theater immediately folds like a house of cards. Shameful and cowardly!

        • Galen Johnson says:

          When many critics hate a production, part of the audience walks out on opening night, there’s a ton of negative publicity, and tickets sales slump, we have a word for that in the real theater: “Flop.”

          The really shameful act was when this egoistic charlatan refused to change the smallest detail of his holy production.

          • Urania says:

            The concept was so poor, full of obsurdities, that there was nothing to change…if I a producer does not understand music and libretto he should stay out of opera!

    • Nothing says “artistic freedom” like old-hat tiresome targets, like Nazis.

      How about Wagner based on Mohammed? That might draw some unexpected stage pyrotechnics.

      • Snezana says:

        Oh, please…

        • Gonout Backson says:

          “Oh, please!” indeed. Don’t ever suggest an absurd Regie-Konzept in public. Next thing you know, it’s done. In fact, everything we have invented since A Night at the Opera as a complete joke, has been turned into very serious and sometimes applauded productions…

          Walls have ears.

  5. Bassolirico says:

    “Selbstverständlich haben wir auch aus rechtlichen Gründen die künstlerische Freiheit des Regisseurs zu respektieren.”

    IMHO some artists (=directors) should be first examined by a psychiatrist in order to understand whether they have full mental capacities to understand what “freedom” means.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      By the way, could someone enlighten me as to exactly what legal rights would be infringed if the management changed a director’s production?

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        There is fundamental difference in the copyright/artistic rights between the Anglosaxon based tradition of law and the Roman based tradition (continental Europe mostly).

        In Anglosaxon law the employer of the artist is the first owner of any copyright.

        In Roman tradition (as applied in Germany) the creator is the first owner of any copyright.

        • Galen Johnson says:

          I assume he’d be claiming “moral rights” under the Berne Convention, but as a work created with the help of many collaborators, he’d be on shaky ground. Too bad Wagner can’t assert his rights!

  6. Katharine says:

    Thank goodness.

    Why do we have to “find a way to interpret opera within the context of our world?” What has “the context of our world” 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 I never get a sensible answer. Must be a very embarrassing one. The composer “meant it to be staged” : that’s for sure, but did he mean it 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 ?

    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.

    I am not against the variety of choices. 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. I don’t really understand why the only alternative you see is between a “Bieito or Herheim” (to make it short) and a movie-like, “always the same production” experience. As I have said 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. 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 spectator has seen something else than Le Nozze, hated it and thinks he hated Le Nozze…. I don’t know which is worse – and it’s not a fantasy. The “new” public is being lied to and it has to stop.

    P.S. Opera IS ultimately about the notes. Without the notes, it wouldn’t be there and we wouldn’t have this conversation.

    • Hilltowner says:

      This is so well put! Something I’ve been thinking for many years. Thank you for saying it! Say it often! If I were better at this sort of thing I would repost it on my FB page…

    • Catriona says:

      Thankyou for the eloquently illustrated commentary. I too have often wondered this, but was unable to write it so well. Thankyou!

    • Monica Berserk says:

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

      It is. You look at a poster, you look at the season announcement press release, you log on to the opera company’s website. You see the name of the Regisseur is, e.g., “Calixto Bieito.” You then decide, “I want to see this” or “I do not want to see this.”

      Would you prefer that some functionary in the opera company made the decision for you as to what you might or might not want to see?

      The hidden agenda here is in fact not so hidden at all: you are not really concerned about what you might see in the opera house; rather, you want to restrict other people’s options. You don’t like “Regietheater” and therefore no one shall be allowed to see “Regietheater.”

      • José Lastarria says:

        The argument is not with Regietheater per se, rather more with talentless and witless stage directors using vast sums of public money to take masterpieces and audiences hostage for their own careerist ends. It’s about time public opinion bit back.

    • I neither defend nor condemn the Duesseldorf TANNHAEUSER production because I did not experience it in the theater.

      The true language of a composer and librettist is music and text that is expressed by the characters and heard by the audience. Not the stage directions written in the score nor the traditions of how it has been done in the past–because the audience does not hear that information from the mouths of the characters. So anything that is expressed by the characters (and I include the orchestra here) is the domain of the composer and librettist. If you agree with that, read on.

      When a director or conductor changes one note of music or one word of text, it really should be labeled and advertised as an “adaptation”. Then the audience knows they are seeing “Le Nozze di Figaro as adapted by …” and they can decide for themselves if they wish to attend. So, if we REALLY want to respect and protect a composer/librettist’s work, we would make no cuts or changes at all and, if so, would automatically promote it as an adaptation.

      But we all know that musical and dialogue cuts are made all the time and those productions are not labeled “adaptations”. Why?

      If we, as a collective opera world, have accepted cuts without calling it an adaptation, and if some of these cuts have even become standard, then we have somehow institutionalized adaptations. Who then decides on what these cuts should be? is making an interpretation the moment one note or one word is cut, so why shouldn’t it be the conductor and director of a particular production?

      Now we move to a much grayer area: the notes and text have not been changed, but other aspects have been altered from either the historical norm or the stage directions in the score, like time setting, location, the culture setting, silent characters have been added, separate characters have been combined, intermissions have been moved around or eliminated, etc. But none of this is the language of the composer and librettist because none of this information is expressed by the characters. To whom do these rights and responsibilities fall? If you believe that the original time-setting is to the piece being done faithfully, then stop reading because there is no point in arguing the following.

      Finally, there is the most subtle, potentially insidious level: the subtext. What do we mean by the words we say? If literal meaning is the beacon, we have a problem because this approach immediately cancels out large tracts of the human experience. We instinctually know that 1) as a person’s distress level rises it gets more difficult to put emotions into words and the literal meaning of words does not suffice and 2) Literal meaning is bad theater/art. So there is sub-text. The sub-text is the language of both the performer and the director. The subtext of the production is the language of the director and design team. And this is where most of the issues arise. The further away from the literal meaning the sub-text is, the more difficult it is to make the production gel…but the more potentially interesting the production is because audience involvement is increased. The audience is forced to infer and piece the puzzle together.

      I maintain that if the stage direction does not relate in a believable way to the musical and textual utterances of the characters, then it is faulty direction. In whatever world is constructed by the production team, the words and music coming out of the mouths of the characters be convincing or believable–the characters must what they are saying . It need not make literal sense but it make emotional or psychological sense. Faulty direction will implode on its own, it will simply not work. The problem is that each individual audience member decides whether or not it “works”. Sometimes the puzzle is way off center at first but then all comes together by the end of the piece. Sometimes it remains a mess. The point is, there is no way to legislate this in advance. It must simply be experienced in order to find out whether it works or not. That is the fascination of live theater, whether doing the classics or a new work.

      One of the greatest downsides of supertitles is that they constantly pull us from the sub-textual meaning of the performers and the production by forcing a literal meaning on us. When these two collide, confusion reigns and both the original piece and the production can easily fail. The second thing that has this same destructive effect is when the audience knows the piece too well.

      Have you ever noticed how even the most “avant-garde” or revisionist stage directors, when staging a world premiere, almost invariably take the route of linear narrative? Or stage the piece in a so-called “straightforward” way? The percentage of new work in opera is miserably low, to the point of forcing extreme interpretation on the classics. We must all accept responsibility for this situation, it is not the director’s fault. The directors are just doing what any of the artists are doing: interpreting the information at hand. The tools a director has are numerous, but chief among them are subtext, time-setting, location setting, etc.

      When was the last time a scandal broke out over an unusual musical interpretation by a conductor?

      We are in an “age of the stage director” because of the paucity of new work. Substantially increase the amount of new work and these incessant arguments about Regie-theater will diminish in proportion.

      Finally, why argue over traditional productions versus avant-garde productions? Why can’t the discussion focus on: did the production “work” or not? Was it consistent in and of itself? Did I believe the characters? Was I moved from my status quo? These and similar criteria are the really interesting questions to ask, in my view.

      Performance art is temporal. Mozart and Shakespeare: NOTHING CAN KILL THEM. The atrocities committed on Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte during the 19th century attest to that. Lighten up and enjoy the ride…or get furious, that’s OK too.

      • Monica Berserk says:

        Bravo, maestro!

      • I agree completely with my colleague (and opera stage director) Nic Muni. Most people have no idea how singers in the 19th century acted on stage and how realistic sets were made. The people that prefer so called traditional stagings would be very surprised if they had a chance to attend an opera performance during the 18th or 19th century. Realistic acting was not the general practice and imitating ‘ real life’ was also not the case. The so called traditional stagings are in fact a repeat of older stagings during the 20th century but have often nothing to do with the theatre traditions of the 19th and 18th century. Read the very funny book ‘ Il teatro alla moda’ written by 18th century composer Benedetto Marcello or the wonderful travel reports of Mr. Burney who visited many opera houses in Europe. Richard Wagner very often said to his collaborators: tomorrow we will do it all different because we have to create new images. The letters by Guiseppe Verdi are also very clear: he was not very interested in ‘ traditional’ stagings. His Traviata is a wonderful example of a contemporary approach. And last but not least: read the letter by Mozart and you will understand that he has criticized sloppy tradition all his (too short, alas) life.

        • The question is not: traditional staging versus progressive staging (i.e. update the plot), but how to render the work itself in the way it seems to have been intended. This leaves already so much margin for interpretation that the idea of regietheater is totally superfluous. One should not intervene in plot and character of the work, that is all. Regietheater is based upon the (wrong) idea that audiences will not fully understand a work if it does not refer to their own times. An opera is not merely fuel for a stage director to give him the opportunity to create his own ‘opera’ on the basis of an existing work, but the other way round: staging an opera is supposed to represent the work itself according to the maker. Opera is a stilized art form anyway, thus there are many ways in which this stilization can be realized.

      • Thank you for this informed posting. So many of the comments here illustrate the relationship between ignornace and absolutist beliefs.

        • I fear that if William Osborne believes that the postings of either Nic Muni or Hans Nieuwenhuis are informed he needs – as indeed do they – to go back to lessons in music history. Muni’s belief that an opera is some kind of Urtext set in stone is a purely 19th century conception. For much of its history opera was a highly flexible art form that adapted itself to circumstances according to the theatre in which it was being produced, the singers available and so forth. It is also worth reminding ourselves that the producer did not exist, that opera production was commonly in the hands of three people: the composer (or conductor if he was not available), the librettist and the stage designer, the last named a critically vital component. Nieuwenhuis’ unsubstantiated assertions also need to be countered; the notion that we know as little about 19th century staging does not stand up to scrutiny. I would strongly suggest a reading of Grove Opera’s entry on Production, taking particular note of such topics as Verdi’s own ‘disposizione scenica’.

          • The fact that opera has always been, in terms of production, a flexible art form, does not mean that it can be treated ‘free from the intentions of the makers’. Exactly BECAUSE it is a flexible art form, a stilized art form, there is ample space for interpretation, also if producers attempt to keep to the makers’ intentions as much as possible. Nothing more is required. It is a question of approach.

          • I have never said that ‘ we’ do not know anything about staging in the 19th century and of course I do know the information in the Grove Encyclopedia. I have only said that some opponents to ‘ modern’ stagings who prefer traditional stagings do not have the knowledge that your refer to. Of course informed people know about stage practices in the 19th and 18th century and therefore they also know that the audience then had many other habits and expectations then audiences nowadays: So called Traditional Stagings are hardly ever a complete copy of what happened in the 19th or 18th century. A few companies such as Opera Atelier in Toronto pretend to offer stagings ‘ true to the composer’s time’ but when you see their (nice) productions you must admit that they take many liberties with 18th century stage rules. And they have to, I am afraid, because the audience would giggle at many moments at some absurdities that were practice then.

          • Opera was indeed a “flexible” art form from its inception up into the early part of the 20th century, when the balance between new work and existing repertoire underwent a drastic shift in proportion. When that shift cemented itself (unfortunately, where opera is presently situated) then the whole “Urtext” tradition also cemented itself, not only in terms of musicological research but also in terms of the general mindset of “the way the composer intended it”. And it is this notion, that we somehow know what the composer/librettist intends beyond the actual musical notation and the text, is used as an argument against the non-traditional work of contemporary directors–as if such an argument could protect us from those efforts–and as if those efforts need protection.

            In the last sentence of the previous paragraph I used the present tense of the word “intend” purposely. Even living composers, who may in fact be able to articulate what they may intend do not fully know what they themselves intend in the sense that much of the greatest artistic inspiration (no matter the medium) comes from the unconscious, from a place where words cannot begin to express intent or meaning. But beyond that, especially regarding (but not limited to) the realm of the performing arts, the written instructions (whether music, text, plot, stage directions, descriptions, etc) are entirely incomplete without both interpreters and receivers (audience). In this sense, every single performance is a new work (otherwise we would not do the existing repertoire at all). So, actually, the piece performed in Duesseldorf was not Wagner’s Tannhaeuser. It was Wagner-Conductor-Kosminski-Cast-Designers-Duesseldorf Audience’s Tannhaeuser.

            The present shorthand focuses us exclusively on Kosminski, but that is only expediency. As one poster asked: how did the singers do?

            I maintain it is IMPOSSIBLE to know what the composer/librettist intend beyond the actual music and text that is expressed by the characters. Those who insist that we DO know those intentions strike me as wanting to control the efforts of interpretive artists somehow–but this is utterly impossible, so why attempt it? I can assure you that Mr. Kosminski will continue to direct as long as his work is of interest–and not a moment longer. Instead, why not focus on whether the event that you experience in the theater holds your interest, or moves you somehow, or “adds up” in the end or similar criteria?

            Regarding what we do or do not know about opera production prior to the 20th century, there is plenty of documented accounts on staging, acting style, musical style, etc. But I don’t think this was Hans’ point (if I may). I believe he meant that words are far too limiting to express the complexity of those things. Yes, we know Verdi wanted the Priests in the Triumphal scene to be located in a particular position on stage in relation to other characters–and that’s fine IF the interpreters and the audience find excitement in that positioning. But if they don’t, I am quite certain Verdi would be the first one to suggest trying it another way. What is ESSENTIAL to a production of AIDA is that the text and music be meaningfully rendered, to ignite passion in the performers and in the audience.

            In my view there is a difference between “plot” and “story”. The plot is the sequence of events. The story is the meaning of those events–another way to put this is the story is the subtext. Again, it is the subtext that most often stirs argument–as it should. I assume that Mr. Kosminski followed the sequence of events? But is the sequence of events really what define Tannhaeuser?

            I do not dismiss the opinion of those who believe that an essential part of a given opera is the original time-setting, locations, the culture, the stage directions, the characters as traditionally presented, etc. That’s fine. I believe differently. I believe that the only “essence” of a given opera is the music and text that are expressed by the characters and heard by the audience. There is a world of difference between these two approaches and I honestly do not feel it is very productive to argue about that difference IF it distracts us all from the only real thing that matters: does a production “work” in a performance?

          • I am puzzled by the idea that we cannot possibly KNOW what the maker of an opera has intended. We have a score, with meticulous instructions as to performance; we have a plot; we have stage directions. All these indications, including those of the score, are incomplete, i.e. they try as far as possible to describe the intended effect. Western notation has undergone ages of development to get as far as a Parsifal score. A score gives a wealth of information, which can be extended by research around the work: biography, historical circumstances, etc. etc. All this offers ample material to create a production which does justice to the work, and a performance tradition may help as well. Nothing is ‘fixed’, so the attempt to get at the heart of the work is already difficult enough. But what you are saying here, is dismissing a priori the available information on the grounds that they are not precise anyway so let’s drop the attempt of werktreue. It is utterly unprofessional, destructive, anti-cultural, frivolous, and a couple of other words which cannot be given here without getting really offensive.

          • Misunderstanding. I do not dismiss, a priori or otherwise, the wealth of knowledge and information that exists and can be drawn upon to create the design and staging of a production. Nor do I espouse making no attempt to use that information. Indeed, a wise director draws upon it to the greatest extent possible. But whether a director decides to draw upon that wealth of information or not, there come many points when decisions need to be made about what it (words and music) means–and in those moments the subtext is created. There is a belief, completely impossible in my view, that directors can let the piece “speak for itself”. It’s perhaps a comforting notion and very romantic in a certain way but the reason I think this is impossible is that the instant a director or a singer has an opinion about the meaning of the word “threshold”, that artist is interpreting, giving the word “threshold” a subtext. Sometimes this subtext is very close to the literal meaning and sometimes it is far from the literal meaning. But it is subtext nonetheless. The abstraction of music renders giving IT subtext impossible because it already IS subtext–and I believe it is for this reason that there is seldom such outrage about musical interpretations that may not be traditional.

            Regarding intention, one must decide whether, in the realm of art, words can convey the complexity of intention. If you feel they can, then that’s fine. I do not believe so because if they could, we would not crave the abstract media of visual art, movement art or musical art, none of which use words but all of which convey deep, indefinable meaning to audiences. It’s rather like interpreting the Bible, for example or the Koran. There are literalists and then there are those who believe the words are metaphorical in nature. Theater is a place for metaphor, in my view. The dramatic arts use words, but if we only convey the literal meaning of those words, it does not really function as theater.

            But in the end, a point I am trying to make is that having arguments about this, while interesting to some extent, will not prevent any director, conductor, singer, designer from being engaged to create opera if their work is felt to be “interesting”. And when it ceases to be interesting, they will cease to be engaged. We can rail and rant as much as we like but it will not matter–and it will only distract us from focusing on what really does matter: did the performance “work” in that moment to the audience and artists experiencing it. If it did–and if it was not an adaptation of the musical notation nor the text without without being ackowledged as such–then in a certain fundamental and very profound sense it honored the work of the composer/librettist. If it DIDN’T work, then it failed them.

            I want to make clear that nothing outrages me more than a LAZY director, conductor, singer or any other artist. With being given the privilege of making theater comes the responsibility for unending work: research, thought, experimentation, discussion, study of history, knowledge of the traditions, etc. Arbitrariness, fashion, gratutitousness, etc. rightly deserve scorn. But if a director is truly lazy it will be immediately apparent then and there in the theater, as the production progresses and it will be sensed by everyone either by the end of the performance or in the afterglow when the pieces come together in an audience member’s heart and mind. Having said that, what I describe is different than being outraged by the CONTENT of a well-thought through and riveting production.

            That is a different debate!

          • Just to illustrate the difficulties, a fully authentic 19th century production would need to use gas lights, lime lights, and arc lights. Electric lighting can emulate these effects, but it has entirely transformed our concept of the stage – as have many other aspects of modern stage machinery.

            17th and 18th century lighting would have to go back to chandeliers and later the Argun burner – essentially a kerosene lamp with an enriched oxygen supply. Most lighting effects were just painted onto scenery.

            And of course, 19th century Wagner costuming these days would undoubtedly come across as hilarious to many, as would the hokey trompe l’oeils. And let’s not even begin with the melodramatic concepts of acting.

            This all reinforces the point that those calling for authentic productions don’t even have a clear idea what they would be, and that even if they did get them, they probably would miss most of the developments we now take for granted. Again there’s nothing like ignorance to create absolutist thought, and nothing like a little knowledge to open people’s minds.

          • I’m not aware that anyone is advocating trying to replicate every aspect of historical staging, although as anyone who has seen Le Poeme Harmonique’s immensely successful production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (available on DVD) will know, such productions not only work well and – contrary to the loftily arrogant assertions of many in the music business – are hugely popular with modern audiences. And, yes, we are talking about candle lighting at the footlights and all. ‘Most lighting effects’, writes Mr Osborne dismissively, ‘were just painted onto scenery’. Yes, and that scenery was often the work of some of the greatest stage designers in history. And just what are ‘hokey trompe l’oeils’? Mr Osborne makes similar arrogant assertions on behalf of the opera going public when he tells us that 19th century Wagner costuming would ‘undoubtedly come across as hilarious to many’. Many? How do you know, Mr Osborne? And what do you actually know about melodramatic acting? Have you witnessed it? To quote one W. Osborne: ‘There is nothing like ignorance to create absolutist thought…’

    • I neither defend nor condemn the Duesseldorf TANNHAEUSER production because I did not experience it in the theater.

      The true language of a composer and librettist is music and text that is expressed by the characters and heard by the audience. Not the stage directions written in the score nor the traditions of how it has been done in the past–because the audience does not hear that information from the mouths of the characters. So anything that is expressed by the characters (and I include the orchestra here) is the domain of the composer and librettist. If you agree with that, read on.

      When a director or conductor changes one note of music or one word of text, it really should be labeled and advertised as an “adaptation”. Then the audience knows they are seeing “Le Nozze di Figaro as adapted by …” and they can decide for themselves if they wish to attend. So, if we REALLY want to respect and protect a composer/librettist’s work, we would make no cuts or changes at all and, if so, would automatically promote it as an adaptation.

      But we all know that musical and dialogue cuts are made all the time and those productions are not labeled “adaptations”. Why?

      If we, as a collective opera world, have accepted cuts without calling it an adaptation, and if some of these cuts have even become standard, then we have somehow institutionalized adaptations. Who then decides on what these cuts should be? SOMEBODY is making an interpretation the moment one note or one word is cut, so why shouldn’t it be the conductor and director of a particular production?

      Now we move to a much grayer area: the notes and text have not been changed, but other aspects have been altered from either the historical norm or the stage directions in the score, like time setting, location, the culture setting, silent characters have been added, separate characters have been combined, intermissions have been moved around or eliminated, etc. But none of this is the language of the composer and librettist because none of this information is expressed by the characters. To whom do these rights and responsibilities fall? If you believe that the original time-setting is CRITICAL to the piece being done faithfully, then stop reading because there is no point in arguing the following.

      Finally, there is the most subtle, potentially insidious level: the subtext. What do we mean by the words we say? If literal meaning is the beacon, we have a problem because this approach immediately cancels out large tracts of the human experience. We instinctually know that 1) as a person’s distress level rises it gets more difficult to put emotions into words and the literal meaning of words does not suffice and 2) Literal meaning is bad theater/art. So there is sub-text. The sub-text is the language of both the performer and the director. The subtext of the production is the language of the director and design team. And this is where most of the issues arise. The further away from the literal meaning the sub-text is, the more difficult it is to make the production gel…but the more potentially interesting the production is because audience involvement is increased. The audience is forced to infer and piece the puzzle together.

      I maintain that if the stage direction does not SOMEHOW relate in a believable way to the musical and textual utterances of the characters, then it is faulty direction. In whatever world is constructed by the production team, the words and music coming out of the mouths of the characters MUST be convincing or believable–the characters must MEAN what they are saying in some way. It need not make literal sense but it MUST make emotional or psychological sense. Faulty direction will implode on its own, it will simply not work. The problem is that each individual audience member decides whether or not it “works”. Sometimes the puzzle is way off center at first but then all comes together by the end of the piece. Sometimes it remains a mess. The point is, there is no way to legislate this in advance. It must simply be experienced in order to find out whether it works or not. That is the fascination of live theater, whether doing the classics or a new work.

      One of the greatest downsides of supertitles is that they constantly pull us from the sub-textual meaning of the performers and the production by forcing a literal meaning on us. When these two collide, confusion reigns and both the original piece and the production can easily fail. The second thing that has this same destructive effect is when the audience knows the piece too well.

      Have you ever noticed how even the most “avant-garde” or revisionist stage directors, when staging a world premiere, almost invariably take the route of linear narrative? Or stage the piece in a so-called “straightforward” way? The percentage of new work in opera is miserably low, to the point of forcing extreme interpretation on the classics. We must all accept responsibility for this situation, it is not the director’s fault. The directors are just doing what any of the artists are doing: interpreting the information at hand. The tools a director has are numerous, but chief among them are subtext, time-setting, location setting, etc.

      When was the last time a scandal broke out over an unusual musical interpretation by a conductor?

      We are in an “age of the stage director” because of the paucity of new work. Substantially increase the amount of new work and these incessant arguments about Regie-theater will diminish in proportion.

      Finally, why argue over traditional productions versus avant-garde productions? Why can’t the discussion focus on: did the production “work” or not? Was it consistent in and of itself? Did I believe the characters? Was I moved from my status quo? These and similar criteria are the really interesting questions to ask, in my view.

      Performance art is temporal. Mozart and Shakespeare: NOTHING CAN KILL THEM. The atrocities committed on Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte during the 19th century attest to that. Lighten up and enjoy the ride…or get furious, that’s OK too.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      I couldn’t say it better myself…

  7. Monica Berserk says:

    So, thus far in the comments we have heard “Germany is on the move” and a call to force dissenting artists to submit to psychiatric examination. Obviously, then, there is no need whatsoever to continue discussion on the attractions of totalitarianism.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      Yes, the heady glamor of totalitarian theater is certainly alluring.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Please, let’s be serious. There is still a lot of very good arguments that await your answer, you know?

  8. Basia Jaworski says:

    You said it, Monica .totalitarianism. That’s exactly what it was.
    Totalitarianism.

    Thank God we still have a choice. I DO HOPE!

  9. Snezana says:

    I am so happy that the audience did this great BANG, and forced the Düsseldorfer Theatre to do something! If only the audience and tax payers would be always so laud and consequent!
    The next move has the politics: they must put someone “to the wall” for having forgot to listen well at the concept presentation of the production and have not prevented it before it went so far! Someone just blu about 100.000-200.000€ away and must feel the consequences! That would be a very important example for all theatre leaders in future.

    A GRAT THING happened today! Thanks DUESSELDORF!

    • Monica Berserk says:

      And now Snezana is calling for the opera company management to be executed by firing squad?

      • José Lastarria says:

        No, just certain stage directors I’d imagine.

      • Gurnemanz says:

        Law suits on behalf of audience members against the director for exposing them to emotional and psychological distress would do just fine. It’ll keep him tied up in courts long enough to prevent him from staging monstrousities such as this one. Frivolity in litigation working in a good cause for a change.

      • Gonout Backson says:

        Is this really the only level of debate where you feel comfortable?

    • Charlotte says:

      Very well put, Snezana! It’s high time, something must finally happen. Theatres must be freed from the dictatorship of would-be intellectual idiots who call themselves “artists”.

    • Günter says:

      Why are directors(regisseure?!) still in command?. Because they are hired by opera-directors who think that it is much more important to have à scandal-making director than à good conductor, Orchestra and singers. That is also The main reason why operachiefs hire those people. Because, out of this, they can re-create/continue their new position in à bigger operahouse. That is, what it’s all about. Politicians should start re-think when they want their city-audience in THEIR opera-house in their city . That is, what it is meant for. Public money should go to The public and not to some crazy director who wants to shock only for his own carreer-sake! And his “friends”!. Why did many famous opera conductors leave this business The last years ?. They have to look upstage and try to find The singers in The scenic rubbish which only one person created. And try to help them in their musical and scenic stress. À shame to all those people who think that opera- business is only a milking-cow for their stupid personal carreer. And a big hug and compliment to Duesseldorf audience!. Do not accept this crap!. You pay for it as tax-payers and as an audience!(tax included in tickets!) . Get real and good musicians who know about opera on the top of Opera companies!. And not managers…….. That is death of opera.

      • Malcolm James says:

        You will not get the inspired or ground-breaking without giving people the licence to fail or to be offensive occasionally. This production has clearly back-fired badly, but from my perspective in the UK, American productions often seem to be a little dull, because producers etc are afraid to shock or fail and therefore play safe.

        • Most opera lovers don’t go into the opera house to be shocked. They do so in the hope of being uplifted and entertained. For most of us there is more than enough that is shocking in the ‘real’ world.

        • It is not the role of opera productions ‘to shock’. That idea comes from a tradition of ‘avantgarde’ culture which felt that it had to fight against dull, silly and uninformed expectations – the so-called ‘bourgeois’ taste of culture which merely wanted to be agreeably entertained and which did not want to think and to feel. Meanwhile this avantgarde attitude has been institutionalized while the bourgeois taste of hundred years ago has disappeared. Those quasi-avantgarde protests against bourgeois expectations repeat a gesture against an opponent which does no longer exist. And it has now become a suicidal factor in the erosion of culture as a whole, now pop culture is invading every space in life and wants to take over the cultural sphere itself, infecting audiences with immature ‘freedom’ from value frameworks.

          If opera productions are dull, that is not because there is no ‘shock value’, but because the production is not good enough. A good, effective production of a Don Giovanni in which the work is allowed to speak for itself, not hindered by inappropriate ideas from the stage director, can be a gripping and uplifting experience. Regietheater is not needed to make ‘good opera’.

        • Fabio Fabrici says:

          Many of these “shocking” directors in Europe that come from the drama side, not the music side, are doing opera instead of theater because in opera are the big budgets. They have often no clue about opera and music or even despise it.

  10. robcat2075 says:

    I was wondering about the previous report that the box office was “besieged” with cancellations.

    Is “All ticket sales are final” not known in Germany?

    • Yvonne says:

      Yes, but in this case the Rheinoper made an exception. You can still cancel now, which I will probably do.

  11. I am so happy to read that decision! Human reason and commom sense have won! Let`s try now to concentrate on the future of opera and produce sirious and good productions without running after cheap scandals!

  12. Rob van der Hilst says:

    Well…. in the meantime everyone knows who Mr. Burkhard C. Kosminski is: fine example of self-promoting in a narrowing operaproductionmarket. The guy is GOOOOOOD whatever he produces!!!!

  13. Gurnemanz says:

    I second the opinions of all those who wrote that it’s time the public reacts and shows the intellectual bancrupcy of Eurotrash regie. Boycotts, boos, even heckling, all is fair game against the Kosminskis of this world.

  14. Yvonne says:

    I have tickets for this evening – and I am now considering cancellation.
    Having read the reviews this week, I was fully prepared for a complete miss, another failed interpretation. Still I have the desire to make up my own mind!
    In my opinion it is impertinent and dishonest of Christoph Meyer to blame his decision on the “sensitive” audience, as now everybody is prepared and knows what to expect.
    Probably he is only glad for this excuse to get rid of the production. Many critics also mentioned awkward, clumsy directing, especially of the choir, which would be just as embarrassing as the Nazi-theme.

  15. There are three distinct levels to this debate: First is the standpoint of the Jewish community (and many others) about the difficulty, if not impossibility, of aesthetizing the Holocaust – a concern that is deeply justified. The second level is the use of this failed production to attack Regietheater in general. The third level is the use of this failed production to argue that Wagner’s racism and influence on the Nazis should not be considered when staging his operas.

    The second and third levels have a deeply specious and opportunistic character. Those who want to remove considerations of Wagner’s racism and influence on the Nazis from stagings of his work, have goals in direct opposition to the Jewish community’s concerns about aesthetizing the Holocaust. One is an effort to avoid trivializations of genocide, the other is an attempt to hide racism.

    It is also deeply inappropriate to exploit the difficulties of addressing the Holocaust in art as an opportunistic means of attacking Regietheater in general. Since the Düsseldorf Tannhäuser was abruptly cancelled, there will be no opportunity fully judge its value. We should remember that just about any operatic stage direction is always a hopeless, frustrating, and incomplete task which actually defines its value. To a considerable degree, music and theater always stand in contrast to each other, and this is hardly alleviated by the bel canto style of singing and opera’s invariably flawed librettos. Operatic stagings leave us thinking because we are required to fill in the lapses of dramaturgical consistency. And if the lapses cannot be filled, the empty spaces created allow, in some mysterious way, for new forms of perception. The incongruities awaken our ears. The disassociation between life and music obligates us to explore theatrical meanings.

    And more specifically, Regietheater alleviates operatic parochialism. And even more, it is an attempt to rejuvenate and modernize a dead art form. Opera can no longer produce a significant body of new literature exactly because people are no longer willing to accept its conventions, whether in traditional or Regietheater stagings.

    Anyway, we should carefully discern the three levels of discussion in the blog because they have very different levels of meaning and legitimacy.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      “…the other is an attempt to hide racism.”

      Since this is a VERY SERIOUS accusation, please, tell us who, where and how, in this debate, tried to “hide racism”.

      Now would be a good time.

      • I was not referring to this discussion, but to the idea that Wagner’s racism and influence on National Socialism should not be addressed in stagings of his work.

  16. Gabriel says:

    We are enjoying lot of operas in various interpretations – e g minimalistic scenery with oil barrels and piles of pallets, industrial plastic curtains, wires, whatever. Is nice :) so far the main fuse is not been blown.
    There is precious traditions, great music, performance, interpretation, etc – a delicate balance demands premium judgment. Some wannabe lightweight figures may challenge – and bending Pandoras Box, but it´s a question of learning process – what to dare, how not to approach to the current theme.
    No problem at all when it´s a coherence within everything, nothing stick out as a result of bad “Hantwerke”, idiotic conception or sheer talent- or tastelessness – which is the case in the actual case I presume. In the name of artistic freedom even the most odd souls MUST respect us, the ticket buyers – and firstly the limits what taste is. No vulgarities please in operahouse, it´s enough outside on the streets.
    No germs in the operation theatre either – of the similar reason.

an ArtsJournal blog