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‘I was censored!’ wails cancelled Wagner director

Burkhard C. Kosminski has been talking to Der Spiegel about the terrible insult he suffered at Düsseldorf when the opera management asked him to tone down his Tannhäuser production. Kosminski loaded the show with SS men, gas chambers and other irrelevant references to the Nazi era. The audience rose in uproar, some required medical attention, many more cancelled their tickets. When the director refused to back down, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein scrapped the production and staged the rest of the run in concert performance.

Kosminski (below) tells Spiegel: ‘My production did not mock victims, as they complain. The concept of the production had been previously discussed with the opera house…. This is censorship of art. That’s the real scandal here!’

 

These quotes were taken from the German. Here’s the full interview in English.

kosminski"Tannhäuser"-Oper in Düsseldorf

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Comments

  1. But what’s wrong with censoring bad art?

    • Rebecca Brite says:

      The same thing that’s wrong with censoring bad writing or bad ideas. But this wasn’t, IMO, a case of censorship, Martin. It looks to me instead like a pretty clear instance of an idea being submitted to “the competition of the market” (per Oliver Wendell Homes Jr) and soundly rejected.

      • I entirely agree: taking Kosminski’s protests of ‘censorship’ too literally have wrong-footed many of the comments here. Basically, the DOamR realised far too late in the day what kind of beast it had spawned and withdrew it in embarrassment. That’s not censorship; it’s simply damage-limitation. And I’m sure that if the critics had said what a penetrating and fearless conception it was, the DOamR would have preened itself accordingly. Did no one have the guts to point out that it was in questionable taste to begin with? (I think they should have replaced the SS officers with full-sized chickens and rescued the production as a comedy item.)

        • Rebecca Brite says:

          Hah! Wish I’d caught up with this sooner. That’s a brilliant concept. The world needs more comic Wagner.

    • Novagerio says:

      When did hooliganism become art mr.Kosminski?

    • Monica Berserk says:

      Or, to be more specific, what is wrong with censoring art that sounds like something you probably wouldn’t like based on a few lurid details repeated out of context? One of the real tragedies of the modern world is that we attach all too little significance to hearsay and innuendo, relying instead on such faddishness as “facts” and “reason.”

  2. Basia Jaworski says:

    Martin – couldn’t agree more!

    I’ve just heard they are going to give one staged performance again just to give the opportunity to everyone who does need to see it with his own eyes before judging. Don’t know it for sure.

    • Michael says:

      Where and how did you “hear” about this one staged performance (which seems extremely unlikely to say the least!¬!!) – or it is your own teaser to re-new the flagging attacks on this production?

      For me the really interesting quotes from the Spiegel interview (which I take from the English translation) are:- “We were both put under massive pressure by the local press and the know-it-all ignorance of people, of whom most of whom aren’t even familiar with the performance.” and “I submitted the entire artistic direction of my concept 10 months before the premier. All concerned parties were aware that we were headed for an evening full of controversy. At the final dress rehearsal I was asked to somewhat shorten the shooting scene, which I did do.”

      Now we are starting to get some facts and balance into the discussion.

      • Basia Jaworski says:

        Michael – the only thing I wrote is that I’ve heard it and that I don’t know it for sure, maybe it’s just a rumour.
        Why come you are _so_ aggressive?

        • Michael says:

          Basia, sorry, it was not intended to be aggressive. The idea seems so completely unbelievable and unlikely, I wondered where you had “heard” it! We still do not know.

          • Monica Berserk says:

            Basia’s report is consistent with the rest of the discussion about this production: a decisive conclusion based on third-hand hearsay and no doubt a dash of wishful thinking.

  3. Sänger in Deutschland says:

    The “real scandal” is that Regisseurs regularly load up productions full of irrelevant references, poor stagecraft, and other nonsense that only serve to undermine the original work, and that this is accepted by theater managements and critics all over Germany in particular, but Europe in general. The artistic opinions of the performers involved, the content of the original work, and the aesthetic of the paying public are completely ignored for the sake of realizing one egomaniac’s “vision”, and there is rarely any accountability. Singers and conductors can do little for fear of losing their jobs. That’s the real censorship. Did Kosminski return his fee in protest of being “censored”? Does he worry he’ll be blacklisted? I doubt it, and he has little credibility or courage, as far as I’m concerned, because all he’s gotten out of this is his name in the paper, and undoubtedly, he’ll get more work for it.

    • Gerhard says:

      Thank you, you are spot on IMHO. Having worked in German opera houses for several decades and having watched the current crowd of opera directors rise, I know exactly what you are referring to. All too often neither the performers nor the audience count, and least of all the work itself which is supposedly been staged. When these people talk about artistic freedom or censorship, all they mean is whether they can follow their whims undisturbed at public expense. I still believe that public funding of arts is the right thing to do, but I do not believe that this has to be a free ride for any theater maker to make hash out of the works of past masters, feeling no more moral obligation to them than a child rightfully feels towards the modelling clay it uses for playing.

    • harold braun says:

      How sad but true.

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      Agree. He became world famous now. The next opera house is already in the raw to engage him. Scandals are very good for the publicity

      • I disagree. I did a production of Trovatore years ago in which we were all vampires and the director was soundly booed when he took curtain calls. His career went downhill after that and he dropped out of sight!

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Totally agree.

      Thankfully, two of our time’s most prominent tenors, Jonas Kaufmann and Piort Beczala, have already spoken up against unmusical directors:

      Jonas Kaufmann:
      “Too many directors arrive at the opera house these days knowing little or nothing about music. Most come from the spoken theater, focus only on the text and don’t understand how to give the music its space. It may seem obvious to you and me, but a brilliant theater director does not automatically translate into a brilliant opera director. If I am a crack racecar driver, that doesn’t qualify me to be an ace pilot as well. I sometimes feel that directors devise all these elaborate concepts because they don’t trust the power of the music and are terrified of boring the audience. Opera is a truly magical art, but the magic originates primarily in the music that we singers work so hard to communicate.”
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/arts/music/jonas-kaufmann-as-siegmund-in-die-walkure.html?pagewanted=all

      Piotr Beczala:
      “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. My favourite stage director? Franco Zeffirelli. He is more then a stage director, he is a monument, he belongs to our cultural heritage.”
      http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/03/piotr-beczala-i-have-a-little-list-of-directors-i-wont-work-with.html

      • Yes Addison says:

        Petros: Add Ferruccio Furlanetto. Excerpt from Opera News interview, trimmed a bit. He was discussing playing Banquo in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s staging of Verdi’s MACBETH:

        “It was the worst experience that I have had in this business. I found myself in this very new, very controversial production, and I detested it. It was the hardest time of my career — one and a half months of depression. The fact that I don’t wish to work with this director ever again doesn’t mean he shouldn’t work, so I will not cast aspersions, but since then I have come to enforce my own personal blacklist where directors are concerned. What I really could not accept in this situation was the following — we opera singers today are most of the time signing contracts three and even five years in advance. When we sign, there usually isn’t any director named — yet. Certainly in this instance in Paris there was not. Then the time comes, we arrive ready to work and find ourselves in an impossible situation with only two alternatives — stay and perform for the money only, or leave and lose everything. To sue cannot lead to anything positive. Why haven’t we the right to say, this is not what I signed on for — I want to be paid and go? Instead, one’s only choice is leave and save your dignity, or stay and be a prostitute. What I couldn’t forget or forgive was that I was put in this position. I stayed for the second reason. And this is not right.

        “I grew up with the greatest professionals in opera. Professional directors meant they were absolutely in control — of music, of text, and they also had ideas, and they were prepared. They brought with them a culture in which to create. Now I find myself increasingly working with people who come from German Schauspiele, from the traditional theater, from avant garde theater, but not from opera. It’s a different kind of thinking. It’s an approach that believes that knowledge of music, knowledge of the text and of the language in which the opera was written, is not that important. I believe that with such an approach, we are in big trouble. It is a terrible, terrible wave of — what can I say? Amateurs. We find ourselves, highly professional singers of my generation, constantly in the hands of amateurs! I don’t think this happens in any other profession. Why should we be put in this situation? The problem, I think, is with the opera administrators today. They are making these choices. Why? I really don’t know. Maybe they are afraid to appear conservative. But a truly innovative director like Patrice Chéreau has proven you can make glorious operas without being traditional. To do so, however, you need extra talent. And there have never been many directors with extra talent.”

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        I’ll pay attention when they start bad-mouthing conductors. Stage directors are easy meat and dissing them doesn’t endanger their careers in any way.

    • Amen.

      Ironically, I had a similar impression of the McVicker Giulio Cesare via HD Live Stream from the Met (the encore presentation is tonight — I may eschew going). It seemed that there was every device possible to distract the audience from the gorgeous music, almost mocking Handel.

      • R. James Tobin says:

        The way Pompey’s widow reveled in bloodying her hands with the killer of her husband–by an absurdly modern handgun yet–was revolting and spoiled the whole presentation for me.

    • Barbara says:

      “The “real scandal” is that Regisseurs regularly load up productions full of irrelevant references, poor stagecraft, and other nonsense that only serve to undermine the original work, and that this is accepted by theater managements and critics all over Germany in particular, but Europe in general. ”

      It happens in the U.S. too, and for the same reasons: staging directors who know nothing about opera and don’t trust the music to carry the drama.

  4. Oh, whinge, whinge. What an utter plonker.

  5. harold braun says:

    Come on,gimme a break!He kindled the flames,and then things got a little out of hand!He got the media attention he wanted,and now he doesn’t want to pay the bill?He dished it out,now he has to take it.

  6. Paul Mann says:

    The trouble with Martin’s argument is that in order to censor it, someone has to decide for the rest of us what bad art is. Based on the reports, I would have no hesitation is saying this probably was very bad art indeed. But I would certainly hesitate to say that therefore no-one should be allowed to see it and say so for themselves. Didn’t the Nazis ‘censor’ rather a lot of what they considered to be bad art?

    • And the trouble with Paul’s argument is that it suggests that everything that claims to be ‘art’ should be exposed to public view so that we can all draw our own conclusions — and we would have to wade through rather a lot of crap if that were the case. In this instance the opera house that put on the production realised that it had made a mistake (an expensive one, no doubt) and withdrew it; what’s wrong with that? It’s a long way from these actions to state surveillance of what is permissible.

      • Mathieu says:

        Well… not such a long way. The fact that technically the State has done nothing (although the Dusseldorf Opera IS a public institution, btw) does not mean that censorship is justified in the present matter. Have you ever heard of something called the “tyranny of the majority” ?

        In the present case, nobody forced the Dusseldorf opera to accept this production IN THE FIRST PLACE. When a publisher refuses to publish a manuscript, well, it’s not censorphip by my book. But if a book is published, and arouses some controversy, and if consequently the publisher decides to withdraw it, this IS censorship, whether it is done under the pression of the State or of the vox populi.

        To sum up : the fact that X is censored under the pression of the majority does not defeat the qualification of “censorship’; the mere fact that X is bad is never a reason for censorship. Imagine the amount of crap we would have to censor if it were the case.

        • R. James Tobin says:

          A boycott–with picketing– by the ticket-buying public would have been more appropriate than cancellation.

          But don’t all performing arts organizations reserve the right to change programs without notice.

    • Monica Berserk says:

      Perhaps the credo should be stated as follows: “It’s not censorship if something that I don’t want other people to see is suppressed.” Call it “The Code of the Fussbudget.”

  7. The director shouldn’t have backed down and it was cowardly of this opera house not to stand up for him. And besides, many German Wagner productions feature Nazi imagery. It’s how they deal with issues of identity and nationalism.

    But clearly, this was a PR blunder of the first order. Changes could have been made to the production without compromising its integrity — but in rehearsals and before this went before an audience.

  8. Paul Mann says:

    I would rather sift through it all myself than appoint even someone with Martin’s taste and discernment to do it for me. His wonderful record label is predicated on the fact that there are manifold jewels lying among the forgotten crap. So why not expose everything, in every sense of the word? Everyone’s an artist these days, and everyone’s a critic. Except they aren’t, as we know, and as we discover for ourselves, sooner or later.

  9. Just a footnote to the whole issue: There’s some irony in the official reason the Düsseldorf opera gave for calling off the production. Of course they didn’t acknowledge that the production was simply poor. They claimed that it was only the “very realistic execution scene” (btw: at which point in the Tannhäuser plot is there an execution?) which supposedly caused severe physical and psychic reactions to a number of spectators.

    Anoyone ever heard of a Tosca production which had to be called off because of Cavaradossi’s execution?

  10. Gurnemanz says:

    Property rights trump freedom of expression. Nobody is under legal obligation prescribed by the authoriries to give stage and platform to Kosminski’s work. If Kosminski has issues with Deutche Oper am Rhein he should review the contract he signed with them and see if there are grounds for a law-suit. If not, he should stop complaining about censorship which simply isn’t there.

    • Mathieu says:

      I agree and disagree (cf. my answer to Martin above). There is a contractual agreement, and the contract has been broken. But it has not been broken in insignificant circumstances. Nobody forced the DOamR to hire Kosminski; had it not hired him, nobody would have talked of censorship, since the production would not have existed in the first place! Once the production exists, it is an artistic object (however crappy, as is the present case) which is out there. There must be a valid reason to remove it from the very point of view of the contract that has been signed. If the fact that the production is crappy was a valid reason for rescission of theatrical contracts, well, then it would create great insecurity for stage directors in

      There is nonsequitur in your argument : the fact that a) Kosminski has ground for a lawsuit and the fact that b) the DOamR had no obligation to give stage to Kosminski’s work do not entail that there is no censorship there.

  11. Musiker says:

    Here’s a commentary from Der Spiegel, which says the REAL scandal is not the production itself, but the decision to pull it.
    Hear hear.

    http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/kommentar-tannhaeuser-absetzung-in-duesseldorf-ist-ein-skandal-a-899176.html

    • I agree. No matter how tasteless the production might have been, and there seems to be divided opinion on that, DOamR fully knew what the production was and agreed to it. To then pull the production because there were complaints sets an uncomfortable precedent. They fully knew there would be controversy, and to react this way and so quickly is disturbing.

    • Very well put commentary: “The Germans murdered six million Jews, but when they they are reminded of it, some of them now call the doctor.”

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        None of the Germans in the audience that night haven taken part in murdering six million Jews unless there was a 90-year old ex-SS guy somewhere among them. Germans in general do not need to be reminded about these historical facts by a production of Tannhäuser.. If you live in Germany, you are reminded of that more or less every day. But there are much better ways to remind people of and educate them about history than this.

  12. PK Miller says:

    Ich bin ganz in einig mit “Saenger!” I’m in full agreement with “Saenger.” (Sorry–no idea how to create an umlaut!)Kosminski, no doubt, didn’t return his fee in protest and will cry all the way to the bank–pay OTHER people to cry all the way to the bank for him, from this notoriety. Scrapping a bad performance, one in which there are more “boos” than cheers isn’t censorship–it’s protecting your bottom line. It’s no different than an area orchestra years ago refusing permission for an area public radio station to broadcast a concert that was actually WORSE than an area critic described it. To paraphrase somebody, “Censorship is the last refuge of scoundrels.” Sometimes it’s a mercy killing! Still remember a Faust that should never have seen the light of day: a very ineffective Faust who nailed his high Cs & cracked hideously coming off them & a Mephistopheles who hammed up his entire part, chewed the scenery, seemed to think it was Barber & he was Figaro! One performance and adieu!

  13. Galen Johnson says:

    Ultimately, the Intendant should fire himself, as well as Kosminski…and probably the Dramaturg, too.

    • Monica Berserk says:

      Nonsense. Surely nothing less than ritual suicide all around will atone for offending the sensibilities of people who were forced to read about this production in the newspaper.

  14. Random Person says:

    Of course, one of the problems of the state directly funding art is that artistic decisions are inevitably turned into political ones.

    If this production were being staged by a commercial undertaking, none of the argument would arise. If there were howls of protest, the “our tax money” and “state sanctioning of filth” arguments are immediately invalid, as the money involved is private (whether box office, sponsorship or donations). If the private company decided to push on, that would be their decision, and if they decided to pull it, that to would be a simple commercial issue. “Private company stages full-on production, is criticised, ignores criticism” and “private company stages full-on production, is criticised, bows to pressure” are both stories which could end up below the fold on page seven. It would be no-one else’s business.

    But state funding of art means that everyone thinks they have an opinion. People who would sooner hack their arms off than attend an opera believe they have a valid concern, because it is “their” money. Politicians (particularly local politicians, who are rarely the best tuned instruments in the ensemble) put their oar in. Boards of governors, and other weird constructs that only exist to provide a buffer between government and stage, get worried. The whole thing escalates.

    If the New York Met had put this on, there would have been a bit of a storm, but it would have been a storm without sufficient dark clouds to deliver a decent thunderclap, as state aid would not have been at the centre of it. German opera is effective state art, so every artistic decision is political. And governments, especially in Germany, get frightened by Nazi symbolism, whatever the underlying purpose. It’s unsurprising that it’s ended in tears, and if the director wants to do this again, he should try somewhere where the money is private.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      The Düsseldorf thing has nothing to do with the government being afraid of Nazi symbolism in state-sponsored art. There is plenty of that on theater stages and in exhibitions. If it was generally a problem, then it wouldn’t have made its way into this production in any form in the first place. If “boards of governors” and “other weird constructs” had been in there, the production would never have happened at all. I don’t think you understand the mechanisms at work there.

  15. Personally I don’t care for any production that gets in the way of the Opera…. I care even less for being shocking for the sake of it, but I do think that once someone green lights a production in the Opera admin that they should have the gonads to stick by what they agreed on…… but then again why they agreed to this production is a mystery to me in the first place! What was the artistic merit that they saw? How could this setting bring a deeper understanding to Tannhäuser? What’s next, Vlad The Impaler? Gengus Khan? Why not just combine all Anti Christ figures on stage to represent dark deeds in need of redemption….. I know of one Director who once wanted a cast member to defecate on stage as part of the production….. the Opera company had some issues with that (as did the singer!) and so the Director walked…… where do these people come from?

  16. Armando says:

    “Kosminski loaded the show with SS men, gas chambers and other irrelevant references to the Nazi era.”

    It amazes me how in all of the different discussion threads about this production on this blog, not ONE single person actually saw the staging. Not one.

    Wagner was an odious anti-Semite and there has been well-informed and intelligent discussion elsewhere on Slipped Disc about whether or not Wagner and the world-view he expressed in his writings helped paved the way for the rise of Nazism in Germany.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get to Düsseldorf either to see the production.
    But as far as I’ve read in the interviews that Kosminski has given subsequently, his express concern in the staging was to examine individual guilt during the Nazi era, still a very raw issue, but nonetheless an extremely relevant one today in Germany and elsewhere in the world.

    Seeing as none of the commentators on this blog was actually present at the premiere, none of them can judge whether or not Kosminski was successful in turning his ideas and his concept into intelligent, thought-provoking and challenging theatre. And none of them can judge whether the references to the Nazi era were “irrelevant” or not.

    What do we do, whitewash Wagner, forget his vile anti-Semitism and his misogyny and treat his works like some sort of sacred cow that should never be tampered with, critically examined and questioned?
    Stage them solely according to his stage directions, costume and set designs?
    Is that what opera should be about nowadays? Remain some sort of museum?
    Or should it be about engaging intellectually, emotionally with a work of art and trying to find meaning for audiences today?

    If a director tries to do the latter, but fails, if the production has flaws, are they to be condemned more than those who don’t even try, than those who are simply content to roll out the same, lazy, tired, old and dusty productions year in year out and claim to “know” what a composer’s real intentions were?
    Isn’t it better to have challenging, thought-provoking theatre, even if it shocks and offends, than intellectually lazy, cosy and ultimately boring museum-piece theatre?

    I repeat: no-one writing on this blog is in a position to judge the Düsseldorf production because none of you was there.
    Forget your rage, your prejudices about “Regietheater” and consider for a moment that perhaps, just perhaps, Kosminski might have had a cogent, coherent, convincing concept which made audiences re-think and re-examine Wagner and his artistic legacy.
    Unfortunately, the large majority of us will no longer be able to judge for ourselves or make up our own minds.
    I think that’s a shame.

    • Gurnemanz says:

      Just as a person does not need to taste excrement to know it is not to be eaten, people do not need to see a whole production to know that it is rubbish. Wagner’s work has over the past century been critically examined a bit too much, to the point where malicious interpretations are pressed on as the Eternal Truth and Wagner the man, far from being whitewashed, has become one of the most unfairly maligned personalities in history, right up there with Richard III.

      PS Wagner a misogynist? Nietche would beg to differ?

      • Monica Berserk says:

        I agree with Gurnemanz. There is entirely too much emphasis placed on actual experience these days. Why should I actually visit Venice, for example, when there are so many attractive guidebooks with full-color photographs available? Similarly, one has so little free time to read the plethora of novels and biographies published these days: surely a quick perusal of the book review section of a good daily newspaper ought to suffice.

        • Armando says:

          Bizarre.
          So you would rather read a guidebook about Venice than visit the city itself?
          *Shakes head in disbelief*
          Well, each to their own, as they say.
          But even if you’ve read a guidebook about Venice, you’re still not in a position to judge the city itself.
          Bizarre.

        • Gurnemanz says:

          Except that the guidebook is not written about Venice but rather suburban Detroit. Would you like to go there to see for yourself how awful it is?

          • Monica Berserk says:

            Before I try to speak definitively in public about the advisability of razing a city block, I think I would want to know more about the matter than what I could read in a guidebook.

            But please don’t let me stand in the way of your thirst for ignorance.

          • Armando says:

            This discussion is getting sillier by the minute.

            But OK, if you want to use the analogy of a guidebook, then by all means read plenty of guidebooks to decide whether you want to visit a particular city or destination.
            If, on the basis of those guidebooks, you choose NOT to go there, that is your own free choice.
            But you cannot pretend to be in a position to pronounce a judgement on that city or destination.
            And you will have no idea whether the guidebooks you have read are right or wrong, biased or unbiased, or present an accurate or a distorted picture of the city/destination in question.

            Similarly, If you read reviews of opera or theatre or concerts to decide whether you want to see that particular production or performance, that is your own free choice and one which must be respected.

            But it does not give you the right or the authority to issue a judgement on the production or performance in question.

            Maybe the reviewer has a particular agenda and is waging a personal vendetta against a director/singer/conductor?

            How many times have you been to a performance and disagreed entirely with the newspaper review tthe next day?

            If you choose not to see a production, that is YOUR choice.
            If you don’t like a particular director or singer or piano player, then don’t go to their concerts or performances. Simple as that.

            But don’t deny me or anyone else the right and the choice to go and see a production for themselves and make up their own minds.

            Lots of people like to have their thinking done for them by others.
            I prefer to do it for myself.

    • R. James Tobin says:

      We may not have seen this production but presumably we have seen or know about unencumbered versions of the opera and can reasonably see the additions in this production as totally irrelevant to Tannhauser. There is not only the issue of censorship here but also the issue of the integrity of the artwork, which has been violated. Perhaps the latter consideration could be brought to considerations, not only of this production, but to all “concept” productions of great classic works.

  17. Oh for Pete’s sake. When will idiots ever get over the fascination for screwing things up with Nazi nastiness?
    German directors began and have for years decided that their stupid ideas are more important than the music,
    and other manipulators looking for self aggrandizement follow suit. Sadly the only thing they do is make rubbish out of something that is often wonderful. Why don’t these idiots realize the public can make up their own minds whether they like or do not like a specific opera. Where do these directors (excuse me) come of thinking they own the world? The Nazi “I am the best and rule the world” has not altogether left the scene.

    I have seen some of the Metropolitan Operas new productions and while sometimes I can’t agree with all of the staging,a great deal of it is fabulous and uplifts the music instead of ignoring it. Not everyone agrees with the modernization of the scenery, but it is provocative, most interesting and sometimes quite wonderful.

  18. Bit of a tangent.

    It is often said in America that, because the performing arts in much of Europe are so heavily subsidized by the government, you have two big problems: you don’t necessarily have to respond to the opinions of ticket buyers or donors, so you often end up with execrable productions directed by talentless hacks playing to sparse houses; and you are at the whim of political winds, which can sometimes lead to very sticky situations and even cries of censorship.

    While some in America desperately want the government to largely subsidize the arts here, I say we are lucky to have the system we have.

  19. R. James Tobin says:

    I cannot comment on German law, but I have seen too many German productions that go beyond tasteless. In Weimar, Turandot’s courtiers, dressed in white, used golf clubs to bat around the heads of the unsuccessful suitors. In Berlin a ballet production of Sacre du printemps in the opera house on Unter den Linden showed eight males raping eight young girls, so that there was no virgin left to sacrifice but they selected one anyway. I sat behind a 14 year old girl accompanied by two men who must have been more than upset with this, and they left without applauding. Less offensive was a Munich production of Der fliegender Hollender with the second act set in a flashy modern exercise salon and a Berlin production–in the other opera house–of Tannhauser with knights– or their armor anyway–hanging in a group from the flies. Yuckh. Echt Eurotrash. But I have attended fine concerts in the Berlin Philharmonie.

  20. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    It is time to cut all public funding for performing arts in Germany. Let the opera houses and theaters get their money through fundraising! Where there is enough interest and therefore money to have “Regietheater” directors put Wagner or Goethe or Shakespeare or Ibsen on the stage, then there will be a production to which anyone can go who wants to be subjected to whatever these directors throw at the audience (anything but the playwrights’ or composers’ intentions). Had the Dusseldorf Opera no public money available, there would be a huge gap in the budget, if not worse: the necessity to close shop due to economic unsustainability (the Dusseldorf Schauspielhaus, the dramatic theater in town, has a grim reputation for “Regietheater”-exesses and would certainly have vanished years ago if it were not for public subsidies). Audiences in Germany need to be liberated so that they can vote with their wallets and their absence from utterly wasteful and witless “cultural events” . Some fierce austerity policies would devastate the performing arts landscape for sure – but new growth happens best out of the destruction left behind by a wildfire, as the California redwood forests aptly show.

  21. Guus Mostart says:

    The Intendant of the DOamR and his Dramaturg should take the full blame. They approved Kosminski’s concept in the first place and should have anticipated the consequences. That they seem to be taken by surprise disqualifies them from any managerial position.

  22. harold braun says:

    Do you honestly believe he would ever have made it to this blog without this orchestrated scandal?

  23. Germany has 45 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. The USA with four times the population has 3. Public vs. private funding. See the stats on Operabase.

    • Or to put it another way, Germany has about 15 times more *traditional* performances of opera than the USA even though it has one quarter the population. To that is added the Regietheater performances.

  24. Sänger in Deutschland says:

    As someone who earns his living in Germany as a singer, my biggest concern about productions like this one is that it lends credibility to arguments like those made my Edgar Brennkinmeyer.

    Regardless of the funding mechanism, public or private, there will alway be a tension in the balance between the necessity to both innovate and please the audience. Theater is both art and entertainment. It should neither be wholly subject to nor wholly insulated from the whims of market forces and public taste. There should also be a balance between satisfying both the musical and theatrical demands of the art form.

    The current culture of theaters in Germany is such that there is too much power in the hands of directors and dramaturgs, and too little in the hands of the music staff. Intendants and Operndirektors come inevitably from Schauspiel or Dramaturgy, and they have the last word.

    One more thing: it is incredibly, incredibly ironic that so often German Regisseurs, in seeking to criticize absolute power, corruption, and cult of personality by invoking the worst atrocities of the Nazi era, are inevitably able to do so because of the absolute power vested in them by the cult of personality that is Regietheater and its adherents.

    • Musiker says:

      Excellent points, very well put!
      In the perceived battle between “Regietheater” and more traditionalist stagings, I was struck by the “dangers” of the latter recently on a trip of Bratislava, where I took in a performance of “Otello” at the Slovakian National Theatre.
      The production is but a few years old, but is so utterly safe, bland and boring that it was no wonder the theatre was not even half full.
      People fume and rage about the so-called “excesses” of Regietheater, but the wobbly sets and ham-acting I’ve had to suffer in traditional stagings during my long opera-going career are — I feel — just as or even more likely to kill off any interest in opera.

    • To allow a balance between innovation and popularity, there is more or less an unspoken rule of thumb in Germany that sets the ideal seasonal attendance at about 80% of capacity. This allows the houses to experiment with some productions and also provide a lot of traditional opera for the more conservative tastes of a large part of the public. The houses could be populist and probably reach 95% capacity, but creativity and exploration would be lost. A similar philosophy is followed in most European counties, and also includes the programming for spoken theater and orchestras. Their public funding systems allow for this flexibility. Its also provides for far more performances per capita than in the USA, far cheaper tickets, and a much bigger public.

      This flexibility has contributed to the success of contemporary European opera composers like Hans Werner Henze, Alois Zimmerman, Judith Weir, Kaija Saariaho, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It also greatly helps American composers like Philip Glass and John Adams who have most of their opera performances in Europe.

      American houses have much more trouble with innovation because they are more dependant on ticket sales and the conservative tastes of wealthy donors. The Met has tried to break from this pattern with more innovative productions and has seen predictable criticism due to the well-known parochialism of its relatively unsophisticated and inexperienced public. We can hardly talk about any other American cities, since we only have 3 in the top 100 for opera performances per year.

      It is true that Germany is a more authoritarian society, and that the administration of their institutions are typically top heavy. (In fact, this groveling respect for authority figures contributed significantly to the problems with sexism my wife faced in the Munich Philharmonic.) There might be correlations to the country’s unfortunate history, but ironically, it is exactly in Regietheater where this history is often explored and challenged. And as far as authoritarianism goes, we might remember that in the East Block, authoritarian forces were used for very reactionary concepts of art. It goes both ways.

      Authoritarian or not, I think Germany finds about the right balance between innovation and tradition in opera. There are more ample offerings for people of all tastes than any place else in the world.

  25. paul lewis says:

    Having attended countless opera productions over the years I have concluded that, as an art form, it is one of the most difficult to bring off successfully. I would guess no more than around 30% have been convincing and that figure would fall to about 10% in recent times now that the egocentric director has taken charge. In future I will confine my opera performances to the concert type, a recent example was Berlioz Les Troyens given at the RAH, London, a real treat with no ridiculous distractions from the glorious music.

  26. Michael Hurshell says:

    I probably don’t really need to say this, but I will (and I repeat myself, I’ve asked this question many times): Taking into account the many, many years required to train professional opera singers, orchestral players, chorus singers, and yes even some conductors (leaving aside for a moment the wave of 26 to 28 year-olds), is it not strange and hard to believe that so many Intendants will hire an amateur – to use the appellation currently being employed by many outspoken singers (Furlanetto et al, see “Another opera star lashes out at opera directors” on this blog) to direct all those pros? Amateur in the sense that someone with no experience in opera (and often, it seems, with no interest in opera, other than as a vehicle for self promotion) is hired? While the situation in Germany is further complicated by the fact that publicists (feuilletons, periodicals about classical music, television commentators etc.) tend to publically support Regietheater, it does regularly produce opera productions that are not merely in “bad taste” but, more importantly, thoroughly unmusical. So we are dealing, as it seems, with an increasingly growing number of unmusical intendants as well as regisseurs. Nothing else can explain the immense delight expressed by audiences at concert performances of operas (such as Janowski’s recent Berlin Wagner cycle, which ended in March after having presented 10 works, to general enthusiastic acclaim – here’s a review: http://www.kulturradio.de/rezensionen/buehne/2013/philharmonie-berlin-goetterdaemmerung.html ). Those who have commented here on how Germany should not shy away from confronting its past know very little about how the subject of 1933-45 is dealt with here, publically, regularly, in many forms. Indeed I know of no other country that so consistently confronts its past – and I say this as an American Jew, who has been living in Europe for a very long time. Opera does not need silly “interpretations” to attract new audiences. It needs stage directors who know what they are doing, and have learned how “Personenführung” – the way soloists are placed and moved on stage – is correctly applied to operatic works; what we have, all to often, is someone trying to apply the stage direction aesthetic of spoken drama, television, movies and popular music videos to opera. MISERIA!

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