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Young conductor quits Don Giovanni over provocative staging

The British conductor Robin Ticciati has walked out of Zurich Opera after two performances of Don Giovanni in a bizarre production by Sebastian Baumgartner. The company’s music director, Fabio Luisis, has stepped in for the rest of the run.

The general director Andreas Homoki said he could not understand why Ticciati, if he hated the show, did not withdraw during six weeks of rehearsal. We have been hearing murmurs that the orchestra is profoundly unhappy with the company’s present direction.

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Comments

  1. harold braun says:

    Bravo!!!At least somebody young who has the guts to do it!Next time just leave the music out! Then the “Konzept”will work!

    • Albert Gräunt says:

      Why then he did not leave during the SIX WEEKS of rehearsals? We mustn’t forget he was also booed!

      • Exactly. Leaving as he did, when he did, was unfair to the audience, the orchestra, and the singers.

      • R. James Tobin says:

        I assume that during the six weeks of rehearsals he was focusing on the music, as he should have been. He was not the general director, after all. And I tend to assume also that the physical production would not have been ready during most of the rehearsal period, when other productions would presumable have been staged.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          So you think he was so focused on the music that he only realized during the first two public performances what was actually going on on stage?

          • R. James Tobin says:

            Well, he would have to have seen the dress rehearsal. I don’t know when the full production in its staged form was unveiled

  2. Christopher Oakmount says:

    On how the Zürich Operea presents itself: On its website, the German version describes the Don Giovanni producer “Der viel diskutierte deutsche Regisseur Sebastian Baumgarten”, “viel diskutiert” meaning controversial, while the English version reads “The much-vaunted German director Sebastian Baumgarten”. English is not my mother tongue, but I thougt vaunted means “praised”, or even “boasted about”.

    Seems they think they can sell tickets with the promise of controversy in German, but not in English!?!

    • R. James Tobin says:

      The German phrase literally means “much discussed,” which on its face at least, is a neutral description between “controversial” and “vaunted,” though no doubt closer to the former.

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        “on it’s face” “controversial” and “much discussed” are roughly synonymous. No need to bring “vaunted” into the game.

        contro versus means to discuss, to “put words against each other”.

  3. Bravo! I admire this position.

  4. Good for him. I admire people who have the guts and the principles to do this sort of thing.

    • He would have shown “guts” and “principles” had he walked out during the rehearsal period. To do so after opening is just a temper tantrum.

      • Well, that would have been even better, but sometimes it’s quite hard to know what a production’s really like until the last few rehearsals (depending on how it’s been rehearsed), and by then you’re with the orchestra and it’d be really unfair on them to leave them in the lurch. If you’re of a positive disposition, you’re willing to put your faith in a director’s ideas right up to the point you can judge them fairly. And I bet you he wouldn’t have pulled out if he wasn’t sure that someone of the quality of Luisi was around to take over. The cast are in safe hands and half of them won’t have batted an eyelid.

        • A quick trawl of the net has confirmed my suspicions about Luisi’s availability: he was conducting La Traviata in Genova on 26 and 29 May (the first 2 nights of this Don Giovanni). Again I’m only speculating but this looks like a neat explaination for Ticciati’s timing.

  5. Gary Carpenter says:

    Actually, walking out during rehearsal is far worse as the whole infrastructure and schedule would be compromised. The chances are that Ticciati wouldn’t have been there until the last couple of weeks in any case. It is quite common in German-speaking opera houses for even lowly repetiteurs to step in and conduct an opera at a few hours’ notice and without rehearsal. That Luisi has stepped in means that the disruption would be pretty minimal I would guess.

    • SergioM says:

      But directors of all new productions present their concepts and set and costume designs to the opera house and the conductor long before rehearsals even begin. If Ticcati had problems with it then he could have excused himself from the production even before rehearsals began. Muti has dropped out of productions when he disagreed with director’s concepts for productions in the past.

      • Sometimes the reality of a production can diverge a fair bit from the model showing. It probably took quite a while for him to feel like he was selling his soul. A sharper nose for it will come with experience.

      • Gary Carpenter says:

        Actually most reasonable people would give their collaborators the benefit of the doubt at the first production meeting stage.

  6. Good attitude. It would be better if, before the curtains rise, he advised the audience to close eyes and only listen to the music. There is no room for inspiration or excitement in helping psycopaths destroy what you love so much. Bravo, Mr. Ticciati!

  7. A little inside: this has nothing to do with staging. Let’s just say there were instances of artistic differences between Robin and some members of the cast.

    As to the production – i saw it yesterday and it is brilliant. Nothing controversial by today’s standards. of course it is Regietheater (though at its best) that Zurich is not exactly used to after 20 years of Perreira…

    • I’d say if you have survived two shows despite the artistic differences why not just suck it up and do the rest of the shows. I think it would have been better for everyone. I have some understanding for him though – I too once walked out of a messy production because of contractual issues, and that did not do me any good in the long term…

  8. Theodore McGuiver says:

    My instinct tells me to applaud Ticciati in the face of the vacuous, talentless, sulphurous drivel for which Baumgarten inexplicably gets hired and paid to vomit onto our stages, but the timing, unusual even for one with limited experience of the opera house, suggests there’s something else afoot. This one may run and run.

  9. Marshall says:

    Made a much bigger splash by walking out the way he did rather than during the rehearsal period. Maybe it was calculated?

    Maybe more of this will happen. Are people finally fed up with the destruction of opera?

    It’s really sad that many opera goers just throw up their hands and accept these productions, or worse think they are insightful or brilliant.

  10. There is something not clear on this subject and probably not told. If you do not like a production you step aside well before the first performance. May be a orchestra member could clarify what was the situation with Ticciati.

  11. Tim Walton says:

    Good on Robin.

    Lets hope that this happens at Covent Garden. Especially if we have another Crass, idiotic production like Onegin.

    It’s about time some of these pompous directors were put in their place.

  12. Alexander Hall says:

    Robin Ticciati is one of the most over-hyped young British conductors. I approached the LSO concert he gave last autumn, standing in for an ailing Colin Davis, with a great deal of pleasurable anticipation. I went away feeling I had been conned by all the media acclaim I had seen and read. It is one thing to have a mentor or two. However, if your entire body language represents a dual clone of Simon Rattle and Colin Davis, and you have no personality of your own on display, you will inevitably end up taking quite a few knocks from critics and audiences alike. If he was booed by the Zürich audience, there will have been a reason for it.

    • itrinkkeinwein says:

      That’s right.

      Ever watched him bounce from foot to foot for “Tod und Verklärung”?

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      I would agree that the skyrocketing speed of his agency-made career is not correlated to his abilities. He has talent but needs more time to become really good. C’est la vie.

  13. Hasbeen says:

    With one exception, Gringolts, none of these comments are anything but speculation and opinion based on nothing.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Absolutely right. I went to an exquisite Ticciati concert with the SCO earlier this year, for what it’s worth.

  14. Few here know anything about the actual staging or exact circumstances of the conductor’s departure.

    However, most likely everyone here has seen stagings of musical productions that they consider bizarre. That is discussable without having to speculate.

    Personally I have nothing against innovative stagings of musical works. I recall seeing a performance of I think it was the Firebird Suite using giant puppets that was quite enjoyable.

    On the other hand I’m not eager to see the Trockadero Ballet’s staging of Swan Lake with an all-male cast dancing on point. Or stagings that move the time and place of the story–not innately bad–but introduces anachronisms that break the fourth wall. West Side Story works because it transposes the whole thing, making it internally coherent.

    However, all too often I see stagings that work against the animating spirit of the music/libretto. That’s what I resent most–when something sincere is treated sarcastically with a nudge nudge wink wink at the audience.

    Unless it deserves it. For example, in the Ring cycle I find the character of the dwarf who raises the hero Siegfired to fit the worst German anti-semitic stereotypes, while Siegfried himself acts like the SS’s notion of a hero a lot of the time. I’d be interested in a staging that preserves the wonderful music while undercutting the proto-Nazi vibe of much of the work.

    • R. James Tobin says:

      Ehkzu’s last paragraph is very interesting. I suppose the character may have been played that way during the Nazi period, and maybe even Wagner may have had something like that in mind. But such an interpretation would have to have been imposed on the production, because stereotypes are products of a time and place. What kind of staging would “undercut…the proto-Nazi vibe…?

  15. Bob Thomas says:

    Sorry but I’m not buying any of the excuses. Bottom line for me is that Ticciati’s decision to bow out after two performances was unprofessional. I cannot believe that he didn’t know what was going on with the production until after the second performance — if not, then shame on him.

    • Benjamin Gordon says:

      Bob, I couldn’t agree with you more. RT forgot the bit about stones and glass houses. When a conductor signs a contract with an opera house, he know’s who he’ll be working with, and he knows that he’s got to keep his mouth shut about the staging. If RT didn’t take the time to research Sebastian Baumgartner, his agent should have done it for him. It sounds like the chemistry between him and the orchestra wasn’t ideal, and this wasn’t lost on the audience and the critics. I’m sure that his exit was several weeks in planning, since leaving before the premiere would mean RT would only be paid for his living expenses during the rehearsal period. The big paycheck – a portion of which goes to his agent – only comes once he starts conducting the run. Bowing out after two performances is a compromise which the orchestra was obviously comfortable with, since both sides know there is a shelf-life to the relationship. In a real emergency, one of the house conductors could have jumped in, but since FL is taking the reins, this all sounds planned down to the last minute.

  16. operafan1 says:

    ticciati should have left at the beginning of rehearsals, or during the rehearsals. No one here has mentioned that the recits of this don Giovanni have been re written and played with organ. isn’t this a violation of the music, of Mozart’ music? as conductor of the production why did he not rebel? or have directors now also the power to change the written score, other than destroy opera thru their controversial stagings? and why did the music director of the house allow such a thing to happen, to change the music that Mozart wrote?

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      I remember reading an interview with Baumgarten when he was just starting out. He said he didn’t consider the composer’s score or its text sacrosanct and would have no qualms “incorporating a few bars of Rosenkavalier into Tristan und Isolde if {he} felt like it”. Anyone who has witnessed his appalling ‘Tannhäuser’ in Bayreuth will not be surprised by anything this idiot says.

      • Rosalind says:

        Theodore, thanks for this gem of information. Herr Baumgarten immediately goes on my “avoid like the plague unless it is a free ticket” list.

  17. Fabio Fabrici says:

    In sight of the current clustering of “scandals” I’m wondering, if these are calculated measures of opera managements in search for public attention without wasting precious funds, making “good” use of the perverted media machine that thrives on scandals and disregards simple good work.

    From a marketing POV it’s probably a good strategy, to make uninitiated outsiders talk about opera as something lively and scandal ridden, not something that is related to dead composers and museum like culture and tradition.

  18. This is amazing. I think he had walked out before this and the management pleaded with him to stay to conduct the first two as the other conductor would not have been there. If he hated the production he would have known during rehearsals. Is he getting big headed? Singers have to do a lot of things they hate rarely do they walk out. But also singers have to on top of this put with directors and conductors all at the same time.

    • Don’t you think it’s time for singers and conductors alike take back their primary role in opera? The stage director is a NOTHING. Perfectly dispensable.

      • Opera was originally created to be a perfect synthesis of theatre, dance, and music. No one was to have a “primary” role.

        • Theodore McGuiver says:

          Yeah, what happened to that, eh?

        • Then, you do not what singing opera is about. If you think singers should move as mokeys onstage, in the same way straight theater actors do, you simply do not know what opera is. Singers in the first decades of the last centuries would travel with their own costumes, sing and act as they wished. The director, if there was one, was a coordinator, nothing else, as should be the conductor. THE SINGERS ARE THE TRUE INTERPRETERS. Guess when there were the greatest singers of recorded history?

          • So in your world, pointing out that the original intent of opera is the same as claiming that “singers should move as monkeys onstage”?

            Care to explain the logic that leads to that conclusion?

          • Theodore McGuiver says:

            Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…Anyone fancy going back to those heady days of professional nirvana? The thought of singers travelling with their own costumes and doing whatever they want on stage would be too grim to contemplate were it not so risible. The singers are not the only interpreters in an opera performance and having a great-sounding voice does not equate to being a great stage artist. Everyone involved has an important role, even if there are some excesses against which we rightly rebel.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Totally agree, Roger! Why do we need a story, a libretto, a staging concept? Why should an opera be a coherent artistic vision of what the composer and librettist may have intended? Singers should just show up in whatever costume they want, do whatever they want, sing whatever and however they want. LLet’s forget the text, too. Let them just sing “lalalalala”. After all, opera at its best is just a random sequence of unconnected musical numbers.
            Yes, the good old times when singers would just do whatever they wanted! Then people like Gustav Mahler and Alfred Roller showed up and they had that crazy idea that opera could be more than just singers showing up and doing whatever they wanted! They thought opera would actually get enhanced by coherent musical direction and set designs. Crazy stuff!

          • Theodore McGuiver says:

            I think singers should move like mokeys on stage, but only if they sing On Top of Old Smokey and do the hokey-cokey. Nothing low-key.

  19. Michael Schaffer says:

    I gooled some pictures of the production – and yes, I know, we can not judge an opera production adequately from just a few pictures. But everything I have seen was intensely uninteresting and boring. Like this picture, apparently showing Don Giovanni at his last binge:

    http://www.opernhaus.ch/typo3conf/ext/upd_theasoft/theasoftWebAdmin/upload/.tmb/thumb_L3sItg_resize_1800_0.jpg

    Just so the audience really gets what is going on, it says “Völlerei” (=gluttony) in the big projection on the back wall. OK, thanks for telling us – I wouldn’t have gotten that without the hint! Don G also wears horns. Like a devil. So, that he means he is actually a bad person? Again, thanks for telling us – I wouldn’t have gotten that without that hint!

    Yaaaaaawn!

  20. Marjorie says:

    Review of the production at http://www.seenandheard-international.com/2013/05/28/controversial-zurich-production-of-don-giovanni-upsets-traditionalists/

    Excerpt:

    As the audience enters the auditorium to take their seats, they are prepared to some extent for what is to come. Industrial workers in pink paint-spraying protective gear, with white wellington boots, are painting banners with religious motifs, such as “Fürchtet Gott, denn die Stunde seines Gerichts ist gekommen” (Fear God for the moment of his judgment is nigh); apt, of course, for this opera. Only when the curtain rises, do we see the related aspects of Herr Baumgarten’s vision for this opera. The workers turn out to be members of a Christian sect, with long beards and the typical dress and headgear of the Amish. Don Giovanni is the cult leader of their sect, dressed in Act I all in white. The scene is set in a ritual room of a convent, at the back next to the font and some illuminated angels a cleric plays the harpsichord accompaniment to the recitatives, eerily modernised for this modern production. At the front a short curved wall with openings for doors and windows serves to indicate that the inmates of the convent (including the audience) are watching a morality play. Don Giovanni appears in a gorilla suit carrying Donna Anna ready for rehearsals in King Kong.
    At the back is a video screen, depicting Don Giovanni’s conquests (a bottom being spanked) and the Seven Deadly Sins as the opera progresses. At the front, a veil descends from time to time with video images of Don Giovanni pulling funny faces. It is all over-produced; there are simply too many elements to assimilate. The masked ball descends into a Ku Klux Klan ritual sacrificing of a young virgin, in this instance Zerlina. Blood spurts from her abdomen. There are some spectacular crocheted multi-coloured costumes for the band. Then follows some fairly explicit Marquis de Sade-style bondage. Don Giovanni, by now dressed all in black, has sex with Zerlina in a bath, luckily the naked bodies are only shown on film. You get the flavour.
    By the last Act, Don Giovanni is dressed in red pyjamas, with the Devil’s horns. Or was it a re-appearance of Jimmy Savile? The names of the men most famous for their libertine sexuality (including the Marquis de Sade and Casanova) are shown on the video screen and deleted one by one, until it is Don Giovani’s turn. After the banquet scene goes up in some fairly spectacular flames, with flashing theatre lights around the proscenium arch, the video screen at the back depicts Don Giovanni taking the lift down into the flames of Hell. Members of his sect enter impassively, looking strangely like Oompa Loompas.

    • If they are actually spray-painting, in a room in which singers are, shortly, to perform, I’m surprised the union didn’t shut them down long before the conductor walked out.

    • SergioM says:

      YIKES! What a disaster! But it goes back to my point. This whole concept was not presented to him at first even before rehearsals began? I would have run out the room as fast I could and have dropped out of the production then. Not go through weeks of rehearsals and actually conduct some performances before deciding I wanted no more of it

      • Marjorie says:

        Sergio, what you are saying — that the honorable thing would have been to drop out much earlier on — makes sense to me, a layperson, but I suspect what Benjamin Gordon wrote upthread is true — the conductor did make his discontent clear early on and the method of his leaveing was planned out ahead of time between him, the orchestra and the management, the orchestra and the conductor being unhappy with each other from the beginning, and the decision to leave after two performances being ” …. a compromise which the orchestra was obviously comfortable with, since both sides know there is a shelf-life to the relationship.” Gordon adds that “In a real emergency, one of the house conductors could have jumped in, but since FL is taking the reins, this all sounds planned down to the last minute.”

        I’m still curious, though — how much is a conductor told about a production BEFORE he accepts a gig? Or does his agent just tell him, “I’ve got you at Zurich for Giovanni for [such-and-such dates]” and then he finds out the full scale of the disaster when he gets there, and now his time is already booked , and he figures he will try to salvage what he can from the mess? (Not to mention get as much money as he can before bailing out.)

        Zurich, I believe, is well-known for supposedly avant-garde productions. I remember when San Francisco Opera brought over a production from Zurich of Verdi’s Macbeth. I’ve forgotten most of the details except for the typewriters that, for reasons nobody ever explained, sat down front on the stage for some of the opera. I think there is a video of this production around. (It involved Thomas Hampson, IIRC, and it was in the era of Pamela Rosenberg. I am not really against non-traditional staging & loved a lot of what she did while she was here, but the Macbeth was wierd.)

        • Once a house has decided on its repertoire, it’s up to them to book conductors and directors. They often book the conductor first. I’m not in a position to say what happened in this case, but you shouldn’t assume Baumgarten was booked before TIcciati (unless you know that for a fact…. anyone?)

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