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If the director is dreadful, it’s good for the conductor

Reports on the general rehearsals of Frank Castrof’s Ring at Bayreuth make grim reading. The Rhine gold is turned to oil and clichés flow from there. One Slipped Disc reader who saw Siegfried describes it as ‘a complete and unmitigated disaster’. The cycle opens on Friday, amid the usual mayhem.

The winner in these circumstances is always the conductor. Bernard Haitink was praised to the skies for the Richard Jones Ring at Covent Garden that many thought should have been strangled at birth. Kirill Petrenko is already getting the best previews of his life, ahead of what the media expect to be a musical triumph and a staging disaster.

The worse the director, the better the conductor comes out of it. Funny, that.


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  1. Gurnemanz says:

    I suppose it’s a simple case if looking for silver linings in a dark cloud.

  2. Rosalind says:

    In my opinion, that’s how it should be – a much stronger concentration of opinion on the musical interpretation and performance by the singers, orchestra and conductor. It annoys me so much when one reads a review and there’s barely a mention of the people really producing the drama – the singers and musicians…

  3. PK Miller says:

    It reminds me of Park Playhouse, an Albany NY troupe that does musical theater in Albany’s Washington Park every summer. With a new Producing Artistic Director the emphasis, the last few years, has finally been on the singing, acting, dancing NOT fancy-schmancy sets, scenery, costumes etc.. That is as it should be. The original, long-time Producing Artistic Director was a scenic designer and the productions reflected his bent. The sets, etc., were breathtaking. The shows themselves not so much so.

    The Ring seems to invite all manner of staging perversions–one 25+/- years ago set in a nightclub with Wotan et al in tuxedos, & the Rhinemaidens & Valkyries, as God help us, “ladies of the evening.” But the cast rose above it with terrific singing. Opera is about SINGING. Yes, the drama is important. I think The Met got carried away with its “machine.” (And could have done better with Brunnhilde’s “horse!”) I also thought the production itself of Parsifal was dreadful. But the singing was terrific. Shouldn’t that be paramount?

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Does Gesamtkunstwerk ring a bell?

      • Novagerio says:

        Exactly Emil; what about the supposed to be unity between what the audience sees and hears?

    • Wagner would not have agreed. He was into music drama as a complete experience. However, Janowski’s new recorded ring was made in concert conditions as he doesn’t trust directors. With such incompetents around (and what’s more being employed) who can blame him?

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        Janowski’s new recorded Ring was made in concert conditions, because that’s the ONLY way a classical label todays is willing to pay for big scale opera recordings. Janowski had no assignment to staged Ring productions. Studio recordings are not payed for by the labels. So doing it in concert was his only chance. Directors have NOTHING to do with this.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I think Janowski actually said in a video interview that one if the reasons for these concert performances was that he doesn’t trust directors anymore and that after many years in opera pits, he is tired of putting up with their whims – but I am not 100% sure if I remember correctly what he said. It’s been a while since I watched that video. I believe it can be found on the Pentatone website.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            Janowski is very much admired as a most capable orchestra leader and Kapellmeister here. He is probably one of the most capable rehearsers of our times.
            But what he is saying in an one hour interview is one thing (or many things). The reality is, he is chief conductor of a Radio Symphony orchestra. Only there he has influence on the programming to perform and record his beloved Wagner. He earlier in his life made the decision to turn his back on regular opera conducting in actual opera houses for well explained reasons. Maybe here I have to correct my words, since this earlier decision HAD also to do with directors. But as it is now, if he wants to record Wagner, he has to do it in concert or in studio. Studio is not payed for, leaves the only option for concert recording.

      • Novagerio says:
  4. Monica Berserk says:

    Yes, because the point of producing opera surely is “winning,” not presenting the best possible performance.

  5. Well deserved kudos to my friend!

  6. Fourth Norn says:

    ‘I do not care in the slightest’ Wagner once said, ‘whether my works are performed. What I do care about is that they are performed as I intended them to be. Anyone who cannot, or will not, do so, had better leave them alone.’

    Hear! Hear!

    • Source for this quote please. I can’t find it.

      • Fourth Norn says:

        A letter of December 1852 from Wagner to Ferdinand Heine (1798-1872), costume designer and wardrobe manager in the Dresden Court Theatre until 1850.

      • Michael Hurshell says:

        I believe in the Wagner-Liszt correspondence, can’t recall the exact letter.

    • Novagerio says:

      How about the classic “Kinder, schafft neues”?

      • Michael Hurshell says:

        I repeat from earlier: correct quote is “macht Neues.” he was NOT referring to new Regie!!! He was referring to new works.

  7. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Citing ‘a complete and unmitigated disaster’ is a little disingenuous as it is one person’s opinion of one piece. If I’d called Siegfried ‘a triumph’ would that have made the cut?

    Let’s all just wait and see how it’s received. Seeing as virtually no-one has seen any of it, most opinions are just going to be opportunistic conjecture.

  8. Paul Guy says:

    Opera is intended to be an aural and visual experience. If the composer really wanted just the best singing, playing and conducting he might just as well have commissioned a CD recording (if that had been available at the time). It may be true that conductors become heroes for a while in bad productions but eventually they will be associated with the debacle and they should be prepared to refuse to perform if the production is ridiculous.

  9. R. Wagner says:

    Ich bin SEHR empört all diesen Unfug zu lesen und wünsche dass ich besser über des Ringes Bühnemöglichkeiten nachgedacht hatte!!

  10. Novagerio says:

    Now we are at it, please meet mr.Jonathan Meese, the future director of the 2016 Bayreuth Parsifal: Now for the one $million question: How much better can the conductor get out of it with what is often considered to be Wagner’s most sublime music with such a….director? Hello?? Integrity??

    • John Borstlap says:

      This Meese type is one of those modernist ‘artists’ who think that provoking audiences with utterly outdated and puerile clichées will lead to something which was called art in former times. They belong to the underworld of a decadent and tired society which does no longer believe in itself. As such attitude is excusable shortly after the war, given Meese’s age he represents a new type of ‘artist’: the younger one, who never experienced the war, but gratefully exploits its aftermath mood because they think they do not need artistic talent and craft and subtlety. That the Wagner sisters, in their apparant despair to find ideas that will attract attention to the festival, sink so low, means that they are still wrapped-up in the German postwar Nachkriegsschuldbewältigungsstimmung. The only solution for the future of the festival is, a return to the type of stage representation which gives ample space to the music to blossom and which stresses the timeless aspects of the operas. Which is something like Wieland Wagner’s style of staging.

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