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Archive for November, 2002


Posted by acdtest on November 30, 2002


n an article for Andante on the subject of so-called Regietheater (Director’s Theater), more commonly (and more appropriately) referred to as Eurotrash, music and opera critic of the New York Times Anne Midgette says at the outset from just where she’s coming vis-à-vis her approach to, and view of, opera as an art form:

When I first moved to Europe in the mid-80s, opera-besotted, I dealt with the phenomenon [of Regietheater] largely by ignoring it: I was there for the singing, period. This led to an incident in Munich when a friend, on my recommendation, took her visiting parents to Nabucco. “You didn’t mention,” she said dryly the next day, “the giant penis hanging over the stage.” So help me, I hadn’t noticed. Julia Varady was singing Abigaille; who cared what it looked like? [emphases mine]

In other words, Ms. Midgette started out a TOF (True Opera Fan, which is very much akin to a movie fan, only worse — much worse), and once a TOF, always a TOF, later accretions of musical, dramatic, and theatrical discernment in matters operatic notwithstanding. Like malaria, TOFia is a disease of which, once infected, one can never be fully cured.

Being at bottom a TOF may not be an impediment or hindrance in the clear-eyed assessment of matters operatic (it is, in fact, rarely an impediment, and at times may even be an asset), but in the clear-eyed assessment of matters Wagnerian — even matters early-Wagnerian, at which point in his career Wagner was still composing opera in the ordinary, Italian-form way, more or less — it’s an aesthetic and intellectual barrier of insurmountable proportions, a verity amply demonstrated by Ms. Midgette in her comments in her Andante article on the Eurotrash production in Würzburg this past season of Richard Wagner’s Der Fliegender Holländer; a production mounted by Wagner’s great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner in her first professional outing as an opera director.

[A] one-line description doesn’t do justice to the [production’s] concept, and the many details that backed it up. No, there weren’t any sailing ships here, and there wasn’t even any redemption; the Holländer is beaten to death by xenophobic skinheads. But sitting in the theater, you saw that, yes, Senta could easily be the misfit in high school who dresses funny and obsessively listens to strange music on her Walkman. Ms. Wagner, 24, found a way to have the opera make sense in the terms of her generation. The inner logic she created for the piece held water; and it was closely linked to the music. Nearly all the German critics, like me, arrived prepared for disaster (Ms. Wagner had never staged an opera before), and nearly all of them – with the exception of the F.A.Z. and a couple of other smaller papers – found, as did I, that it was valid.

Excuse me? Valid? And “closely linked to the music” (whatever Ms. Midgette here means by that)? Valid as what? Certainly not as an expression of Richard Wagner’s dramatic and theatrical vision as set forth in the text, music, and mise en scène of Holländer. And surely, those who attend a production of a Wagner opera or music-drama are entitled to see and hear an expression of Wagner’s vision, are they not? Indeed they are. Richard’s, that is, not Katharina’s.

Let me quickly state at this point to immediately blunt the classic (and invidious) retort of those Eurotrash defenders who sneeringly characterize as retrograde the views of people such as myself, that I am not saying that a valid expression of Wagner’s vision need be clothed and made manifest in the traditional garb of 19th-century Wagner productions, or that Wagner’s own staging and stage directions be adhered to dogmatically, slavishly, or at all. What I am saying (and have said before, and often) is that no matter how contemporarily clothed and made manifest the production might be, it must, at bottom and at its core, be an expression of Richard Wagner’s vision — his Konzept, as expressed in text, music and mise en scène, not the Konzept of the contemporary director.

Let me also quickly state that Ms. Midgette might seem to have the advantage of me in that she actually attended the production in question whereas I did not. But one need not have actually attended this production to know with absolute certainty that a Holländer where “there [aren’t] any sailing ships,” and where “there [isn’t] even any redemption,” and where, in the end, “the Holländer [the character] is beaten to death by xenophobic skinheads [at the instigation of Senta’s in this production brutish, pimp father],” and where “Senta could easily be the misfit in high school who dresses funny and obsessively listens to strange music on her Walkman,” is not, by even prodigiously liberal-minded stretch of the imagination, an expression of Richard Wagner’s vision. That Konzept is wholly Katharina Wagner’s, and like all Eurotrash directors she, without hesitation or compunction, hijacks, vandalizes, and does lethal violence to, a work of genuine art for her own self-involved and self-important purposes.

(Things are actually much worse, and more mind-bogglingly idiot in this production than the above more-than-one-line description suggests. In this production Senta is a victim of a brutal, macho society, beaten up by her current boyfriend Erik, and sold by her pimp father to the Dutchman. And all of it takes place in a world peopled by corrupt, violence-prone machos, sitting around in a red-light-district bar(!) in baseball caps and open shirts with only two things on their minds: power and money, while Senta walks around dressed up like a Barbie doll just to please her macho, pimp father Daland.)*

I might suggest to Ms. Midgette, that while it does no violence to an ordinary Italian-form opera like, say, Tosca to have it take place in, say, turn-of-21st-century New York instead of turn-of-19th-century Rome — a 21st-century New York where, say, Cavaradossi is a programmer of software games, Scarpia a powerful and exploitative electronics venture capitalist, and Floria Tosca herself a flaming rock star and all that implies — the same sort of approach cannot be taken with any of Wagner’s canonical works (those works from Holländer forward), and most particularly and most especially none of the great masterworks after Lohengrin. All Wagner’s works, even one as early and immature as Holländer, have an organic one-ness of text, music, and mise en scène that will brook no politicized or “socially relevant” this-world postmodern diddling without becoming grotesque caricatures at best.

I might further suggest to Ms. Midgette that in future she confine her critical efforts in the field of opera to productions of ordinary Italian-form opera, and leave the critical arena of Wagnerian music-drama — even proto-music-drama like Holländer — to those competent and better qualified to do battle there.

*Descriptions culled from reviews appearing in the Agence France-Presse, and Deutsche Presse-Agentur.


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