City Journal Summer 2014

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Summer 2014
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Heather Mac Donald
Regietheater Takes Another Scalp « Back to Story

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"oral service to anonymous strangers in airport rest rooms" -- sounds like a scene from this production... but it's "art" when the left does it, right?
Time for another revolution -- this time by the musicians. Odds are the musicians haven't gravitated to their profession because they fell in love with Eurotrash............... If they played their cards right and achieved real solidarity, the public at large might even be made to take their part in this fight by helpless lovers of music drawn to the profession by the music and nothing else and struggling -- Davids against Goliaths -- against overpaid directors who are in the driver's seat (for now) and only think they are "revolutionaries". They are the total bosses today and vandals to boot.

If the musicians who really love these works, but whose working opportunities are cruelly circumscribed by the prevailingly trashy productions that are their only (compelled) choices if they want to make beautiful music together at all, finally banded together and boycotted en masse all these productions, these "revolutionary" directors might then have more real revolution on their hands than they ever bargained for.
Please forgive the typos! Final clause of the comment below should read "...not unlike how many of today's American right wing give lip service to laws preserving 'the sanctity of marriage' in between giving oral service to anonymous strangers in airport rest rooms."

Oh, but that would mean bringing politics into the discussion of opera, and naturally such a thing is beyond the pale at City Journal!
Does Ms. MacDonald not realize that the "droit de seigneur" was essentially an urban legend of the Enlightenment period? The use of this motif in "Figaro" is at most a MacGuffin. Certainly audiences of Mozart's time would have understood that the Count's "banning" of this right is a purely symbolic and hypocritical gesture, not unlike the many of today's American right wing give lip service laws preserving "the sanctity of marriage" in between giving oral service to anonymous strangers in airport rest rooms.
Yes, right, thank you Heather McDonald, you righteous mouthpiece of the lumpenAmerican.
Dear Heather, thank you so much for your comments. I haven't been to Salzburg for some years now, but I have seen other productions of the New Brutalists in other places in Germany. My favorite production of the (many) Marriages I've seen is Barenboim's at Deutsche Oper with Rene Pape and Dorothea Roschmann in the leads. Perfect.
The masterworks of the great composers and writers should be treated with the greatest respect. Sadly they are not as Heather MacDonald truthfully describes.

With the exception of Peter Sellars all the directors mentioned in the article I have had the misfortune to encounter and up to 5 weeks at a time, listening to their nonsense and watching them try to destroy a masterwork. Fortunately they cannot kill the music and its beauty no matter how hard they try. Just imagine if the orchestral musicians and the singers delivered work of the same low standard...........

I am not against a "modern" interpretation to a degree however if one trusts the work and the intention of the writer or composer, jazzing things up to supposedly "relate" more to a younger generation achieves nothing.

Another problem in the world of opera is the gaping void in composition sadly filled with dime a dozen musicals of what I call the "McDonalds" class. I am certainly not referring to the great musicals pre 1970.

Compare the operas that were composed between say 1850 and 1910 to those composed between 1950 and 2010....the rest I leave to your imagination.

Traviata, Tosca etc were once contemporary music!
Thanks for your remarkable review. I dare say that almost everything you said is in fact the truth. In the time of Da Ponte, being political in France could get you killed in a nasty manner. To throw acid in the face of your king was not allowed, then as now, so an intelligent person could only show disrespect within the context of respect.

The point of Figaro is that "true love" can and does make a fool of everyone. That is a big enough theme. If they wanted to do the opera in a way that would be relevant, why not stage it in Bayreuth in 1941. Siegfried Wagner could be off in the corner with Max Lorenz doing their thing while Adolf and Winifred could be in the other corner doing their thing. Loads of Jewish spouses (Ms. Lorenz or Mr. Leider) could be running around boohooing the luck of marrying either a bisexual and or a work-a-holic diva. That is more or less why Hitler left in 1941. He needed what Wagner's music represented to keep his face up. Wagner's music at this time was only traditionally staged. To stage it otherwise would have thrown acid in the face of the Führer's ideas about German superiority. We all know how that idea went up in smoke.

The point is even Hitler could not take the crazy out of what love does to human beings. It created such a nut house that even he had to leave it. He used Bayreuth for personal gain. Hitler represents the ying of modern Regietheater.

That is exactly what Regietheater directors are doing. They represent the yang of modern Regietheater. They are the children of Hitler at work in our time.

Da Ponte had to work within the context of showing his disrespect and contempt for the Aristrocracy within the context of respect.
The audience can understand this type of ironic treatment and the more ironic the better.
The inverse treatment favored by well paid imbeciles who seem to dominate the European cultural elite, are having the reverse effect on the arts. Instead of expanding the audience, people are getting fed up and moving on.

If love can make fools of us all, is it true that fools can teach us what is true in that which is hateful, shameful and depraved? For centuries humans read literature to find that which was true. By finding what is true, we may be individually inspired to examine our own existence.

In Figaro inspiration is found in the transfiguration of fools into wise men or a wise man into a fool. Figaro who is wise at the first of the show is a fool at the end. The Count is a fool throughout but wiser at the end. Enlightenment theater indeed.

The more extreme the treatment that Regietheater directors use the less universal are the results.

Opera stars are loosing hundreds of thousands per year because production runs are shorter and shorter, because the public stays away. Every major opera singer has lost at least 100,000 dollars this year or has seen their fees cut because of reduced demand.

So I will only take exception to your take on the Sellers production. I saw it in Purchase and felt it was very traditional but modern. The West End - Madison Avenue class war were still disrespectful within the context of respect.

This will go on until the children of Hitler destroy their own world. But why opera? Without intelligent directors no one knows what a theater piece means. The important moments do not happen on a stage by themselves. It takes intelligence to see what is important. One has to overcome the ego of players who are trying to make themselves important instead of the work itself.

Great directors such as Tony Palmer understood this. They would kill to find a great set designer who would give the scene meaning, within the context of the physical space. Creating context is the role of a great director.

Regietheater is, perhaps, the result of Hitler's children's fixation on themselves. That is something they share with Hitler. Hitler was, after all, the greatest of all opportunists. He seized on the lowest common denominator of his time (race) and used it to find the common bond with others who were suffering. Directors in the Regietheater tradition are trying to find the most insufferable in human character in order to display what they do not have in common with their public or humankind.
The point is that Regietheater can inspire us if its practioners are willing to try harder. If not, it should not be paid for and the people who practice it are as unstable as Führer was in his time.

If Success is when everyone is inspired, it makes you wonder why it would not be "justifiable" homicide to kill off Regietheater instead of the operatic art. This scalping of the classical arts is a Holocaust for intelligence, beauty and art.

I will close with a quote from a modern play with an uncommon amount of common sense.

“There are four questions of value in life... What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”
Don Juan deMarco (1995)


Thank goodness for Heather MacDonald. Too few point out that the Emperor has no clothes. The complete abandonment of musical values among so many modern directors makes my blood boil.