Cher Public

Nur wer Douche das Freyer spricht

treleavenBefore the Los Angeles Ring cycle has even begun, two of the leading singers have thrown director Achim Freyer under the bus. Particular non-collegial is leather-larynxed heldentenor John Treleaven, who blames his crappy singing on the production, but the mot du jour is: “Domingo was out of town and unavailable to answer questions.” [Los Angeles Times]

Photo: Monika Rittershaus

  • mrmyster

    A.P.T. -- Dennis Russell Davies conducting Weber’s
    Der Freischutz? Whoa! That will be revealing — but
    it’s not a bad cast; maybe I’ll pop for it.


    The first time I saw it, I was disappointed — bare stage, no dirndls, no happy peasants. It was my first experience with non-traditional methodology. Then I saw it again about two weeks ago; in retrospect it didn’t look so bad.

  • Melot's Younger Brother

    I’ve seen all four parts of the LA Ring and will be going to the complete cycle in mid-June. At first, I was not impressed; but as it unfolded the concept grew on me. It is pure Kabuki and for the most part, it works. Occasionally silly, but it works.

    As for the tenor and soprano in question, how do they explain their lousy singing when they were paired in “Tristan” here two years. No Achim Freyer in sight then.

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield
    “Was it reining?”

    Reining was simply not in the same class of Marschallins as dear Joan Cross or today’s Janice Watson.


      Ah HAH ! At last I know identity of Rev. Hush. I’ve had a suspicion for some time but now I’m sure.

  • La Marchesa Attavanti

    I realize I’m joining this party late, but I think the recently popular practice of blabbing to the press dissing a production you’re performing in (or have just performed in) is disgusting, unprofessional bullshit. If you’ve signed the contract and you’re getting paid, then you’re a part of the production and you commit to it and make the best of it.

    I also think Treleaven is lucky to get paid to sing anywhere. He and Wolfgang Schmidt should sing the “Cat Duet” together because they have the vocal beauty and musicality of a pair of alley cats.

    • The Vicar of John Wakefield

      Couldn’t agree less. Treleavan’s unflagging rhythmic energy and healthily masculine sound evoke the best traditions of such supreme Wagnerians as Mitchinson and Remedios. Plus, Our Own Ian Storey is coming along to carry the standard forward. British IS best!

      • Harry

        Vicar I for once have to agree on a point. Remedios as Siegfried was indeed ‘the perfect voice’ for it…beside Windgassen. I met him once, and found him a nice self- unassuming man. And while we are about singers defending their principles, Remedios actually did it nicely one night at an opening night of Fidelio when he was singing with Ruth Falcon. The ‘local’ conductor was an absolute fuck-wit and spiteful to boot. As singers they jointly decided to take the final Leonora & Florestan sections one way, the correct way -- the conductor another. It was easy to see that this was no spur of the moment decision. This conductor was known for always finding cranky ‘differences’ inside a score. At curtain call, the conductor raced on stage and was furiously heading for Ruth Falcon. Remedios gallantly stepped forward nose to nose and barred his way. I am sure if this twit tried anything, Remedios would have socked him back into the orchestra pit. This terribly minor conductor, one never ever hears of today. Karma!

  • MontyNostry

    TVoJW — what about Commonwealth artist Simon O’Neill?

    • manou

      Indeed! He was very impressive as a late replacement in the Colin Davis concert Otello (with Finley).

    • The Vicar of John Wakefield

      Also a fine young artist. I hear more of Widdop in his singing, though.

    • Lily Bart

      I dig Simon O’Neill, too. I just ordered his brand new Wagner scenes & arias disc, “Father and son,” on EMI.

  • Byrnham Woode

    I have to agree with the Vicar somewhat. Alberto Remedios was among the finest Siegfrieds of the postwar era, and his recording of the part -- live -- is among the best ever available.

    I think highly of Ian Storey’s recent TRISTAN video from LaScala, and wish him well in a difficult repertory. Mitchinson I only know from an early BEATRICE ET BENEDICTD recording with dubious French, but fine style and from a very different repertory indeed, singing Tristan for Goodall’s underrated recording. I like his Tristan, though it doesn’t efface memories (both live and recorded) of singers such as Windgassen, Thomas, Vickers, Dean Smith and Heppner.

  • La Marchesa Attavanti

    I think there’s a huge difference between Remedios (didn’t see him live in Wagner, but did see him as Don Carlo and as the false Dmitri) or Ian Storey, both real singers and musicians, and the very nasty sounding (at least to my ear) Treleaven. I’m looking forward to Storey’s Siegfried and Stemme’s Brünnhilde in the SF “Ring” next year (of which we’ll get a preview of Stemme’s Brünnhilde in the “Walküre” next month).

  • That Guy

    Ha, I laughed out loud at the suggestion that the singers should have gone to AGMA with their issues. It’s a chorus union, nothing else. The last production I was in (major ‘A’ house in the US), in rehearsals when the chorus wasn’t there the director would ask ‘you guys don’t really need a break yet, do you?’ Of course nobody wanted to be That Guy and stand up for themselves, and no union rep comes to rehearsals unless the chorus is there, so we got steamrolled.

    Regarding $$$: For those who are curious to know, yes, the fees some singers command might seem pretty good, but in general it is a very tough road for most freelancing singers. Almost everyone I know (except for the singing housewives as I like to call them) has been through a bankruptcy, foreclosure, or similar. Most just quit after it becomes apparent they will never get ahead in this business. There is money at the top, but also a lot of people trying to take your money.

    As far as tattling to the press… I agree that in general the proper theater protocol would be to keep your mouth shut during rehearsals and performances. However, in an exceptional circumstance such as this, I can’t say that I blame a singer for wanting to protect their image and reputation by providing a statement of facts to the press. It’s a risky move, but this production seems quite extreme.

    • Byrnham Woode

      AGMA needs to look to itself, then. It’s members certainly do include soloists, including leading artists, as well as small part players likely to be kept waiting at long rehearsals.

      If a particular “local” is taking it’s chorus duties seriously, but neglecting safety and work issues that principals may have, then someone needs to step up to the plate.

      I’m active in Actors’ Equity, and can assure you that the raked stage in use for the LA RING would have been scrutinized closely before being approved. Equity also pioneered a study of stage smoke and fog over a decade ago. It has become an industry standard, and I think is even referenced by OSHA. Again, if a production is using smoke & fog, the union has every right to insure that it is safe for singers to breath the stuff while trying to sing -- particularly over a Wagnerian orchestra and while negotiating a 10% rake.

  • iltenoredigrazia

    That Guy, you remind me of our old friend The Interpolator.

  • Harry

    Mummy ! Can I have that new game called The Ring or something….for my Wii or is it on PlayStation 3? It is probably discounted right now, down at Wal-Mart. It looks real super, with lasers and funny people like Super-Mario and the creatures like cool dragon-shit on it make funny noises…. and I heard it cost California (probably Silicone Valley) 32 million bucks to make it.

    • havfruen

      No, you can’t, unless you promise to wipe the TV screen clean of the tomatoes that will be tossed at it!

    • Henry Holland

      No, it cost the County of Los Angeles, of which I’m a resident, $14 million in bail out funds. I wish they hadn’t bothered…..

      Silicone Valley? What? That’s actually part of the problem with Los Angeles Opera, that they can’t --and won’t ever-- find a way to tap in to Hollywood money in any substantial way. The Philharmonic has been trying for decades and I think they finally gave up. The movie and record industries (whatever’s left of that) are their own islands and the opera and symphony are downtown, they might as well be in Silicone Valley for all the impact it has.

      • havfruen

        Could you elaborate please? As a former LA County resident ( and LA times reader) I try to keep up.
        I must have missed something -- did this production get direct tax-payer money?
        Do you think things would have turned out differently if an opera company had been started back when all those wonderful European emigres(sp) came to Southern California and got work in the movie studios?

        • A. Poggia Turra

          Wanna buy a bridge?

        • A. Poggia Turra

          Only if the bridge leads to swamp land… :D :D

        • Henry Holland

          Of course things would have turned out differently, for one simple reason: LA Opera has only existed since 1986, before that it was all false starts and importing productions from elsewhere (NYCO and San Francisco, mainly). If those emigres had started something that lasted, that’s another 40 years of company history, of institutional memory.

    • papopera

      This production is blasphemy, singers should unite and refuse to participate in such a circus.

  • La Valkyrietta

    Opera is strange these days. Can you imagine Adelina Patti being told she has to wear a mask and she can’t hear a thing? I think the director would have ended up in the guillotine, or at least in the trash dumps of Pigalle.

    I try to make an effort to understand modern stuff. I think the new concept is that opera houses are like art galleries, there are new exhibits there, opera is just the background music. Interesting, it provides the title and the theme, but not essential.

    My problem is, isn’t music an art that should be held in equal importance with sculpture and painting and the other visual arts? Didn’t the Greeks hold music highly? Didn’t people in Syracuse went out of their way obtaining from sailors fresh from Athens the latest verses and songs written by Euripides? Were not words and music important to the Greeks?

    I love visuals, but why have them be so important as to interfere with everything else? Isn’t that a travesty?

    This Ring is a pity. I don’t blame the singers. If they eventually complained -it is irrelevant if they are being paid or not- it is because they find they are involved in a horror show. Wagner’s Ring is a fabulous thing, and in the past I have seen people like Stewart, Nilsson, Vickers, Rysanek, Ludwid, Crespin, Jones, Karajan, Levine, etc., etc., involved in it and producing fabulous evenings for the audience. What is this necessary visual thing that is risking life and limb from singers, and is preventing them from hearing? Why is this important? Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. Perhaps all of this is just a trick of advertising, to make waves and get people interesting in going there. Well, honey, I’m not taking a plane to LA to see no Ring, no way, thank you.

    • Adelina Patti also performed barely half the music Verdi wrote when she sang La traviata, and some of what was left transposed: so what’s your point?

      • La Valkyrietta

        Well, Verdi greatly admired Patti, who had a very wide vocal range. My point is that Patti would not sing Violetta dressed as Jason in Friday the XIIIth. but would try to fit the role.

        Two centuries ago, singers took liberties with the score that they do not today. Some singers even had composers write specially thinking of their voices, but then singers were not a prop in an art exhibit.

        My point is that the music and words of an opera today seem to be non-important today, or secondary, and the visual aspect created by a director seems to command top priority.

        • armerjacquino

          ‘My point is that the music and words of an opera today seem to be non-important today, or secondary’

          Yes, and la Cieca’s point was that the music is these days treated with a great deal more respect than in the ‘Golden Age’.

          You can’t accept that people messed around with the score and then in the same breath say ‘ah, but music was important then’.

        • havfruen

          I think LV has a valid point. Messing with the score when the composer is alive is one thing, doing it when he ( or immediate musical heirs) isn’t around to defend himself is another.
          Sometimes it seems that opera has been reduced to cinema with the music and singing as the “sound track”. Surely opera could be contemporized ( made up word) in a different direction.

        • La Valkyrietta

          I do think I have a point, but I will not bet my life on it.

          Let me see, and take Violetta as an example. In the XIXth century, as far as I know, everybody who assumed the role wanted to convey the impression of a lady of easy virtue who falls in love with a young man from a bourgeois family with conventional values. That life situation leads to certain emotions that the music attempts to express in its unique way. A singer in that century might take liberties with certain notes but it is all within the general situation that the composer dealt with.

          Today you might have a stage representing some abstract painting and if it suits that painting that the soprano be, for example, a Joan Miro figure, be it a little insect, or a rubber ball, then so be it. It is not important that the soprano sings, “dunque a la misera che un di caduta, di piu risorgere speranza e muta…” in a most convincing way. Those words are secondary to the visuals. It does not matter if the singer really conveys an emotion musically, but it does matter she fit into the visual disposition of the stage. If that visual disposition asks for the singer to look like Jason in Friday the 13th, then that is important.

          At the time of Patti, that would be unheard of. If some director wanted a soprano to dress as Quasimodo for Traviata, well, that director would be disposed of. In my opinion, no matter how Adelina tampered with a note here and there, Verdi would be on her side.

          Of course I might be wrong, and I definitely don’t want La Cieca to hate me. I just wonder if I will ever understand a modern fashion in opera productions that I don’t find to my taste.

        • I think your argument is sincere, but I still believe it’s reductive. You keep saying “Quasimodo” and “prop in an art exhibit,” first, as if there were really directors who are presenting Traviata in those visual terms, and, second, as if “Violetta looks like Quasimodo” is the one and only idea that might go into a director’s vision for a work.

          Both of these I think are flawed arguments. The first is I think a strawman but it does represent in its absurd exaggerated form something that I think you do find true, which is that there is a very limited range of visual presentation that is valid to a given classic opera. I think you want the dramatic presentation of the opera to be more or less transparent, i.e., it should be a sort of wallpaper or background for the music.

          Now, I don’t agree. I think the words and music can co-exist with a contrasting visual element, and, in fact, the very dissonance between unfamiliar visual and familiar music can be stimulating.

          I think it’s significant that there’s a big split of opinion on the merit’s of Freyer’s Ring production between those who have already seen the individual operas performed and those who know of the production only through hearsay and a few photographs. True, there are a few “horned helmet” types who are essentially never going to like anything unless it looks like the old Victor Book of the Opera (just as there are going to be a few who will refuse to go to Norma until Ponselle is reincarnated), but here and elsewhere audience members have said that the Freyer vision is intriguing, that it does in fact suit the music well, and that it helps reinforce a sense of mystery and dream that they believe in inherent in the music.

          This is not to say everyone likes it, or that it speaks to everyone (which is not the same thing), or that the singers find the production particularly interesting or rewarding to perform. But at least some people who have seen the component parts of this cycle say that it’s a better fit for the music than a more literal and predictable production.

          I’m finally going to say that I think a lot of the talk about “respect for the composer’s intentions” is a smokescreen for expressing one’s own selfish personal desires, not unlike the relative who insists, “dear Aunt Tessie would have wanted you to preserve the house exactly as she had it and she would turn over in her grave if she knew you were painting her drawing room that hideous shade of taupe.” Dear old Aunt Tessie (just like dear old Giuseppe Verdi) is dead how, so her intentions have to be weighed against the needs of those of us who are still among the living.

          Aunt Tessie’s house wasn’t designed as a museum (presumably); it was meant to be a comfortable and functional place where a family can live. Similarly, Verdi never intended Traviata to be treated as an antique.

        • armerjacquino

          I’d say it’s pretty important that the soprano shouldn’t sing ‘dunque a la misera’ at all, given that the opera calls for her to sing ‘cosi alla misera’.

          Yes, yes, cheap perhaps, but it shows the same disregard for the work as written as the dive who took liberties with the score. I don’t see why that isn’t the same kind of insult to Verdi that LV accuses directors of.


          Curious that La Cieca ends with the statement, “Verdi never intended La Traviata to be treated as an antique.” That implies for me at least that “the composer’s intention” can be invoked with some validity at least from time to time.

          There is, however, another word which has helped to clarify why some of us feel we are butting our heads against a stone wall on this subject. “the very dissonance . . . can be stimulating.” Must every production “stimulate”? May not some theatre productions soothe, clarify, obfuscate, enhance, disturb, provoke, incite to violence, or pacify, etc. An opera-goer buying a ticket to “Die Fledermaus” with the expectation of being lightly entertained — and I would be most interested in hearing the arguments from those who felt Strauss intended anything other — is going to feel somewhat put off if he is confronted with a polemic against euthanasia. Do we as an audience not have rights as well? We are willing to be led but resent being herded.

        • Must every production “stimulate”?

          Well, in some sense, yes, a production should make the audience think, or, let’s be broad-minded here, should anyway make the audience feel. But your “every” strongly implies an either/or: that is, you act as if you think you may never again see a Traviata with hoopskirts and antimacassars.

          That’s just not true. The Traviata that’s coming to the Met next season is the first non-traditional production of the work ever seen in the Met’s history — one production out of 10. To put it another way, the opera has been done “straight” 952 times at this theater. How exactly is it going to hurt anyone to do it a little differently for a dozen or so performances over the next couple of years?

          Or take a look at the gallery of recent Traviata performances on the site Easily recognizable “period” Traviatas outnumber oddball productions by about six to one. If you just randomly drop into a performance of Traviata somewhere in the world, then, you have something like an 85% chance you are going to see almost exactly what you expect to see when the curtain goes up. Oh, it might be bustles instead of crinolines, and the bed in the last act might be stage right instead of stage left, but it’s still going to be that same Traviata.

          So I don’t understand the panic that we will never see “Verdi’s intentions” ever again, even if we knew what Verdi’s intentions were in detail. (One thing we do know is that for the first 30 years of the performance history of Traviata Verdi never saw the work done in 19th century costume: so much for “intentions.”)

  • Harry

    How many times have we seen opera companies get too big for their breeches? Over time, they attract parasitic forces to be in control who do not take or see reason…and the venture goes over the financial cliff. A cloud of bullshit dust arises not only from its impact, but from the powers in control starting the ‘damage control to their reputations, and hide’. As they scurry away off the sinking opera company ship, they steered.

    I think it rather incongruous, for people to protest that some singer may take some liberties with a composer’s music in an opera, while arguing at the same time that director twits have got the right to fuck an entire opera (or set of operas in the case of the Ring) from stem to stern.I.E: The Ring is Wagners’ Ring,… not Feyers’ or anyone else’s! A singer can be replaced easily if management or the audience disapprove or protest at their antics.. How in the hell do you quickly replace a very expensive entire production?
    Ask any singer who has ever been asked to sing in an opera- with a mask on, on stage….the answers are always the same. These being physical disorientation and then, a complete failure to allow a singer, their natural personal sense of vocal projection.
    How long before head microphones are needed for a cast due to the design ideas and demands of some individual director? Don’t laugh….changing times did exactly that, to Broadway shows. A place where once, if they could not hear you in the back rows it was a case at auditions of “Thank you, we will call you…”(perhaps????!!!!)

    I will now go out on a limb. Other than a few instances, I do not want to see some production live, or on DVD, HD Video, TV etc. whatsoever. Especially when it is shown over and over again. To me, the repeat visuals usually kill opera for me. I do not want some director ramming it at me: this sense that ‘according to ME -this is the meaning of this or that opera, and what it is all about’. More often than not, they hate opera and are doing this direction ‘gig’ to add to their ever varied work resume. Mindful of self promotion and spin-off opportunities: it can become ‘a case of -- be noticed while they are doing it -- by shitting on it in disdain -- and creating a passing sensation, for their own advantage’…..

    Give me the music and the words……my imagination will do the rest, thank you. Sound recordings do it! I can change aspects of the ‘setting’ in my mind’s eye, every time I listen to it, to fit my own taste.
    It has been shown(much to the chagrin of many, here) that absolute correct critical memory of a particular sound lasts exactly about 30 seconds. So in strict terms when the opera is over , it is also ‘over’. If opera managements want to keep hiring egotistical nut cases to direct , go ahead. Bring the whole chaotic archaic shooting match down. Then they might start to get some common sense and rebuild the Art form.

    • cosmodimontevergine

      Sorry Harry but your thesis isn’t very cogently argued. You are substituting invective for reason. What would account for the success of directors like Achim Fryer and Calixto Bieito if they were merely egotistical nut cases?


        Perhaps, Cosmo, I could offer my bridge to you. How do you account for the career of a Josh Logan who was quite inept but kept getting high profile assignments? Is Zsa Zsa Gabor a great actress? Does Sarah Palin show the mental capacity we expect of our leaders? Excellence is not always rewarded, nor is incompetence always debased. It is easy enough to get a reputation for being “cutting edge” and from then on it’s clear sailing.

  • Carney

    The stage for LA’s Ring is raked at 30 degrees, not 14. I wonder where the LA Times got their inaccurate figure.

  • La Valkyrietta

    Sorry for not quoting Piave’s words accurately, but even singers sometimes make those mistakes, even with prompters. I disagree this shows disrespect for Verdi on my part, just lack of time to check the libretto, or the onset of Alzheimer’s :). Besides, I’m not going to sing the opera, or create a production. Were I to do that, I would probably learn all the words accurately by heart, something sometimes I doubt is the case with many directors.

    Thanks La Cieca for the patience and time explaining what for me are unnecessary eccentricities of some modern directors. I admit I have not seen Fryer’s Ring, only the clips available here and there on the Internet, and photos. I frankly don’t find the dissonance between the familiar music and unfamiliar visuals stimulating, I find it rather unpleasant. The vision that gives some a sense of mystery and dream, and that I find in the music, I do not find in the clashing visuals, rather a sense of tampering and a nightmarish feeling. Some I find silly, some grotesque, none pertinent. Even watching the clips with no sound I get a sense of being in the presence of a bad cartoon. Perhaps if I did not know it was Wagner’s Ring I would find some of those images visually interesting, but not the ones with neon swords. I’m willing to admit I’m not hip.

    I do tend to agree with Harry in most of what he says, even about watching opera in movies. I do it out of necessity, but I am constantly conscious of my resentment at a director choosing the close ups and angles.

    I think if managers and directors like muppets, they should write a new opera with them as characters. Broadway did it with Avenue Q. Maybe in the future someone might want to do a ‘clever’ production of Gypsy that will be intended to be stimulating by locating it, for example, in another galaxy and having the strippers be comet riders and Rose a red giant star, but what would be the point? Or some movie director could take Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and put it in Viet Nam. Would that add value to the work? I prefer a director that accepts the work he has to direct and does not tamper with its content. To be able to find expression inside that straightjacket, that is real creativity. Of course, it is possible Bieito and Fryer do have some merit and I just have a block that prevents me from seeing it. I think in a hundred years people will still be listening to Wagner’s Ring, but will now know who Fryer or Bieito were. I grant you I might be wrong, but maybe not.

  • M

    We’re talking about singers, and directors, and singers’ opinions of directors, and directors’s ideas of what to do with old pieces, and we’re amusing ourselves with the notion that what we’re doing is urgent: fecund; modern.

    There’s no modernity without new work.

    The “dissonance” that LaC mentions is stimulating, as far as it goes. But—given that (simply to confine ourselves to Anglophone directors) Sellars’ interpretations are 20-30 years old—isn’t it time to admit that “as far as it goes” isn’t very far?

    Regietheatre and all the worrying about it suddenly shrinks to the margins when confronted with a new piece dealing--in text and score--with the way we live now. It’s only when a piece is overexposed to the point of banality that the masks and the wigs become important. “Dead Man Walking,” “Little Women,” “Nixon in China” are three American pieces—none older than 30--that are playing, somewhere, in the world right now. You think anyone feels the need to set them on Mars?

    We’re either serious about opera as vital, generative drama or we are not. If we are, we have to admire Regietheatre—or, even, LaC’s respect for its “dissonant” potential—merely as a way of pointing up that opera, at its most robust, has been a contemporary theatrical form, not a diorama of the long ago and far away. When La Traviata was introduced, it took its place with two other Verdi revivals and two other recent Italian works—that is to say, it was the premiere in an all-contemporary season. Shouldn’t that remind us of something?

    In an healthy era, the clothes and the gossip matter less than the pieces. And--for all the enthusiasm on this blog for the ‘new”—the interest in the REALLY new—new work—is strikingly scant. The national press on Heggie’s new Moby-Dick has been substantial. Seattle Opera just introduced a new commission. And we’ve generated 6 pages of commentary on the rake and the wigs and the masks for a piece we know, and know, and know.


      Very apt, M, and well stated.

      • M

        Thank you, B_A_B.

    • Henry Holland

      Very interesting post, M.

      And–for all the enthusiasm on this blog for the ‘new”—the interest in the REALLY new—new work—is strikingly scant

      Where I’d disagree is that you mention Jake Heggie’s stuff after that and, having heard all of his operas, they are not New in any way, shape or form. They are safely tonal, conventional operas that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1920’s alongside Puccini and Strauss. Adamo’s is the same and except for the chug-chug-chug minimalist aspect, Adams operas are utterly tame as well. Note: I love Nixon in China despite finding most of the rest of Adams output utterly cringe-inducingly bad and the Adamo is a lovely opera that well deserves its many performances. Heggie, well…..

      I long ago gave up hope that the post-tonal stuff I love like Lear, Die Soldaten, Moses und Aron and L’amour de Loin are ever going to get the audiences they deserve. What I find really depressing though is how tough a road fabulous operas by Schreker, Korngold, Zemlinsky, Busoni, Hindemith, D’albert, Respighi and so many others face, for thoroughly tonal operas brimming with *gasp* TUNES OH MY GOD THEY HAVE TUNES!!! *gasp*

      The American opera audience is hideously conservative overall, if it’s not Mozart, 19th century Italian stuff, Puccini or Wagner, it’s instantly suspicious. I’ve mentioned this before, but when I can walk out of a performance of Peter Grimes, as conservative and safe a 20th century opera can be and people are bitching because “there’s no tunes!” [a lie] and “it’s atonal!” [a total lie], then I despair. England is the same way, pretty much, France and Italy as well, it really seems as if only German-speaking Europe has a taste for the new and the New.

      • M

        Thanks, HH, for this thoughtful reply: yet--by the simplest definition—of course, Heggie’s piece is new, if only because it was just introduced this month, as was Hagen’s in Seattle, as will Jorge Martin’s piece on Before Night Falls be at Fort Worth in the coming weeks. But I’m struck by the notion--implicit in your response—that crazy new avant-garde costumes are ridiculous because they risk the arbitrary and the inhumane, and yet new music must reinvent the wheel--MUST risk the arbitrary and inhumane-- in order to make it into the conversation. (Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, in her magisterial Verdi biography, reminds us that Verdi, in may critical circles, was considered insufficiently new: the smart money was on Meyerbeer.) And let us not ignore that a huge part of what we consider tunefulness is mere familiarity and repetition. Which is the more angular: “Come scoglio: or “Things change, Jo,” from Little Women?

        It is a certainly a fair criticism of some contemporary composers that they seem to have given up even competing in the realm of memorable, architectural theme: is there any compelling vocal shape (as opposed to many beautifully elaborated pedal points) in Saarijaho? But more and more of the contemporary opera writers I’ve heard over the past twenty years are trying to reclaim and advance a centrist and sophisticated melodic tradition (because melody-making is a real, and rare, form of musical sophistication) while still trying to speak to the way we live now and how that sounds. Obviously not every piece is going to be a masterpiece, or even good: but Verdi’s experience is again relevant here, as--in that Traviata premiere season--his Ernani was rushed in as a replacement for a premiere (Bosoni’s La prigioniera) that had opened in such fiasco it was pulled before a second performance.

        I’d welcome a conversation about why, or why not, tonal or post-tonal scores deserve an audience. (Even the wonderful scores you cite don’t really address this problem, because they, too, come from long ago and far away; just Not As.) New opera—new from the ground (or ground-bass) up--just seems more germane to the future of the art than Linda Watson’s wigs, and how much or little she likes them. I wonder if the present is the best hope the past has. if ENOUGH composers write new and immediate, if not always deathless works, and directors collaborate with those new writers on compelling productions, it seems much more likely that the new audiences such endeavors will attract will return to see, say, such a director’s take on Manon (which may be a entirely new piece to them, given our current cultural and educational practices.) If not, how long do we have, really? How long, in our brutally unsentimental populist culture, can the world’s most expensive performing art run on fumes?

    • “Regietheatre and all the worrying about it suddenly shrinks to the margins when confronted with a new piece dealing–in text and score–with the way we live now. ”

      The part of this sentence that jumped out at me is ‘the way we live now’… Little Women is Civil War era, Dead Man Walking is the 80s, and Nixon In China is the 70s. Hardly the way we live now. And Moby Dick, which one of my friends just saw and loved so much he’s seeing it again, is 19th Century. Emmaline is 19th Century. Enron, not an opera, but relevant to now in that the greed and malfeasance certainly have parallels in Goldman Sachs, is more contemporary than most new operas are. Modern music does not a modern opera necessarily make, any more than older operas necessitate older style productions. To echo La Cieca, We debate this as if it’s either/or and one side has to win and the other has to lose. The real winners in this debate are audiences who may not always like what they (in either style…the bland Puritani with Trebs, or some of the regieopera we’ve seen photos of here)… but are drawn into the world of opera as participants. Isn’t it invigorating for all of us to have this discussion? It means we have choices. If the Met only did traditional productions, some of us would be lamenting the dearth of new ideas and fresh blood. If it went all regie all the time, we’d be lamenting the traditional works. This we have a balance.

      • Straussmonster

        Not quite Enron, but the first scene of the third act of Lulu did seem particularly relevant to the Met audience the night that I was there, judging by the reaction to some of the text. That said, I am always willing to give new works a try, and hope composers tackle current issues in artistically interesting and compelling ways.

      • manou

        So -- how did it go Sanford?

      • M

        Agreed, Sanford, about the balance issue. But surely we can agree that Dead Man Walking, in its political landscape (the death penalty) and twentieth-century characters and milieu (an electric chair is written into the script) gets closer to “the way we live now” than the droit-de-seigneur world of Figaro? The Bonesetter’s Daughter was a substantial success for San Francisco. The reviews for Amelia, about a daughter dealing with the legacy of her father’s Vietnam service, have been good. Aren’t these part of the solution?

        Alongside that, if what we’re looking for in Regietheatre is a contemporary interpretation of timeless issues embedded in the work of another period, can’t such an interpretation begin with a modern musical take on a Civil-War era story, as in Little Women (and, presumably, Moby-Dick?)

        We’re living in the only, only era of opera where we’re trying to do mostly old pieces but still survive as a contemporary theatre. One worries…

        • Droit de seigneur may not be relevant but how many times to we see stories about athletes/business men/politicians sexaully harassing women on their staffs? Nozze, updated to an office setting would still make valid points about the use of position to abuse women.

          As for my recital, well, OMG!!!!! It was amazing. I was in really good voice, the acoustics of this church (very gay-friendly Episcopal church in the West Village, rebuilt after a fire specifically to have great acoustics for music) are amazing. Two women from the church were there and I’ve been invited back to more recitals there whenever I want, and maybe sing with them on Sundays (they did the Mozart Requiem yesterday). Two of my facebook friends came, one a critic and the other a Met star, and both gave me the impression it went really well. It has been recorded and will be available. And I got asked for a bis!

  • squirrel

    Not quite Enron, but there was a bernie madoff character -- an uncanny resemblance!

    It’s honorable to wish for a more contemporary repertoire, but it’s essentially a dead language, so that might be asking for too much. Might be a better gamble to invest in a thoughtful approach to those dusty old canonicals upon which the house was built.

  • Harry

    How many times have we witnessed this hoary soap opera plot? Some ‘ratty-minded’ regie director (Mr Regie) comes along and is commissioned. ‘He has successfully sold ‘his spiel’ to the producers. He has some reputation…not necessarily associated with Opera.A field that DEMANDS experience in every field of the performing arts. Who cares if he is tone -deaf? Leave all that to the conductor to work out with the singers…right? Mr Regie works with a set designer and the work is ready for rehearsal. THEN, too often, it is seen the fool does not know the opera, as well as he is running into trouble with that central concept idea of his. Wild conflicts and contradictions with the text are appearing from everywhere, throughout the score. Is he called to account by the producers when conductors or singers knowing every bar of the opera , complain? Most usually not. The producers with egg on their face are too busy protecting their own administrative arses, from employing -- instead of firing the creep. Duck-shoving the blame on everything but the director. The handed down mantra to performers becomes “You cannot take direction”. A most humiliating mortal sin accusation to any performer. Powerless , and in order to save face and their own reputation -usually an announcement of ‘performers’ illness’ is the only way out. Producers forget though, singers communicate amongst themselves. Shabby treatment leads them to tip offs to other performers (who, if possible): avoid a competing offer from such managements in the future. Opera singers of any worth just want to come, do what they were paid to do and leave -- and certainly not be dragged into or embroiled in tacky ‘house and production politics’. They are not paid extra for the work threat of -having their reputation tarnished , whilst trying to do their job, are they?

    Any opera fan with long, long memories can recall many instances, given such examples of disputes and ructions….that before too long the casting standard at such opera houses ‘just tends to deteriorate somewhat’. Those that then accept engagements there,usually are second or third rate by any standards and ‘most accommodating’ people glad to get a meal ticket. Standards wain. Comment picks up.

    The brass blaring media bull shit slogan of an opera company then becomes something like ‘Setting a new course’. The ignorant onlookers of course, put it all down to changing artistic influences and outlook . Not stopping for a moment to examine what forces are really at play. This altered tangent ,which is nothing more than masqueraded rot, weak administration and decay at play -- inside a company- is probably still there in control. And the next episode of ‘soap-opera’ continues…..

    A classic parallel for this situation is already contained in a opera of all things. Remember the plot of Hans Werner Henze’s The Young Lord where a monkey is introduced to the people as ‘a high born’? Sure it was not some Mr Regie?


      Tell it like it is, Harry ! ! !

      Been there, done that ! ! !

    • armerjacquino

      Directors must get so tired gaining the ‘experience in every field of the performing arts’ that opera apparently DEMANDS.

      I’ve never been a mime or a folk singer. Am I still allowed to direct opera please?

      So many sweeping, ill-considered statements.

      • Harry

        amerjacquino: “So many ill conceived statements”, is that what you are saying ? How fucking ‘smug’ and disdainful it sounds.
        Well I wish to inform you they are taken from personal real life experiences when I was a performers’ agent meeting those inexperienced jerks in casting offices. Who -- I might add -- if sounded out, actually knew less about theatre, drama, music or its casting demands than ….what their arse looked like, the last time they shoved their head between their legs and checked it, if it was actually there!
        Perhaps ome young gum chewing in her 20’s -- feminist twit with all the power, might be sitting there in control.You would be presenting the resume of an artist who also presently then, happened to be also active in opera. You also point out (if they checked the resume -to note that the versatile person is completely experienced in lead roles in heavy straight drama ( from their days in English Repertory)…that they co starred with a world famous star (you would all know, here!) in the premiere run of a famous musical later made into a film,who then took over that star’s role on stage. That the composer even later designated this same person to direct later productions of it….that this person had worked under the likes of Hal Prince…..that this person’s photo from one production, actually appears in a world famous published theater book. Fine?

        It meant nothing to this casting creep.
        The off-hand answer from this twit….(Quote) “But I don’t believe that opera singers can act”.

        So ever since, from having still more similar experiences of this type -- I have come to the identical opinion about jerks ‘out of their own depths’ who have never shown any interest in serious forms of music whatsoever in their travels -‘taking on directing work in musical areas’.
        That’s democratically fair amerjacquino, I would think.
        ‘Everybody play in their correct ball park’.

        What does that above mentioned straight -productions company actually produce? I think I am experienced enough to know, amerjacquino. I took note once back through the period of the 1980’s. I sat through the following consecutive 27 productions, this production company mounted in various theaters! I could tell immediately after curtain up ,without resort to program notes -which director directed it just by their ‘style histrionics’, that they had individually used.
        As well as noticing the TV style of acting that was creeping in….you know ..the ‘face to face’ shouting confrontations, then perhaps followed by a struggle …what I christened as … an acted out ‘scream fuck between two people’. The actors most probably came via acting in T.V anyway, and thought they were giving a prize -winning performance. What dumb bastards they were, making such complete fool of themselves.. for nothing. !
        Talk about monotonous tired ‘having an on stage- thespian movement’, in full view of the audience, please!’

        Now let’s take this reactive argument and push it to its fullest limits.
        W.T.F is some un-musical ‘straight’ fool doing being hired to put on some ‘screwed concept’ performance of Opera. They usually are not fans of Opera, nor have any appreciation of the demands placed upon an opera singer, during any production. That direction and stage movement has to firstly, co-ordinates : to fit in, with passages of music…is just as quite recently we were even told- ‘not some director’s concern in L.A’. The fact that some composer explicitly ‘inside the music’ is pointing: to characterization, incident, mood, situation, contradiction, or aspects of the overall plot, suggesting, hinting -etc whatever,….go over so many of these clots’ heads. You sit there and see some golden opportunity ‘that was there’ during a performance It is staring the director in the face to bring everything together. The music,the singing,stage movement, stage set / prop movement, a gesture, a look … at a critical culminating moment…..and you see the infuriating clumsy director ‘blow it’ into amateurishness. The more it is noticeable, let alone plain dumb childish and intrusively self indulgent -- the anger grows.

        Everything you see in a live opera should be from a person understanding and anticipating while wanting to cover and compliment each point: gliding in and out as a production progresses, without taking the attention away from the music or the singers performing it. It requires dedicated study and pre-planning. By creating a firm foundation of various ideas and how to apply them in order: to form with respect -a musical visual cohesive ‘totality’. Though being driven, INVISIBLY by this overseer observing ‘driver’- the director. The true compliment to a director is ‘How did they achieve and pull off such a seamless thought -through realization?’. Too often it is a case of W.T.F did he think he was doing?’

        Then W.T,F are straight directors doing trying to direct these operatic ‘non-actors’ to accept their direction.


          Oh God, Harry, thank you, thank you. Yes, yes, ever-fucking YES!

  • La Valkyrietta

    I think what I find repulsive in regie is sort of what I find repulsive in a painting of Mona Lisa with a mustache. It is an abuse that defaces but does not create something to my mind worth while. On the other hand, the paintings Picasso made in 1957 inspired on Velazquez’ Las Meninas I find harmonious, intriguing and pleasing. Based on the famous painting, he created a new painting that contrasts with the original, but does not just deface it, it uses its inspiration to create a complete and satisfying work.

    Maybe regie opera is just a transition, and we will eventually see people tampering with the music and story of a famous opera, to create a modern work inspired on the famous opera, but a new work that can completely stand on its own. La traviata might become La truncata, and not have exactly the same music, but modern music inspired on the Verdi work that will remind you of it, but would be an original creation. I think if this is well done, I might like it, as I do like Picasso’s Las Meninas. The work will be difficult. An artist will be needed with the genius of Verdi and Picasso. In this hypothetical new work you can say, “Dunque a la miserabile figlia pagata del passato…” or some such thing, and if well done, it would not be offensive or disrespectful of Verdi.

    • Harry

      Just look at what those ‘conversion Artistes’ have done with Bizets Carmen, not only the to the opera, its plot but also its music. Starting back in the 50’s with Roland Petit’s ballet of Carmen.. all the way to Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones , Carlos Saura’s tango dance film Carmen…to even cheap ‘gym body movement / mod-trash ballet’ set in a modern car panel beating shop. Carmen I suppose is there: probably at the front counter , booking the cars in for smash repairs. Then gets into a fight with a woman customer, followed by being locked in the toilet for a while and then flees with one of the visiting car insurance assessors Anything is possible!
      I deserve the ‘Order of the Grand Medal of Regie -- Invention’ for that! Or if we wait a while here will be a ‘reggie’ version.

      • manou

        There is also Peter Brooks’ “La Tragédie de Carmen”.

  • La Valkyrietta

    How about “The Loves of Carmen”? That is a 1948 film I have not seen. A Rita Hayworth lacuna I have. The music is by a composer I generally like, Castelnuovo-Tedesco. I once heard him do some variations on something by Rossini that were a lot of fun. Oh well, if this Carmen is not to be taken seriously, it would at least be fun camp.