Cher Public

Hard gore

“In New York… opera directors don’t matter so much. In Europe, it’s another story: There, the director’s curtain call provokes the wildest excitement of the night.”

The long-awaited “Regie” piece by Our Own JJ appears in the New York Post.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Great piece. Can’t wait for Bieto’s MET debut. Dumb quote from Gelb.
    I prefer my gore this way: which was fine until we heard:

    • papopera

      Ja , ja, ja my favourite part of Lohengrin: Act II, the rest I can do without.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I vote Gorr.

  • phoenix


    • Quanto Painy Fakor

  • Conchita

    Christopher Alden is as regie as I can stand, and then only occasionally. It’s been said before, and worth repeating: respect the spirit of the opera, and don’t undermine the music.

  • I am all for experimentation but do we really want to import a 25 year old movement that has proved to be unsuccessful in gaining the respect of audiences? Does it really have to be better just because it comes from Europe?

    European audiences dislike it (I would say hate it, but…) for the most part. They boo it, they throw hatred at directors (again, for the most part) and we pine for the days that we get to see this in the US?

    I’m sorry but it doesn’t make sense to me. I agree that the movement for museum pieces = respecting the composer wishes we seem to be stuck with in the US is bullshit that need to be challenged but I do not see how a mostly failed movement is going to bring audiences to the opera house.

    Surely stage directors are intelligent enough to create something meaningful rather than copying each other, or worse, trying to outdo each other and call it original.

    • La marquise de Merteuil

      Couldn’t have said it better Lindoro.

    • Citations needed for that has proved to be unsuccessful in gaining the respect of audiences and for European audiences dislike it (I would say hate it, but…) for the most part. They boo it, they throw hatred at directors (again, for the most part

      Admittedly the European audiences have not achieved the pinnacle of sophistication of New Yorkers, where every performance, good, bad or mediocre, is met with the identical response, i.e., the automatic standing ovation lasting all of 45 seconds, followed by a violent scuffle to be the first out of the parking garage, but still you’re going to have to provide proof about that “for the most part.” I realize you mostly like to just make up facts to fit your arguments, but this time I don’t think you should be allowed to get away with it.

      • Cieca carissima:

        You are kidding me right? All the years of booing at the curtain calls are evidence enough?

        And I i said: “Mostly” i am not saying it is universal dislike, because as we have agreed in this site, there is good reggietheater and there is not so good.

        • And all the years of audiences booing Maria Callas means that she was a fraud and a failure, right?

          If you take another look at what was written, it says “the
          director’s curtain call provokes the wildest excitement of the night.” The “excitement” is sometimes positive, sometimes negative, often both, but the point is that the public cares about the director’s work enough to react to it. Again, it’s a typically provincial New York attitude to assume that a “reaction” to an opera performance must be a negative thing.

          • Applauding and booing are expressions of personal and or emotional attachment, not judgements in validity. I didn’t say Reggietheater was a fraud, I said that audiences do not like it; for the most part. That seems to be not an inaccurate statement.

            I also said that American stage directors have in their hands the unique opportunity to create their own movement in response to the failings of bad reggietheater and export it.

          • CruzSF

            But some of the audience must like it, because people keep going to see it, even when notorious productions are moved to another house in another country with the prod’s reputation preceding it.

          • How do you know “audiences do not like it?” Because sometimes some people in some audiences boo?

            Again, by your reasoning, a singer like Maria Callas, who was frequently booed, should not have been hired again, because audiences “did like like” her.

          • A. Poggia Turra

            I don’t think that “blanket statements” on either side are valid.

            A lot of the booing at the end of the European productions that I have attended is of the “spontaneous demonstration” type that took place at American political conventions in the 1960s and 1970s. Carefully planned provocations, by people who go to the performances for the express purpose of booing the production tram.
            eI don’t live in Europe, and I can’t say that my body of evidence is overwhelming. However, I’ve atrtended several dozen first nights in Europe; with one exception (the prima of the 2001 Salzburg Fledermaus), I always felt that the booing and whistling that occured as the production team took the stage was planned. In the same way that a mediocre rendition of an aria is wildly applauded by one person, common sense tells you that what is happening is not a geniune, spontaneous reaction -- it stands out too much, it seems fishy.

          • Sheldon

            La Cieca--Just for my own edification, not being schooled in the mysterious ways of Regie, could you answer a question for me? Would you consider the production of Die Aegyptische Helene that the Met mounted for Deborah Voigt back in 2007 “Regie”? I am getting lost in all the back and forth about what is, and what is not, being argued over.

          • It should also be said that boos are much louder than bravos. 10 people booing can easily drown out 20 people shouting “bravo”. So, even a handful of boos can give the impression that the audience doesn’t like something, when in fact, the majority of the audience may indeed like it.

          • Lindoro, I’ve been trying to talk to as many audience members as possible as I go through Europe and this is the conclusion I’ve come to: I think the majority of audience members who have been exposed to a good amount of good Regie *and* are open to new ideas and like thinking about the dramatic content of things that they see enjoy Regie productions. (I know the term “Regie” is problematic but I’m sticking with it here for lack of a better alternative.) Thus, in somewhere like Berlin or Munich or Stuttgart, most people are receptive and appreciative and know how to tell good Regie from bad. They’ve cultivated a taste for it, and no longer think that everything has to be literally staged. But people in a city like Vienna (Staatsoper audience, not Theater an der Wien audience) or for that matter New York, where Regie is less often seen and when it is is often in inferior incarnations, it is more apt to be a priori dismissed.

          • Regina delle fate

            European audiences are clearly divided about “Regie” productions and there are clearly camps who set out to boo anything they regard as Regie and those who will cheer anything to the rafters that is vaguely off-the-wall. Neither are much of an indication whether audiences like the performances or not. I have a friend in Frankfurt who seems to have a good nose for “good” Regie and can spot the charlatans a mile off. But even good “Regie-sseurs” have off-days. I’ve seen good and bad Herheim, Bieto, Neuenfels, Loy, Kusey, Wieler, Kosky, Jones, Alden, Lehnhoff (if he counts), Decker. My experience of Konwitschny is more limited and, so far, I have yet to be convinced, but Konwitschny-lovers I know say the shows I’ve seen are not his best. Sometimes Intendants also make mistakes matching the wrong Regisseur to the wrong piece -- Bieto’s Manon was taken off before the end of its first run in Frankfurt because the audience hated it so much, they stayed away in droves. I think they were struggling to get 30% houses. But they may not have liked the piece, either. Massenet gets a fairly bad press in Germany, even today.

          • A. Poggia Turra

            The 2002 Konwitschny production of Rosenkavakier in hamburg might be an example of K. not being the best match to the work.

            Konwitschny’s view of the work was very sour and acerbic, and although I have no real problem with that approach per se (plenty of hidden drama under all the rococo schlag), K. probably could have gained from dialing the acid back a degree or two.

            Although I have to add that the approach did redeem itself in the final scene, in the famous “Barbie-puppen” closing trio, the single most stunning stage picture I;ve ever witnessed in any theater, operatic or otherwise.

          • Regina delle fate


            Yes -- that was one of them. I’m afraid I found the shop mannequins scene a tad static and didn’t quite see the point: are Marschallin/Sophie/Octavian all meant to be identikit clones? Are they just clothes horses? Maybe you can enlighten me as to why it was so brilliant….

      • DurfortDM

        45 Seconds. Ha!!! I wish I had such luxury. And why, pray, are they starting the Ory and Capriccio (to which I’m going) at 8:30 when people have to get to work tomorrow.

        • scifisci

          well, my guess would be a certain lengthy opera premiering this friday.

          • Your guess is probably correct. The Walkuere is rehearsing on stage those days (as well as most of last week) with a 4:00 pm finish time, so the changeover isn’t complete until 8:00 pm or later.

          • DurfortDM

            Makes sense. Obviously all sorts of temporal issues associated with attendance there but at least its more or less required.

          • Harry

            Great for latecomers!

        • semira mide

          It’s not simply an issue of getting to work the next day, although that is reason enough.

          For some people catching the last bus, train, etc. out of town is the only way they are able to attend Met performances at all.

          Furthermore, you haven’t seen a rush to the exit, unless you’ve experienced the Arena in Verona when the Austrians and Germans rush to their night buses or their night flights from the airport in Verona.

          Maybe if intermissions were shortened it would make it easier for all involved.

        • DurfortDM

          45 seconds indeed. They exploded out of their seats. Literally at leas half the auditorium was on their feet and headed for the door in maybe 35 seconds. Impressive even by Met standards.

      • Harry

        I think part of the reason regie as a movement gained its foot hold in Europe is the geographical proximity of each country to each other. To be able to present a more ‘controversial’ production more wild than another next door so to speak allows the to keep some form of separate identity. It makes people drag out the alleged distinctions and differing angles and attitudes. A case of competitive daring, where each trying to establish their own stamp or foothold.
        A case of I:E ‘Oh What is the Komishe doing this year? Moreover not so much particular operas but what they are GOING TO DO with them, is the forefront concern.
        Previously La Cieca I noticed mentioned the fact that at Bayrueth post -war, they stripped the heavy ‘Germanic-ness’ out of say Die Meistersinger around 1951 that could be construed in any way as paying lip service to that previous despicable Nazi regime. I agree but I think one important point I think was not mentioned. It coincided with the sheer lack of money…in broken bombed out Germany. Hence, the bare staging was born out of sheer financial necessity. Regie in embryo form was born. As time went on, the bad mannered spiteful child simply grew,and learnt to clutter the stage with its discarded toys and artifacts. Finally it learned how to wank, and try and shock.
        The reason that regie will not get a proper foothold in the U.S, is ‘let’s throw the spanner'(1) Simply distinct separation (2) Amount of geographical land mass to keep establishing /maintaining its own evolving traditions (3) Separate behavioral history. Its population knows who there are, they have their own forms of accepted culture and unlike Europe do not have to care about what someone is culturally doing ‘a stone’s throw up the road’- over the backyard fence ‘in another country’.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Lindoro, where are you getting this? La Cieca said citation needed, and you haven’t managed it -- lets put her question another way -- on what are you basing your comments? How much experience do you have of performances of Regie opera in Europe?

      My own is not extensive, but I can tell you this much. I was in Parsifal at La Monnaie recently -- 10 performances in January and February of this year. The production was by Romeo Castellucci, darling of the avant-garde theatre scene in Italy, it was his first opera, and it was as Regie as Regie can be. And throughout the 10 performances and the Generale which was also full of ticketed members of the public, the audience response ranged from very warm to absolutely rapturous. I also went to their La Boheme while I was in Brussels in rehearsal, and while it was nothing like as experimental, it still, IMO, qualifies for the Regie tag in that it incorporates many touches that are designed to throw the work into a new light rather than present a narrative framework around the story, and again, the audience reaction was uniformly positive.

      Sure, that’s only 2 shows in 1 opera house aside from my regular diet of most productions at the ROH (very very short on true Regie) and ENO (slightly more frequently encountered, but booing is rare in this country, if that’s your yardstick for judging audience reactions). But at least it’s 2 real examples of actually experienced productions that would appear to counter your view.

      • Regina delle fate

        But did you think the Castellucci Parsifal theatre was “good” Regie, Cocky? To me it was a series of rather static “arty” installations with precious little sign of “Regie” -- certainly not of the Personen- variety -- at all. I once asked a French pal why Parisians loved the work of Robert Wilson so much and he replied “Parce qu’il est chic, et il est cher” -- and that’s more or less what I thought of Castellucci’s Parsifal: chic and expensive but not really theatrical at all.

    • Often admonished

      It’s an inevitable symptom of the stagnation of repertory. When you recycle the same 2 dozen core works endlessly (and usually sing them worse and worse) even the most self-satisfied public wants some small variety. And dumb “confrontational” staging is the easiest change to effect.

      It’s a textbook definition of decadence in art.

      • Indiana Loiterer III

        This seems to have become the official explanation for operatic Regie (see Tom Sutcliffe’s Believing in opera) for the fullest presentation of this thesis, though from an opposite point of view), but that doesn’t mean it’s the best explanation. We forget that similar productions have been done this past half-century in the non-operatic theater, in which there is presumably no such stagnation of repertory.

        • That explanation also ignores the influence of recorded media. There’s really much less need to go to the opera house today solely to hear music performed: that same music is easily available on CDs and downloads in better sound and more accurate performances than one could hope ever to hear in the theater. With home theater systems more and more affordable, you can pop in a DVD or Blu-Ray of any of half a dozen “traditional” productions of any standard opera and wallow to your heart’s content.

          So that aspect of an opera house’s mission, i.e., simple reproduction of performances, has been somewhat taken over by electronic media. Therefore, the theaters have taken to offering something that cannot be captured electronically, i.e., new takes on familiar repertory.

          I would also question whether the repertory has really stagnated so much. Today we’re hearing revivals of all sorts of unusual works that previous generations only vaguely recognized as titles. The great glut of “new” opera in the first half of the 20th century (for example) was in very large part schlock or else interesting primarily for extra-musical reasons (e.g., many of the “Entartete Musik” titles).

          But any time there are complicated reasons for a given situation, there’s bound to be someone who pins it all on decadence. (“Why did they never play the grand old operas now, he asked, Dinorah, Lucrezia Borgia? Because they could not get the voices to sing them: that was why.”)

  • armerjacquino

    Excellent article, although ‘In Europe’ is a little sweeping. London isn’t Milan isn’t Vienna isn’t Oslo isn’t Hamburg isn’t Paris. It seems a little unbalanced to compare a continent to a city.

    • That was an editing choice. “In Germany” might have made more sense, except that one of the more important productions discussed was in Norway.

      • armerjacquino

        Well, I don’t see why they didn’t opt for the simple compound ‘Teutono-Nordic countries’ then…

        Point taken.

        • IngeK

          Don’t mess with Norway and Denmark. We went through a lot of grief not to become a Teutonic-Nordic country. Wagner’s heroes wear horned helmets, Vikings never did.

          • Pu-Tin-Pao

            I think Wagner’s heroes -- at least the Walkuren -- wear winged or feathered helmets. Horned helmets are something else. Correct me if I’m wrong!

      • cosmodimontevergine

        I think “in Europe” is a more accurate generalization than is possible to make about the US. There is less cultural distance between, say, Oviedo and Berlin than between St. Louis and Miami. European audiences seem better able to judge whether the direction is fundamentally good or not. They do not have preconceptions about regie. JJ has written an intelligent, well-observed piece

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Um, what? I’m having trouble understanding ‘less cultural distance between, say, Oviedo and Berlin than between St. Louis and Miami’. Perhaps I understand very little about the US, but aside from some possibly fabulous instincts for assessing the merits of opera direction, I struggle to see how this can be true.

  • CruzSF

    Who can argue with the goal of “transforming the picturesquely pleasant into life-changing art” (as JJ states)? Blood, guts, and gore might not be everyone’s taste, but such productions are not pushing traditional stagings into extinction. Audiences are still able to see traditional stagings in many places. And the more conservative nature of US audiences probably mean that the most extreme examples of regietheater won’t appear here soon, if ever.

    • adina

      This phrase struck me, but for a different reason. For both pro and anti regie, why must picturesquely pleasant and life changing art be mutually exclusive?

      • CruzSF

        adina, I didn’t interpret these words to mean the 2 are mutually exclusive. I think JJ is speaking specifically of picturesquely pleasant productions at the Met. The whole sentence from which I quoted refers specifically to the Met. Certainly, the placement of a “mere” before picturesquely pleasant would clarify things.

        On the other hand, if the picturesquely pleasant is designed to lull the audience into a state of comfort without demanding a reaction or thought, then I think that prevents its co-existence as life-changing art. Art requires a reaction, doesn’t it? Otherwise, it’s mere decoration.

        But perhaps La Cieca can more accurately present JJ’s views on this last sentence. She has a direct connection to him.

      • I would say the two types of productions can co-exist in the repertory, but in general the merely “pleasant” is not potent enough to be life-changing. Pleasant things tend to make the viewer comfortable and satisfied with his life; obviously, no one is stongly motivated to change a situation in which he is comfortable and happy.

        The “life-changing art” would then in some way create discomfort and dissatisfaction, or at the very least a questioning of some of the values the viewer previously took for granted.

        Now, in opera, as in other types of recreative art, it’s not easy to create the right sort of discomfort. Simply performing the opera badly, of course, is unpleasant, but the discomfort is trivial: as soon as the awful tenor stops bellowing, you’ll feel better, and eventually you’ll get over the $500 you dropped on tickets to this turkey, not to mention parking and the restaurant. “Why do I bother in the first place?” might count as a life-changing question, but I think any halfway qualified philosopher would question whether simply canceling your subscription to the Met is the true path to the Good Life.

        No, I think the “discomfort” needs to be be on a higher plane than that for it to have any real moral effect, i.e., to be “life-changing” in the sense of the viewer’s examining his values and questioning previously unexamined assumptions.

        To use one of the Regietournee shows as an example: Rusalka as usually presented comes off as something picturesque and sentimental, comforting in other words. It’s a sad story and we cry a bit for poor Rusalka and her Prince, and we move on. But the Kosky production was unsentimental and rather cruel, taking pains to present Rusalka in an unflattering light: an unsocialized idiot in the second act and something not recognizable as human in the last, really something of a monster. All this ugliness was the result of her hoping to transform herself, to become a real girl. Now, one of the most basic motifs of the fairy tale is the successful transformation: given enough hard work, or moral goodness or simply good fortune, someone base and miserable can become someone noble and happy. Obviously, then, if we listen to fairy tales, we learn that the hope for transformation is a good thing. What Rusalka, and specifically (for me) this Rusalka emphasizes is that, no, actually transformations, even those begun for the very best reasons, sometimes fail horribly, leaving one in far worse misery than before.

        That’s a horrible thing to think, but it’s a realistic adult thing to think: any change entails risk. Now, I can’t say that this Rusalka strictly speaking changed my life on this particular topic (I’m a pretty cautious guy to begin with) but in a broader sense it made me more aware of how manipulative even supposedly harmless, entertaining art can be. Lots of people buy into the Cinderella story, for example: it’s the basis of all sorts of popular art, and maybe a lot of people would be better off having the Rusalka side of that story shown to them, and in a way that the message isn’t disguised behind glittery scrims and adorable forest creatures.

        • Arianna a Nasso

          Do you feel that every production should aim to be ‘life-changing art’ or is there a place for productions that have less lofty goals? I’m not sure the Nilsson-Corelli Turandots or Sutherland-Horne Normas were aiming for the former, but everyone I have spoken with regards them as some of the high points of their opera-going lives. Just like some nights, I’m happy to cuddle with my boyfriend eating pizza, can’t I sometimes go to the opera for a sloppy, tear-jerking Boheme in those pretty Zeffirelli sets?

        • Batty Masetto

          La Cieca’s comment about crying a bit for poor Rusalka ties in with a rather interesting discussion that was just getting warmed up when the Wozzeck chat ended: what is it about crying at the opera? As I recall, Sharky said Wozzeck moved him to tears, while Poisonivy said she rarely if ever cries at the opera (and had to put up with some unfair razzing about it). For myself, I was in a strange, uneasy state for a good 24 hours afterwards even though I didn’t particularly feel like crying. To me, crying felt like too simple a response to such an intense, complicated emotional experience. It seemed to call for something bigger, like asking myself, “am I being a good enough person?” And I love being put on the hook that way, I crave it much more than just a nice boo-hoo.

          Now, I’m a big cryer too sometimes. But it’s worth asking: is crying in general a way to just let ourselves off the hook emotionally, as La Cieca suggests in the specific case of Rusalka?

          • ianw2

            I missed that discussion, I would’ve defended Ivy. I never cry at the opera. I’m not a big crier generally, but I can’t imagine crying in the auditorium. I’ve been emotionally shattered after an opera, but never weepy.

            Yet Toy Story 3 did make me go misty. There’s something for the analysts to pore over, that a movie can have a bigger emotional hit on those elusive ‘WE NEED YOUNGER AUDIENCES GODDAMMIT’ than an opera- even if directed by a theatrical genius! And I’m an opera buff, so theoretically half the battle has already been won.

          • Arianna a Nasso

            I don’t think judging one’s emotional response, e.g., crying, is a healthy exercise. If you respond to stimuli by crying, that’s great; if you don’t, that’s great too. It’s an authentic reaction by your soul, and you shouldn’t let your mind muck it up by evaluating whether it’s a proper response or not. I’m not saying that one can’t later reflect on the experience on a more intellectual level, debate on what the opera or production says about the human condition, one’s place in this world, etc. That’s what makes great art -- one can experience it on multiple levels. But too often these days I see people put down the immediate, visceral, emotional reaction as inferior or inappropriate, and I don’t buy that.

          • Ok well here’s the thing. I feel as if crying, or tears, at the opera, is essentially manipulative. It’s like the people who have to scream “bravo” the loudest or have to throw a tomato at the stage. Same kind of tasteless exhibitionism. I’ll admit to crying at the end of Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or Toy Story 3, but Wozzeck? That opera chills me to the bone, but crying does seem like a childish, shallow response to such a deep, unnerving work.

            And people who are always TALKING about crying at the opera? That frankly annoys the crap out of me. I feel like it’s showing off, like look at me, I am just that much more of an opera fan than you, I CRY.

          • CruzSF

            I was on your side until you wrote this:

            I feel as if crying, or tears, at the opera, is essentially manipulative. It’s like the people who have to scream “bravo” the loudest or have to throw a tomato at the stage.

            Now THAT is judging another’s emotional response. I’ve cried maybe 3 or 4 times at the opera. Are you saying that I should have stifled my emotional response for the likes of you? That’s crazy. I wasn’t flopping on the ground, whimpering and wailing, but I think I’m allowed to shed a few tears when I’m emotionally moved.

          • No, I’m saying that people who repeatedly boo-hoo at the opera non-stop after awhile get the same reaction from me as people who cry at the drop of a hat in real life -- annoyance. “Oh the opening chord of Tristan and I was already in tears.” It’s like really?

            If you were in a relationship, and your partner cried every time there was any slight disagreement, wouldn’t your patience wear very thin after awhile? Tears have a place in life, but constantly boo-hooing at the drop of a hat is childish. And I’ll venture to say something else — everyone I’ve ever known who cried at the drop of a hat has essentially been a cold, selfish person inside. I had a college roommate who cried every day nonstop while she watched her soaps. I had to have her arrested because she forged checks in my name. I have family members who are always crying whenever they don’t get what they want, and yet are never considerate or kind to other people. The students who are always sitting in the principal’s office crying about this or that are the same students who will try to get a teacher fired because the teacher refused to give the student the desired grade.

          • I feel like it’s showing off, like look at me, I am just that much more of an opera fan than you, I CRY.

            PI: You seem to think that people’s crying is about you!! A individual’s emotional response at the opera is about about that individual and that includes crying at Wozzek. What has it to do with you? Sheesh!

          • CruzSF

            Thanks for the explanation. That is indeed different. When I’ve cried, it’s been in response to something beyond the first note.

          • CruzSF


          • I didn’t say it was about me. I said it was about impressing other people.

          • Batty Masetto

            Ivy, that might well be so for some, but it doesn’t account for people like my dear hubby, who can completely dissolve in tears during a performance without making a peep. You have to know the signs or you wouldn’t even know he was crying at all. So it’s certainly not a display meant for others’ benefit. If I cry at an opera, it’s the same with me -- I’d just as soon people didn’t know about it.

          • Batty Masetto

            Oh, and let’s throw something else into the pot while we’re at it -- it seems to me that performers are very gratified to hear discreet sniffles from the house (not that you’d very often hear such things with an orchestra carrying on, but it’s common enough in the spoken theater). I certainly heard quiet sniffles during Wotan’s Farewell at the San Francisco Walküre, and I can’t imagine the artists wouldn’t have been pleased.

          • armerjacquino

            No need to get entrenched in one position or the other, I’d say. Crying isn’t ‘good’ and it isn’t ‘bad’, it just is.

            People who boast about crying or people who deplore others for crying are equally daft to make a judgement on something so essentially neutral.

          • Batty Masetto

            AJ, sure it makes no sense to condemn someone for an honest response one way or the other. But I still think questioning and exploring our own responses isn’t just worthwhile, but actually one of the great pleasures of engaging with a rich art form like opera. Aren’t most of us here because we’re interested in understanding and refining our perceptions and responses in one way and another?

            And suppose somebody goes to a particular opera expecting to cry. Will that blind them to the possibility of a different response, if the production takes a different tack? Or if they do cry, is it a response to what’s actually going on, or because they’re just acting out an expectation, as in the case of Ivy’s people who gum up at the first notes of Tristan? And yet maybe a Pavlovian reaction to the mere idea of Tristan is still valid? What am I reacting to when I react? Am I cutting myself off from an even more fulfilling appreciation? That’s why I think the subject is interesting.

          • SF Guy

            To throw yet another item into the pot--I was with a small group at the Comte Ory telecast on April 9 when a woman in the row in front of us turned around and upbraided one of my companions for laughing during the music. (Justified or not, it was clearly the response the director was aiming for.) So…who was in the wrong here?

            1) My companion, for not holding his guffaws until a break in the music?
            2) Mr. Sher, for inserting comic business where it would encourage misplaced laughter?
            3) The woman in front of us, for being the Schoolmarm from Hell?

          • Harry

            The discussion here reminds me of a ritual I once used to witness. I and others would be invited to a music evening / party gathering at a fellow’s home. About always at some point: out would come his favorite Richard Tauber recordings…especially the ones, Tauber made only about two weeks before he died from lung cancer. Projecting himself onto Tauber’s dilemma The party host would then go through the ritual of breaking down, sobbing and burst out crying loudly (on cue)…..Give us a break I thought.

          • CruzSF

            SF Guy, I hope she had the decency to fall down a flight of stairs upon leaving the theater. What a killjoy.

          • SF Guy

            Cruz--Actually, being made to feel like guilty schoolboys was rather fun. I haven’t felt that young in ages.

          • CruzSF

            Making joy out of killjoy. That’s wonderful. This year, at a repeat screening of Iphigénie, a man came from across theater at intermission to complain about our popcorn sucking making too much noise (yes, I sucked that popcorn to make as little noise as possible). My friend wanted to kick him down the stairs and I had to restrain her. (We were incensed that he didn’t complain about the people sitting near us who talked through the whole first act.) She stewed about it the whole time. (I’ll admit to stewing for part of the second half.)

          • SF Guy

            Cruz--I make it a point never to waste energy stewing. (We didn’t let Ms. Schoolmarm’s admonishments diminish our laughter--if anything, knowing that it irked her was an added bonus.) Here’s a couple of rejoinders you might consider using in the future (smiling sweetly all the while); I’ve found them to be effective:

            1) To Popcorn Man: “Thanks for the input. I’ll give it all the respect it deserves.” (You could follow this up with a sympathetic suggestion that he complain to management about the selling of popcorn, not to mention candy in crinkly wrappers, and wish him success in that endeavor.)

            2) To Nonstop Talkers: “Could you please talk a little louder? I can still hear the music.”

          • CruzSF

            Good rejoinders, SF Guy. I’m sure I’ll get a chance to use them at the Comte Ory repeat next week.

            I try to keep my stewing to a minimum, but as long-time readers here are aware, with very mixed success.

        • A. Poggia Turra

          La Cieca, it isn’t always necessary for directors to go to great lengths to portray certain “beloved” characters in an unflattering light. You mentioned Cinderella; it’s instructive to note that Rossini and his librettist titled La Cenerentols as a dramma giacosa. There is a lot of “unpleasantness” lurking just below the surface -- the way Don Magnifico treats Angelina in the scene when the disguised Alidoro reveals that thee daughters are listed on the city rolls is nothing short of criminally abusive, and it’s completely reflected in the music. Too many directors of frill-and-lace, buckled-shoe’d “frou-frou” productions glide right past this aspect of the work, in the same way that many of us nervously try to ignore a parent mistreating their child in public.

          Nowhere was the idea of murkiness under a frilly surface better explored than by Hand Neuenfels in his August 2001 Salzburg production of Die Fledermaus. Anyone only knowing this production from the DVD has no idea how wild the reaction was at the premier. The swell of rage and hostility aimed at Neuenfels (and at Mortier by association) was extraordinary to be in the middle of -- 80-year old dowagers and their formaldehyde-dipped male walkers screaming, literally SCREAMING “Scheiss” an shaking their diamond-adorned bony fists at the man who DARED to hold up a mirror to them was like being in the eye of a hurricane.

          But Neuenfels did nothing more than strip off the surface patina: a story of a man (abetted by his best friend) leaving his wife to go to a party where he might get lucky with hot ballet dancers; his suffering wife laying back so that se can receive her lover; a maid who steals her employers’ possessions to go to that same party, and who accepts the offer of “financial sponsorship” of her ascent acting career without asking what strings are attached. And then there’s that Prince who seems in great need of intense psychoanalysis, but still manages to throw smashingly lavish parties melancholy beyond belief but who can still put himself together enough to host unbelievably lavish parties where people who should know better come to blow off steam…

          To me, Neuenfels’ point was that actions have consequences, some of them profoundly negative. The best moment of the evening was at the point just before Eisenstein’s blaming everyone’s behavior on the effects of “King Champagne: Rosalinde and Alfred stand together; she seethes with anger at her husband’s lame attempts to deny the dead-end that their lives have degenerated down to. She has no intent of going back to the false respectability that her sham marriage represented up to that point in time. It’s an extraordinary rejection of prim and proper societal mores, and it’s no wonder that the “mit schlag” crowd who would moments later be gathering at the Goldener Hirsch to celebrate their personal fabulous-ness was so freaked.

          • Harry

            A recognition by those, caught in that situation…. known, as being a European wife.

        • Regina delle fate

          “Rusalka as usually presented” -- presumably by that you mean as usually presented at the Met or Vienna 40 years ago. My first Rusalka was David Pountney’s for ENO and out of seven or eight subsequent productions, the only vaguely traditional one I have seen was the Met revival with Benackova, Heppner et all at the Met. I would say that the Met production is entirely untypical of Rusalka productions today.

          • By “usually” I suppose I meant “over its performance history.” You are right that Rusalka is a very strong Regie-magnet today. The fact remains that in New York, in one of the two or three leading opera companies of the world, we still get Rusalka done as an attraction at Disney World.

          • A. Poggia Turra

            La Cieca, Paul Curran took a mixed/middle road approach in his production for Oslo in the fall of 2009 (the first production wholly created for the new house). The look and design was ravishingly beautiful, but his storytelling did not neglect the negative/harsh aspects of the story. Sometimes mixing pleasing visuals unpleasant actions can work, as it did with Curran.

          • Harry

            Dvorak, in setting the Ondine theme was able to allow the soprano to rest her voice during its Act 2.

        • luvtennis

          La Cieca:

          Okay, you have basically stated what can be the only real, defensible argument in favor or “regie” as that term is used here. Regie, unlike most more conventional stagings, allows the director to comment on a work of art at one (or more) remove from it.

          The director of that Rusalka wasn’t trying to present the opera so much as comment upon (and challenge) the generic assumptions, literary pedigree and psychological underpinnings of the work, and more importantly perhaps, the audience’s expectations regarding the work and how their own expectations of their expectations. Director as Joseph Campbell.

          I get that.

          But in truth, these productions really should occupy their own artistic universe, no? I know you constantly remind us that conventional productions of the great works are still more prevalent than corresponding regie productions, but that suggests that you are comparing apples to apples. I would contend that if conventional productions are the apples then regie productions are like treatises on what you are left with after you eat the apple, with illustrations showing how apples have been eaten in the past and what often happens to your digestive system after you eat the apple.

          RegieOPERA -- it should be a new artform, clearly marked as such.

          (And yes, I know that every production of an opera is a comment upon the opera, but really I think regie is qualitatively different (and you surely agree?!?!).

          • Harry

            And Regie mainly evolved in places where heavy Government subsidies are the norm. And such types of politically influence -- administrative appointees then tend to /have to, quietly meet with the vetted approval, through Ministries of Cultural Affairs -- dishing out the dosh. How better to appease your immediate masters than to make sure, you reflect the current proper socio -political climate suitable for those interests , who are financing the show. Keeping away from being accused of satirizing the benefactor’s own stance in any way, is also especially wise.

  • brooklynpunk


    Just heard that this was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Music…Congrats!!

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Jury for thePulitzer for Music 2011:
      Delta David Gier, music director, South Dakota Symphony, Sioux Falls (chair)
      Anne Midgette, classical music critic, The Washington Post
      George Lewis, composer, professor of American music, Columbia University
      Paul Moravec*, composer, University Professor of Music, Adelphi University, Long Island, NY
      William Banfield, composer, Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA

      * past Pulitzer Prize winner

    • CruzSF

      I hope this prize = more productions. I’d like a chance to see it.

  • Call it a hunch, but I would guess that few readers of the NY Post(no disrespect to JJ) have absolutely no idea what “Regie” means. Actually, I’ll take that even further. I would guess that most people who attend the Metropolitan Opera have a clue as to what regietheater is.

  • Harry

    Well rather than boo, I found the best way..with none of my energy expounded is, to sit on my hands or just run for the door. True utter contempt! Since if they are not worthy of praise, simply contribute , by sending them a fractional part way into the void of silence. Imagine if a theater full of people did that at curtain call. I love the sheepish look on contracted stage faces when they know ‘no one is buying it’ and after opening night show they have to suffer the pangs of repeating it all over again. That curtain call statement look: “Oh! how did I get trapped in this”….Priceless. Then send the same message of its toxicity to every friend you know, that a ‘turkey’ has arrived. Devilish!

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Just about the most mean-spirited thing I’ve ever read on here, and that’s up against some stiff competition.

      I repeat -- singers have to make a living, and the overwhelming majority will make decisions based on schedules and roles. If they’re also expected to make decisions on whether they love every other asepct too then it just gets plain impractical. These people have mortgages to pay and children to put through school. They also, on the whole, have a healthy respect for other creative artists and will try their hardest to do what is asked of them, commit to it, and give the public a convincing performance. How anybody could relish witnessing any discomfort experienced by a cast due to shortcomings in the production is beyond me.

      • The “stony silence” ploy is textbook passive aggression. And no matter how often you try to explain that silence means nothing in an auditorium where the majority of the audience applaud by rote, the Silent Minority always seem to think that they’re just the cleverest tiger in the jungle for withholding their precious, precious hand noises.

        Maybe a more important point here is that while it is true that there are some boos at the opening night of most Regie productions, and doubtless some dissatisfied patrons on nights after that, eventually the production and its audience tend to find one another. That certainly happened with the Wilson Lohengrin at the Met. Now, it may be possible as well that there may not be much of an audience for a given production: it’s doubtful, for example, that’s the Zimmerman Sonnambula is going to draw much of a crowd the next time it pokes its head out. But, again, there’s an example of self-correction: if nobody wants to see a production, it goes away.

        Really, the only ones genuinely and permanently injured by a Regie production will be the Harrys of this world, doomed to sail the seas eternally on a ship built on inverted commas, ever seeking the elusive Audience Who Refuses to Clap.

      • Harry

        I do not think it is mean at all. It is part of the democratic process of equality, is it not? Better than crudely booing. Looked at broadly, I also have the right to quietly relish and observe discomfort from performers for the discomfort and waste of time they helped engage in, creating. Behind the scenes -- the thespian news channels certainly keep working: performers are always very aware and abreast of how fellow performers found some company or director, to work for. Briefed by fellow participants and their own manager/agents. They are not dumb or they would not be where they are -- on stage- in such a bitchy, back biting, back stabbing competitive field. Where a friendly smile and compliment can at times be but a prelude to hiding an intrigue undermining someone ‘s career, as people in power play favorites for/with those less talented.. Performers: choose the Life wanting the public accolades that the average 9 to 5 people never seek. They also made choices and accepted that choice’s down side. Are people in any form of Show Business and that is what opera also is: claiming to be some special case?
        Note : If something is especially rewarding I have been known to participate with others, in giving a standing ovation.

        Cocky Kurenwal: “How anybody could relish witnessing any discomfort experienced by a cast due to shortcomings in the production is beyond me.”

  • So, OT but maybe apropos of booing or failure. Does anybody know if there are any records of Angel Taormina’s shattering rendition of Lucia’s mad scene? One of my classmates at music school hadn’t heard of the Pondmans (I fixed that right quick) and HASN’T heard of Angel Taormina either. I need to fix this travesty. Anybody able to help a guy out?

    • Batty Masetto

      Alex, I know where an MP3 of Ms. Taormina’s epic performance of Quando Rapita may be obtained, but am not sure of the best way to arrange access. I wonder if La Cieca would consider it worthy as an Unnatural Act of Opera? It certainly qualifies for the title, if nothing else.

      • Hmm. I would love to get my hands on such a treasure. Would you do me the favor of emailing me some more details if you are not comfortable posting here? (my contact would be hcebotari [AT] hotmail)

  • Regina delle fate

    On the subject of Angels -- does anyone know anything about the Angel Blue -- an American, I presume -- scheduled to sing Giulietta (I think) at the Theater an der Wien next season?

    • phoenix
      • MontyNostry

        Interesting voice (sounds like it has real theatrical oomph), pretty girl, but the name makes her sound like pornstar.

        • Harry

          Who can forget Kathleen Turner’s character called China Blue -- being very versatile with a police baton- in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion?

          • luvtennis

            Oh my GAWD, Harry, I just posted something on the Cosi thread and mentioned this movie -- which contains the greatest line uttered in an 80’s movie --

            Kathleen (was she wearing the nun costume): “I am fit as a fiddle and ready for cock!”

            Not Anthony Perkins cock, one guesses. Not at all ready for that. . . .

      • Regina delle fate

        Ty Phoenix -- it sounds a bit like listening to a pre-war 78 -- very tremulous vibrato!

        • phoenix

          Regina, a similar thought (albeit 20 years postwar) popped up when I heard her sing that Depuis le jour clip.
          — In the early-mid 1960’s I volunteered as a stagehand with the Lamplighters G&S at the old Harding Theater on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. I also used to picket for civil rights action around town, but in SF in those days sometimes there were only two of us on the line & rarely any gawkers cameby to pay us any attention. Anyways, one day in the Spring of 1965 Coretta Scott King came to sing a recital at the 3rd Baptist Church on nearby McAllister Street. I was working that day at the Harding, so I took a break and went to the recital. The church was packed but I got a seat near the front. Angel’s vibrato in the Depuis le jour reminds me of the singing I heard from Mme. King that day 46 years ago.

  • Hippolyte

    One of the more “interesting” casting items for next season: Jennifer Larmore starring as Lady Macbeth in a new Christoph Loy-directed production of Verdi’s opera in Geneva!

    • operalover9001

      Ooh, that will be fun!