Cher Public

Ach, schnapp!

Nikolaus Bachler, intendant of the Bayerischen Staatsoper, to Our Own Peter Gelb: “Ich zeige dem Publikum, was sie sehen sollen, und nicht, was sie sehen wollen, schließlich sind Oper und Theater kein Dienstleistungsgewerbe.” [Welt Online]

  • andiamo_bitches

    Guuuuurl. A well-deserved Bavarian bitch slap

  • iltenoredigrazia

    Translation, please.

    • grimoaldo

      Roughly “I show the public what they ought to see, not want they want to see,when all is said and done opera and theatre are not service industries”.

      • Clita del Toro


  • Leonardo d'Olanda

    What a sad way to be sure that München´s Staatsopera will loose its “Publikum” very soon. This kind of arrogance is killing the opera culture in the end. You need popular repertoire to interest future audiences.

    • Feldmarschallin

      actually most things sell out here. But the Butterfly they are showing now and is 39 years old is not and just got horrible reviews demanding a new production. This is not the ancient Met audience here who wants traditional productions.

  • Satisfied

    Real ballsy from the future artistic director of a company whose money comes mostly from government funds. Impressive.

    I’m sorry, I don’t want to sound like a total neo-con, but yes: opera and theater (when not government sponsored) should have a significant awareness of its audience. To suggest otherwise only demonstrates how utterly foolish and privileged Bachler’s ascendancy has been (Vienna, Munich, Bayerische…). Where would he be in a world where opera funds were not handed out with such conformity and consistency? (And before I get hate on this: I really don’t think anyone would argue that European opera companies/festivals -- especially in Germany and Austria -- receive more government funds than any American institution could ever dream to have). I hate it when those totally surrounded by an insular privileged society (whose comments tend to be obnoxious and pedestrian at the same time) posture in such a way -- as if they knew of any reality outside of their little government-doled world.

    Mr. Bachler: show that your company can not only survive but flourish without a government safety net at your back. Then I’ll reserve my incredulity.

    • sterlingkay

      Couldn’t agree more! We shall see as the EuroZone implodes and many of those opera houses lose their subsidies how rapidly things change…it’s nice to be “daring” in programming when the government is giving you a handout.

      • sterlingkay

        Which is to say, there is no doubt that Gelb’s programming would be much more “adventurous” if he did not have to worry about 1) box office and 2) kissing the butts of the Mercedes Basses of the world who just want the traditional rep done traditionally.

      • I see you can hardly contain your glee that governments will collapse and economies will be throw into chaos just so those nasty opera directors will have a lesson taught to them: “do it the American way or shut the fuck up.”

        What precisely is wrong with perceiving an arts organization as, in part at least, a public trust? Oh, that’s right, it’s socialism, which by definition doesn’t hold a candle to a society in which a tiny minority hold trillions while the majority can’t afford basic education or health care.

        Americans make me puke sometimes.

        • Satisfied

          It’s funny that you say that LC, because (when hearing statements like Bachler’s), Europeans make me puke sometimes.

        • brooklynpunk

          “Americans make me puke sometimes.”

          BRAVO. LA C. !!--LOL…!

          ..and just ya wait.. as the 2012 Campaign starts building steam.. they’ll be many more causes fer pukking…

          I’ve been in a constant semi-nascious state about many of my “fellow” Americans fer as long as I can remember….

        • sterlingkay

          I am certainly NOT hoping for economies to collapse. Believe me I wish arts organizations were viewed as a public trust by the government, just as they are in Europe. But short of that, it’s pretty rich to expect Gelb or any other American opera administrator to throw caution to the wind and spend rich people’s money on projects those rich people don’t like! It’s the system we are stuck with in this country and people can wish all they want for it to be different (and I certainly do!) but it ain’t going to change. Look at what happened to Pamela Rosenberg in San Francisco. She produced some of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen, important work that the press sung “hosanas” over — and guess what? no one came, subscribers bolted and the donors revolted.

          • sterlingkay

            It’s also one of the under-discussed plotlines of the whole Gerard Mortier debacle. He thought once he announced his first season (which, again, sounded thrilling to me!) that the $$$ to put it on would come rolling in. He was SHOCKED that he was expected to go hat in hand to rich people to beg for money. And when he did…he was astounded that all people wanted to give money for was Verdi and Puccini and that his season of 20th Century works was going to be a very tough sell among the folks who finance opera in NY. The man’s arrogance was also part of his un-doing…he felt it was beneath him to go asking for money since he had been brought up in a culture of entitlement —just like Bachler. He ran back to the much “friendlier ” environment in Europe where he didn’t have to act like a “used car salesman” (as he told a colleague of mine).

          • And the sudden and violent collapse of the Bay Area economy had nothing to do with it, of course: it was all about Rosenberg’s programming.

            You are also making shit up about Mortier, which doesn’t surprise me, because that’s what you do. But the fact is, he was promised a budget and then the budget was cut by almost 50%, at which point he balked. I don’t recall anyone being idiotic enough to say, “Well, Gerard, you’re still welcome if you can raise the extra $25 million.”

          • SilvestriWoman

            You may have loved Rosenberg’s productions, but they also cost SFO a fortune to produce, and nearly drove the company into bankruptcy.

          • sterlingkay

            And my point is that PART of the reason his budget shrank was because he refused to be in town for longer than three days at a time (once a month!) to do fundraising. No doubt the incompetent NYCO BOARD was the most culpable in that situation….but Mortier’s complete naivete about how the Cuktural scene in America works also played a part.

          • Citation please.

          • stevey

            Here’s a (sort-of) reference/citation:


            And here’s the (sort-of) appropriate section:

            “Mr. Mortier spent four days a month in New York from May 2007 to November 2008 — four days a month! He lived most of his time in Paris, where he was Director of the Opéra National de Paris. I am sure that Mr. Mortier is an excellent opera director. But to think that he could possibly give the New York City Opera the attention it needed in four days a month is another example of supreme denial on the part of the organization.”

            (Mind you, I have no idea if this Vivian Hoexter knows what the hell she’s talking about… I’m just trying to help, here) :-)

          • Jack Jikes

            NYCO named Mortier as the next general director In Feb. 2007 effective for the 2009/2010 season. During this time he was still running the behemoth at Paris --
            two theaters, two orchestras, huge chorus, a ballet company with 150 dancers, and an army of ancillary personnel. This was known to the board at City Opera. At his initiative, $100 million was raised to tune the NY State Theater to his wants and needs. He attended dozens of fund-raisers. He intended to make NY the center of a REAL OPERA world. On the Paris web site he’d have the NYC skyline accompanied by the grail theme from Parsifal. What we could have had! It’s apparent that he and Bachler are alike -- they perceive opera as ‘eine heilige Kunst.’

          • sterlingkay

            Well, the ARIADNE quote notwithstanding…I would hardly credit Mortier with the $100 million to renovate State Theater. The heavy lifting was done by Ken Tabachnick and the development folks at NYCB who convinced the odious David Koch, the ballet’s longtime supporter, to sign the check. As far as I know, Koch has very little interest in opera.

            And I share your admiration for Mortier’s “ideals”— not so sure it would have worked in NY where you have to kiss an awful lot of rings to get anything done.

          • Jack Jikes

            Koch -- on the board of American Ballet Theatre -- had never been a supporter of NYCB . Mortier is a man of extraordinary charm and persuasion -- I think it would have worked but for the $25 million shortfall- ah, the pity of it.
            Bachler is different. This April -- apparently at Bachler’s instigation -- the Staatoper ballet is doing Jerome Robbins’s 80-minute ‘Goldberg Variations’ . The very idea is daunting -- no other company has done it since the City Ballet premiere in 1971.
            Bachler’s bold idea -- Munich is so lucky to have him.

          • mrmyster

            I expect two things from Gelb:
            1. That he have, hold and use a music director/artistic director
            to make professional artistic decisions. The embrace of those
            duties by Gelb is the single biggest block to success at the Met;
            2. That he spend less money per production and have more to
            show for it.
            Just now we are not getting either point 1 or point 2.
            Far as I am concerned, that’s the whole story.

    • Arianna a Nasso

      No opera can survive without a financial safety net (in Europe the government, in the US private donors).

      Do you know what the box office rate is in Munich? Maybe giving the audience what they “should” see actually sells tickets. Where is the evidence to the contrary?

      And from all the complaining about the Met on here, it’s not like Gelb is giving the public what they want either.

      • Satisfied


        Gelb (along with his predecessors) created the safety net and work to maintain it, as opposed to Bachler who was the fortunate recipient of a company loaded with a sizable government subsidy and whose statements indicate little appreciation for his audience’s interests (likely as a result of said subsidy). Do you see the difference? (And, for a look into government subsidy/ticket prices as it relates to Germany, this is a nice place to start:…not really fair to compare audience attendance…ya think?)

        One last point: I’m not espousing the virtues of Gelb nor stating his great ability to tap into his larger audience. I’m only pointing out how (as it relates to opera funding) unaware and privileged Bachler’s statement is.

      • Regina delle fate

        Munich is an exception among the leading German opera cities in that the Staatsoper is really the only show in town. They have a fine classical drama company in the new Residenztheater next door to the Staatsoper and the Munich Kammerspiele (chamber plays) is one of the leading studio-theatres in Germany. There is also the volksoper-style Theater am Gärtnerplatz, which does operettas and musicals as well as the otherwise neglected Spieloper stuff by Lortzing, Nicolai et al, and modern classics avoided by the Staatsoper such as Britten’s Sommernachtstraum and Tod in Venedig (although the Staatsoper gave the Deutsche Erstaufführung, auf Deutsch in the 1970s). The Staatsoper has the starriest roster of any German theatre and regards Vienna and Salzburg as its main rivals rather than Berlin, Hamburg or Frankfurt. The public is dressy, as in Vienna, and international, and the opera house “counts” as one of Munich’s biggest attractions for a high-spending clientele (although there are some cheap seats and standing places). It can programme interesting Regietheater productions in almost any German repertoire because the Munich audience is Wagner and Strauss mad, and even though they boo their heads off at stuff like Alden’s Tannhäuser or Jones’s Lohengrin (any new production really -- they hated Konwitschny’s Tristan and Parsifal when they were now but now they are sort of house classics) they can’t get enough of them and go back for umpteen cast changes. In addition, the Bavarian State Opera probably gets the highest subsidy of any opera company in Germany as Munich is a wealthy city and the opera is an outward symbol of its wealth. The house is invariably full, even for repertoire nights. These are some of the reasons why Bachler can be innovative, while Gelb presumably has to tread more cautiously. But I agree that belief in a cutting edge programme is a prerequisite. I don’t worship Mortier as some on here do, but he has boundless self-belief and is usually successful in taking subsidizing bodies, donors and audiences with him -- but that’s true of most of the successful intendants in Europe: de Caluwe in Brussels, Audi in Amsterdam, Loebe in Frankfurt and the Stuttgart mob preside over healthy budgets and avid audiences, and bask in mostly positive press approbation. There is a lot to be said for public subsidy. I fear things are about to change in Europe -- though possibly not in Munich -- for the worse, however. Look at Copenhagen and the Netherlands Reisopera for a taste of things to come.

  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    “I would have been more adventurous if I had been at Hamburg where the state pays. Here I felt my job was to keep the place open.” [Sir Rudolf Bing]

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. While Gelb, IMO is not to be discussed in the same breath with Bing, many of the problems, challenges and differences between NY and Europe, particularly finances, including (or should I say the lack of) governmental support and stipends and how they influence repertoire, remain exactly the same. And for the record, the Metropolitan Opera is owned and operated by the Metropolitan Opera Association, a private, non-profit Corporation, with a Board of Directors, to whom the General Manager is responsible.

    • Bing was being defensive and I think he knew it. His own taste in opera was extremely conservative which is perhaps one important reason he was chosen for the Met job. And he also knew, though he wouldn’t admit it, that building the audience is a long-term proposition. He hated The Rake’s Progress but that work along with some other more modern works he introduced to the Met helped to pave the way for Wozzeck, an opera that obviously belongs in the repertoire of every major theater. He didn’t make that silly noise about “I have to keep the theater open” when it came time to present Wozzeck, rather, he found the money to present it and programmed it so that it would lose only as much money as he could afford to lose.

      Had Bing really believed that nonsense he spouted, that would have been excuse enough never to touch Wozzeck, or for that matter Die Frau Ohne Schatten because these works were historically either unproven or else infamously box office poison. He wouldn’t have programmed Vanessa or Mourning Becomes Electra, and he wouldn’t have commissioned Antony and Cleopatra.

      What an American impresario needs to say is, “regrettably we do not have as much freedom in programming as some of the European theaters enjoy, but we recognize that our mission includes leading and informing public taste, not just ‘keeping the theater open’.” I believe Peter Gelb at least understands that mission even if he is not willing to commit to it for the reason that he is beholden to philistine billionaires. The solution, I think, is to find smarter billionaires, not to dumb down the art to the level of the ones currently on hand.

      • sterlingkay

        I absolutely agree with you there! I know Coralie Toevs, the Met’s fantastic chief fundraiser, has made it a top priority to try to cultivate younger, hipper donors who will support the kind of work you’re talking about and guess what: a lot of those folks HATE opera! They give to the Modern, the Guggenheim, the Public Theater, NYCB…even the Symphony…but not to the opera.

      • oedipe

        The solution, I think, is to find smarter billionaires, not to dumb down the art to the level of the ones currently on hand.

        …the Met’s fantastic chief fundraiser, has made it a top priority to try to cultivate younger, hipper donors who will support the kind of work you’re talking about and guess what: a lot of those folks HATE opera!

        You know what? These two things are two sides of the same coin. There is a vicious circle here: why do the hipper donors hate opera, while it looks like they are eager to finance exhibitions of Damien Hirst’s sliced-and-pickled calves, or Matthew Barney’s regie-type performances? Probably because they feel these shows are cool, whereas opera is too stuffy and/or dumbed down. When the cool and novel aspect shows up, the hipper people RUSH to see opera: think Kentridge and The Nose.

        • sterlingkay

          You’re absolutely right, Oedipe…..a vicious circle is the perfect way to describe it.

        • oedipe

          Actually, there is not as big a difference as it may superficially seem between Gelb’s and Bachler’s attitude towards their respective publics: they both seem to think that the audience are idiots; the first one condescendingly assumes that opera needs to be dumbed down, the second one condescendingly assumes that he is the only one who knows what’s good and worthy.

          And while I am at it, there is a lot of distorting simplification in some of the above posts. Contrary to what a some American propaganda would have you believe, Europe is NOT imploding: it’s only the pipe dream of Europe-as-a-monolith that is imploding; because it is and has always been a pipe dream. While Grece is falling apart (because of corruption and living beyond its means), Germany is doing just fine, thank you. So no need to worry, most German opera houses are in no danger of closing their doors.

          As for people like Mr. Bachler, i.e. European opera managers, you people seem to think they can so what they please because they receive government subsidies. Well, I have news for you: there is no free lunch! European opera managers may not have to please some ignorant billionaires, but more often than not, they DO have to please some ignorant public officials or members of the government. And they better be clever and diplomatic if they want to keep their job! This Mr. Bachler eerily reminds me of Le Baron Mortier, who declared to the Le Monde newspaper that the Parisians wrere all idiots and needed his genius to guide them. Guess what? That was considered a political blunder by the powers-that-be and Mortier had to look for another job.

          • oedipe

            …they can do what they please…

          • justanothertenor

            As much as I dislike Mortier and most of the appalling productions he presented in Paris (especially the Mozart), didn’t he leave Paris ONLY because he reached mandatory French government retirement age? (Yes, being the head of an Opera is a government job in France).

          • sterlingkay

            I agree…Germany is doing fine….wouldn’t say the same for Spain, Portugal, Italy, UK and France….heavy cuts ahead there for the arts….

          • oedipe


            It can be decided by decree to keep someone in a government job past the mandatory retirement age if he/she is considered invaluable and/or a replacement has not yet been found. Although it was known that Mortier was leaving, it took a long time for the government to find a replacement, so he stayed on (in a sort of limbo).

          • sterlingkay

            A cautionary tale about the sad state of affairs in the US for arts organizations…tells you all you need to know about the stupid rich people who call the shots and why comparing the situation here to Europe is ridiculous.
            Multiply this Fuller buffoon by 50 and you get some idea of what the MET is up against. Opera Boston went under because not enough rings and/or butts were kissed:


          • justanothertenor

            that is a little easy. Aside from Lieberman, can you name a single French Opera general director who was allowed to continue past 65 in the last 30 years? Even Jean-Pierre Brossmann who made the Chatelet the shining star of Opera in Paris was not extended past 65.
            Here we are all criticising these European directors for their overly bold programming and condescending tone. However, did you know that Mortier’s last season in Paris was a record breaking year for the number of people attending, box office income, and private donations? (respectively 800,000; 48.3 million Euros; and 7.4 million Euros). Somehow, despite his controversial productions, he might have hit the nail on the head with the Parisian public.

          • oedipe


            It was not my intention to discuss the relative merits of Mortier’s reign at the Paris Opera, versus those who preceded or followed him. This topic is constantly debated in French opera circles, it is exceedingly political and polarizing, and it annoys the hell out of me that people take sides based exclusively on politics and refuse to give credit where credit is due.

            As for opera attendance, the Paris Opera announced a similar figure of 800000 for the 2009-2010 season under a different management (Nicolas Joel).


            Incidentally, this too is a topic of constant debate, on the principle of “lies, lies and statistics…”


            Actually, my mention of Mortier was merely meant to illustrate the fact that there are limitations on the powers of opera managers in state-subsidized European houses -just like there are limitations on the powers of opera managers in privately financed American houses-, only of a different nature. And when the manager of a prominent state-controlled opera house makes public statements that ruffle the feathers of the establishment, that opera manager runs the risk of being called to order; I could have used names other than Mortier, the history of the Paris Opera is rife with examples. Just as an aside, it seems that the powers of Nicolas Joel are significantly curtailed these days…

          • justanothertenor

            I did not mean to start a political discussion of who was better than who in Paris in the last decades. I was merely pointing out that although it is in theory possible to extend a contract passed standard retirement age, the facts have to make one wonder as to the actual possibility of it.
            In addition, I only mentioned those figures because I was absolutely stunned by them. After hearing (and witnessing) so may bad things about the Mortier regime, I was amazed to find out that he had the best attendance record in the history of the Opera up to 2009 (well the article you posted seems to point out Gall did better). However, a 94% capacity in both houses in Paris during the last year of Mortier is staggering. Clearly, the Regie filled seasons did not deter, but attract an audience. Maybe Bachler IS on to something…

        • Batty Masetto

          It looks like the Bayerische Staatsoper is doing quite well by “younger, hipper” audiences, whether Bachler thinks he’s giving audiences what they like or not. According to the company itself:

          50% of its audiences are between the ages of 30 and 59, and 8% are between 18 and 29.

          And according to this site:

          productions are playing to 95% capacity. So it seems evident the state support is not exactly keeping a moribund institution from collapsing for lack of interest. If anything, I would guess that it’s making the art form available to more people in those younger age brackets. It appears that defying expectations does seem to be paying off, at least in terms of public interest in the medium.

      • Satisfied

        “What an American impresario needs to say is, “regrettably we do not have as much freedom in programming as some of the European theaters enjoy, but we recognize that our mission includes leading and informing public taste, not just ‘keeping the theater open’.'”

        Indeed. And in all fairness to Gelb…doesn’t he kinda say just that? If not directly in his words than in his actions? That said, when I read the post that started this thread, I thought less “this is what Gelb should have said!” and more “please shut your trap, sir.”

        Very good topic, by the way LC. I love it that so many thoughtfully opinionated souls took the time to chime in on a subject we all love. One of many reasons why I love PB.

    • Clita del Toro

      louannd: Thanks. that is hysterical. ROTFLMAO!

      • I didn’t know you were *French.* :)

        • Clita del Toro

          Sometimes I am. Sometimes I am the other thing!

  • cosmodimontevergine

    Well didn’t opera begin as the apotheosis of the ruler, the Prince? The problem arrives when opera is commodified, in the American manner, and flops. Worse still is when American pseudo-princes pay for it but don’t have a clue about it and haven’t the brains to leave it to those who do.

  • Signor Bruschino

    Speaking of Gelb, and appealing to the masses (and avoiding the critical minority)… is it true that the season announcement will be on a Friday? Thus making it basically, in La Cieca’s brilliant words, a Friday news dump? If true, doesn’t this seem to be incredibly silly in terms of getting press out of what should be one of the most important events of the MET press year?

    • ianw2

      In this country at least, the biggest days for arts coverage in the papers are the weekend sections. Not sure if the same applies in NY, but a Friday release may coincide with a big Saturday arts section feature in the NYT.

      And as to Bachler- what a catty comment. The two houses, as has been pointed out, have vastly different environments.

      • No, the weekend arts sections in the Times close in midweek. There is a little room in the metro section of the paper for arts coverage on Saturday, but it is mostly overlooked out of habit: because those parts of the news that can be managed are arranged to appear in a weekday paper, nobody expects important news to show up on a weekend. (Releasing an arts story on Friday also ensures that the earliest it can be covered in depth will the the Sunday arts section nine days later, by which point the news is cold.)

        [Friday News Dump]

        • ianw2

          Thanks. I was more thinking that if TT had a big weekend feature on the season (which as we’ve seen isn’t exactly a closely guarded secret), they may have been some justification for releasing it publicly on the Friday, to coincide with an already-written Saturday feature. But it does appear to be more of a Friday News Dump

  • grimoaldo

    As someone who has lived both in the lands of publicly subsidized opera (the UK although nothing like as heavily subsidized as Germany) and private donors (USA) it is my opinion that whether publicly or privately backed the most important thing for opera companies or performing arts organisations to do is to PUT ON GOOD STUFF!
    Having an idea “we are a edgy regie company” or “we are a singer’s company” leads to trouble it seems to me, every company needs to be a GOOD company.
    It was unquestionable to me for years that the European model of public subsidy was infinitely, obviously superior to the US model of rich people coughing up if they feel like it until around 2002-4 or so when there were a string of atrocious productions presented in London that it seemed to me inexcusable to present and would have been most unlikely to have got into a house in the US.
    These include the Calixto Bieto productions of Ballo and Don Giovanni at the ENO. Now I know that a lot of people who contribute to this list like his work. I would point out that the critics and the public in the UK at least do not like what they have had presented to them there, for the most part.

    “the baneful Calixto Bieito, whose nauseating and tedious version of Don Giovanni, revived by English National Opera, was another cause for terminal gloom.
    Quite honestly, I pity Bieito and his obsession with vileness. But I wish he’d go away.”

    These productions were not successful critically or with audiences, the place was empty, they cancelled some performances as I recall because they had sold so few tickets and these productions and others along the same lines brought them into real financial trouble, subsidy or not.

    Around the same time, Covent Garden was treating us to Christoph Loy’s Lucia with the male chorus in tuxedos and jackboots etc (and poor singing)
    “Like so many of his kind, Loy makes Lucia what he wants it to be: this isn’t a creative dialogue with the text, but a critique of it.”
    Maybe I will get into trouble with La C for saying so but I think that is quite a good point. It comes across that Bieto and Loy think that Mozart Verdi and Donizetti wrote stupid operas and they are going to show us just how stupid these works are.
    We also had at Covent Garden around the same time an absolutely atrocious Robert Wilson Aida, panned universally by the critics, booed by the audience and never revived, and a Luisa Miller directed by one Olivier Tambosi with, in the pastoral acts, cardboard cut out goats at the back of the stage, the stupidest damn thing I ever saw in my life.
    I am not averse to regie and am a big fan of Richard Jones whose Covent Garden Ring I loved although many hated it and maybe these directors have done some good things but these productions were crap, the opera houses should have known they were crap, a lot of them were co-productions, and there is no excuse for putting on a string of crap shows. But why should the people in charge of the opera companies care, the critics hate the show, the audiences hate it, nobody buys a ticket and the theatre is empty but they get their million pounds a month or whatever it is anyway so why should they care?
    It is not right.
    On the other hand, we have the recently announced Met season where it seems absolutely inexcusable to me to plan a Troyens with Giordani and Voigt. That is just as much a degradation of a great work, but in a different way, as Bieto’s Ballo. We have heard here from a few Giordani fans who like his high notes. Fine, let him come out onstage, sing two A’s, a B flat and a C and then go home, he doesn’t need to wreck a great opera to do that. This is the tradition of Met audiences only wanting to hear loud voices with “squillo” blasting high notes and who cares about the drama. That Troyens is going to be crap, anybody can see it will be crap, it is not right to put on crap especially pre-planned crap.
    I would point out that Glydenbourne Festival Opera receives no public money, the only major opera company in the UK that does not, and has generally very high musical and theatrical achievement.

    • thirdlady

      I’m sorry…you’re quoting the Telegraph on Bieto? Isn’t that a bit like quoting the Wall Street Journal on, say, Andres Serrano? Can I just express my interest in actually having the chance to experience a production of his in New York, rather than being subjected to the current anodyne parade of middle-brow, mediocre, let’s-not-frighten-the-horses productions on offer at the Met?

      And, on the subject of innovative Europeans, thank GOD Gerard Mortier didn’t get hired at City Opera! Because he would absolutely have run them into bankruptcy and ruin, unlike those fiscally responsible, nongovernment-subsidy-dependent Americans…oh, wait a minute…

      • grimoaldo

        I was thinking more of quoting Rupert Christansen than the Telegraph but here is

        ”I should sooner poke my eyes out and sell my children into slavery than sit through it again,” thundered a columnist in The Times of London recently.

        and The Guardian on Bieto’s Don Giovanni at ENO:
        “Unfortunately, it’s the “deep issues” of Mozart’s opera that this production singularly fails to address, largely because Bieito rides roughshod over its metaphysics.”


        • The fact is, most critics are pretty stupid about dramatic qualities in opera, and so insular and parochial a crew as the British critics are stupider than most. Add to that the very predictable (insular, parochial) resentment against outsiders meddling in holy British art, and you can see how Bieito didn’t stand much of a chance — with the critics.

          The piece you quote from the New York Times is utterly typical and predictable: the catalog of “depraved” details, quoted without context; the appeal to the conventional as evidence of authorial intent (the notion that Don Giovanni is necessarily about the power inequalities created by class, rather than, as Bieito gives us in his production, power inequalities created by other factors such as fame, wealth and political connections), and of course, the argument that “he does the same thing over and over again,” which is like saying that Vermeer is a fake because all he painted were interior rooms with windows.

          Meanwhile Bieito has gone from success to success elsewhere in the world, despite the fact that a few middle-aged Oxbridge homosexuals were thrown into a pet by his art.

          And remember that it was a British critic who called of Tristan und Isolde “too revolting to permit a chance of it ever being produced in England.” In the interest of fairness, it should be noted that it was an American, Henry Krehbiel, who wrote, “La Bohème is foul in subject, and fulminant but futile in its music. Its heroine is a twin sister of the woman of the camellias but Mimì is fouler than Camille, alias Violetta, and Puccini has not been able to administer the palliative which lies in Verdi’s music.”

          • Arianna a Nasso

            Yes, it’s always puzzled me why a music critic was assumed to have the knowledge to evaluate theater on the same level they can evaluate music.

          • CwbyLA

            it must be my own ignorance but I fail to see how the expression, “a few middle-aged Oxbridge homosexuals,” relates to the discussion at hand. What has the critic’s sexual orientation got to do with this?

          • My use of “middle-aged Oxbridge homosexuals” is not meant to imply that gay men have less appreciation of theater than the population in general, but rather to express the idea that British critics are a remarkably homogeneous group and therefore would seem liable to hold, collectively, a relatively narrow world-view.

            Something of the same issue holds in the United States for classical music critics; for “Oxbridge” read “Ivy League,” and of course women are vastly underrepresented among high-profile media (Anne Midgette is a rare exception).

            More to the point, whatever the sexual orientation, many music critics are not particularly well-equipped to review opera productions where the staging is challenging or in general not in line with a rather narrow view of the dramatic possibilities of a piece. Take, for example, a review by Rupert Christiansen linked above:

            What fundamentally troubles me, however, is that Loy doesn’t seem remotely interested in the combination of melodrama and romanticism at the heart of Donizetti’s opera. This is not an interpretation that grows out of the score, so much as one imprinted upon it.

            The critic has already decided what the limitations of the dramatic possibilities of the opera are, and if what he is presented does not conform to what he has defined as the “heart” of the work, he cannot accept it. Lucia, in Christiansen’s view, must be melodramatic and romantic, or else (as the critic continues) “this isn’t a creative dialogue with the text, but a critique of it.”

            I don’t think most theater critics could get away with making such a priori statements, e.g., “Hamlet is first and foremost the story of a man who can’t make up his mind.” That’s because most good theater critics have been exposed to a broad enough variety of productions to realize that there is very little that “must” be in the presentation of a text, and, in fact, have already experienced productions that deliberately violated these assumed “musts” and created exciting theatrical experiences. (God knows, a critic who typed out a laundry list of “Hamlet recites his soliloquy in a Blockbuster Video, Ophelia works in a photographer’s darkroom” and so forth without attempting to find context for the details would laughed to scorn.)

          • CwbyLA

            I very much appreciate the explanation dear La Cieca. I mostly agree with you in the sense that most music critics are not equipped to review the theatrical aspects of an opera production, much the same way a theater critic is most likely ill-equipped to review the musical performance of the actress/singer playing the student soprano part in McNelly’s Master Class.

            It is perhaps presumptuous of me to say this but what I understand you saying is that Chrsitiansen is a “conservative” music critic.

            I mostly cringe when heterosexual people mention the sexual orientation of a homosexual performer/critic/athlete/scientist etc in the same breath when they criticize the said person. Therefore, it is my own hypersensitivity to the issue and I wanted to understand why you criticized a conservative critic invoking his sexual orientation.

            Again, I appreciate the explanation.

          • grimoaldo

            That’s an interesting video La C, thank you for posting it. I am glad they are doing Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo, that is not an opera and was not intended to be staged so I suppose it is the perfect opportunity for Bieito to do whatever he wants to with it.

          • armerjacquino

            Wait, hang on. I’m an Oxbridge homosexual.

            Remind me to be offended when I hit middle age.

          • Regina delle fate

            With respect, your remarks about British critics don’t bear any scrutiny. Of say 20 writing about opera in the quality national press only three or four fit your description of “middle-aged Oxbridge homosexuals”. The rest include three married women, one single woman with the overwhelming majority being straight, though some of these may have been educated at Oxford for all I know. I don’t see
            Uch homogeneity here.

          • Regina delle fate

            Oops -- much homogeneity.

          • grimoaldo

            It is an interesting discussion but my main point was not about Bieito as such but about the fact that public subsidy can encourage indifference to or even contempt for the audience reaction. It does not seem right to me to take millions of dollars or pounds of tax money and use it to put on shows that everybody hates. There can even be an attitude of “the first night audience booed, great, that shows we are doing our job right, stupid opera lovers, what do they want, elephants in Aida?”
            And rather than just say “that show was dreadful” I found quotes from professional opera critics since their opinions would carry more weight than mine.
            Loy’s Lucia WAS just dreadful, and as Andrew Clements said in the Guardian “Christof Loy’s production of Donizetti’s most celebrated serious opera is another “new” show for the Royal Opera that started life elsewhere. That makes its dramatic shortcomings less excusable: someone from Covent Garden must have seen a performance in Düsseldorf and realised what was wrong.”
            On the other hand we have the Met dependent on private donors that apparently thinks it is OK to cast the completely unsuitable Giordani in Troyens because some of their audience like his loud high notes.
            I think there needs to be a balance between “giving the audience what they want” and “giving the audience what they ought to have”.

    • Regina delle fate

      Bieto is back at ENO next season and the one after with Carmen from Barcelona and Fidelio from Munich. I didn’t much care for his scrappy Don Giovanni, but his conspiracy-on-the-toilet Ballo was brilliant. I went twice :)

  • oedipe

    From a recent interview with opera’s enfant terrible Gérard Mortier:

    « Pour renouveler le public de l’opéra, nous devons libérer celui-ci de ses passionnés habituels ! »

    I am sure a lot of Parterrians will really appreciate this.

  • Nerva Nelli

    “…the argument that “[Bieito] does the same thing over and over again,” which is like saying that Vermeer is a fake because all he painted were interior rooms with windows.”

    I agree with much of your thinking on Regie stagings, Cieca, but would get off the bus here with this point that I have also seen made by an Intendant defending a witless production by a wannabe ( can;t recall which at present) who ALWAYS uses the same elements in staging opera.

    Isn’t there a distinction to be drawn between a creative artist like Vermeer and an interpretive artist like a director who is working with words and music that have already been created? Not that they can’t be *interpreted*, but it should not be treated as a blank canvas on which it is sufficient to project one’s own personal mythology/iconography to achieve something.

    • I think without going all the way to the “blank canvas” analogy my argument has some limited merit. From one angle, the Vermeer/Bieito parallel is that we are talking about two artists who are perceived to limit themselves to a rather narrow palette of effects, and my point there is that it is possible for an artist to do beautiful and moving work within such constraints.

      The second argument in a way contradicts the first, but I see it as a different way of looking at the “similarity” question. The “narrowness” of Vermeer’s subject matter (a couple of rooms in his own home, with a few not-lavish furnishings and a small number of models used repeatedly) is essentially trivial in comparison to the depth of his treatment of light and technical use of pigment, i.e. the qualities that make his art so fascinating and prized today and, most likely, forever.

      I think a similar argument can be made about Bieito’s work, in that he does use certain repeated motifs (e.g., self-mutilation, urination, graphic sexually-charged violence) but he treats these elements so differently in different contexts that it’s shallow and wrong to say “all his productions are the same.”

      I saw two Bieito productions in the course of a week and they were very different in effect: Entführung was a black comedy very clearly set in a recognizable (though exaggerated) modern milieu; Parsifal was dreamlike and mythic, with the epoch and the location of the action deliberately obscured.

      The dramatic choices he made for each of these productions did not in any way feel arbitrary, but rather seemed to spring from a very deep reaction to the music and text. The end of the Mozart opera, for example, was very definite, closed and “hard,” even though it was clearly not the ending Stephanie wrote. The finale of the Wagner, though again it diverged from the published stage directions, was ambiguous and “open,” deliberately so I think: here Bieito wanted each audience member to draw his own conclusions from what was witnessed.

      Briefly, then, the “always the same” bits in Bieito are superficial, and I think are about as useless as the 1950s critiques of Maria Callas that she always played herself.

      Now, this doesn’t mean that just because a director always seems to put on the same show he’s a valid talent; as I have tried to make clear, the “similarity” aspect is actually pretty neutral as a value judgment. A good director can make good theater from a limited set of images; a lousy director will make lousy theater.

      • Nerva Nelli

        Fair enough.