Cher Public

Wer nicht mit dem Woolfe heult

Zachary Woolfe (not pictured) makes his way to Bayreuth to try to unravel the Evgeny Nikitin mystery. Though many questions remain unanswered, it’s still a compelling read. (Don’t miss the Christian Thielemann pullquote near the end!) [New York Times]

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    ” Since this Dutchman and Senta were never allowed to be ecstatic, their interactions fell flat” -- Exactly

    • Clita del Toro

      Well, it’s hard to tell on the radio! :+)

  • This is a pretty fair and sober piece, especially given the rapidly-changing circumstances under which it was written.

    There are just a couple of points I would frame differently. “What could have been a teachable moment instead had a hasty, back-room feel. There was no news conference or official discussion of the nuances of Mr. Nikitin’s situation and its historical context.”

    Nikitin has been evasive about this whole matter, and I can’t say that I really blame the Bayreuth leadership for not wanting to risk a press conference without knowing for certain what was going to come out of Nikitin’s mouth. (For an example of a press conference gone horribly awry, look at what happened with Lars von Trier at the Cannes Festival a few years ago.)

    Nikitin and his management have had ample opportunity over the years to prepare a defense or clarification. Nikitin’s TVkultura program first aired, I believe, in September, 2008. Another picture, from the article for Sobaka magazine, was taken around May of that year. As this note makes clear, those images could have caused confusion and raised questions back then -- already in 2011 he had been referred to as the guy with “fascist tattoos”. If the swastika were really the horrific, accidental by-product of a tattoo under construction (as Nikitin has claimed since about Monday), how did he or his manager not notice? Did no one really ask? Did they not prepare themselves for questions at that time or since? Wouldn’t they at least have some photographs on file showing Nikitin’s tattoos c. 1996 or 2002 or whenever? Nikitin’s shifting explanations within the course of a few days provide further evidence that he was not yet prepared to face rigorous questioning from skeptical journalists.

    The teachable moment, I think, has not so much to do with Bayreuth’s past, but with Russia’s present and Germany’s present. For example, the use of certain nordic runes is not just a matter of antiquarian interest for those interested in Scandinavian history or Nazi memorabilia, but has long been an active flashpoint in the cat-and-mouse legal battle between the German government and far-right extremists. Metal bands with completely wholesome interests in Nordic folklore, like the Latvian band Skyforger, have learned either to avoid such symbols or be extremely explicit about their intended meanings. The clothing company Thor Steinar had one of their logos, composed of a couple conjoined runes, banned by the German government.

    Also, the use of these symbols is no longer simply attached to German history, but also Russian history, as the rise since 1990 of neonationalist neopagan movements which sometimes (not always, or even often) co-opt nazi ideology and appropriate it for Russian nationalist or simply “modernized” ends. (Such elements would include a) a cult of masculinity extending to hooliganism and paramilitary organization b) a Nietzschean critique of Christianity as enfeebling to that masculinity, with blame attached to Semites who introduced it to Russia.) This is not “historical context”, but current, political context -- and I don’t think the Bayreuth management would have been in a good position to provide that.

    (For clarity’s sake, let me emphasize: I am NOT claiming that Nikitin is a fascist, an anti-semitic extremist or anything like that, only that the contemporary political context pretty much requires anyone who uses these symbols publicly to be extremely truthful and forthright about their intended meanings and to distance themselves unmistakably from unintended meanings and associations. And that process has to begin with a complete and truthful account of the circumstances of the tattoos’ creation.)

    For journalists pursuing this Nikitinshchina, I think the essential background will be found not in Bayreuth, but in St. Petersburg. Whether the local press there is up to the challenge, I couldn’t say.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Chorus of dead Electric Fan Salsemen??? That’s a first.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Looks like Youn and Nitwit could both use this:

  • phoenix

    -- Is this a critique of an actual performance or just another Nikitinshchina monologue? Where’s the beef, Zach? I thought you were something of a music critic, but perhaps I am wrong about that.
    -- In light of Gloger’s ‘I didn’t know how good he was’ praise of Youn in the Bayreuth press release the other day, I knew I shouldn’t expect anything approaching an objective analysis of Youn’s Dutchman. That Youn was the hero of Bayreuth 2012 was already established before the performance began -- to deny him a free pass would be politically inappropriate.

    • The headline is “Whiff of Scandal Lingers In Bayreuth,” and the piece is labeled as “Critic’s Notebook.”

      In other words, the piece is not primarily a review.

      Now, I’ll make a deal with you. If you learn how to read, then I won’t have to explain things to you as if you’re a four-year-old.

  • la vociaccia

    As someone previously posted on another Nikitin thread, it is not possible to cover saturated black ink with light colored ink, so there can’t have been a complete swastika on his chest.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Yes there can, just not an unembellished one.

  • erica

    As a professional educator, I cannot express how happy I would be to never hear the term “teachable moment” ever again. And as someone who believes profoundly in freedom of expression and separation of church and state, I don’t care what Nikitin believes or believed in — as long as he doesn’t seek to impose it on anyone else.

    However, I would find knowing that a principle singer sported such a tattoo a profound distraction watching Wagner at Bayreuth. I don’t know how much so elsewhere — but I admit it makes me uncomfortable.

    • manou

      Oh erica, erica…I have tried to say nothing, but it is a matter of principle.

      • MontyNostry

        An unprincipled principal singer?

        • erica

          I know, I know. Realized it as soon as I posted. (English teacher after all.) Just too darned lazy to change it.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I’d never heard the expression ‘teachable moment’ before, but nevertheless it jarred.

      • oedipe

        It’s sort of like the “aha moment”, or the “cialis moment”…

  • Clita del Toro

    Listening to Lohengrin from Bayreuth. Annette Dasch has a pretty ordinary voice, which is not even that pretty. She is not the smoothest of singers either. When I watched this production last year I was not so aware of this, but just listening brings it out.

    We do have a different Ortrud today.

    BTW, I really liked the “Rat” production.

    • FragendeFrau82

      Did you hear boos? I thought I heard something. I thought by now most people liked it.

      Need to find the current cast list somewhere.

      I like the production too and I’m considering buying the DVD, despite the lack of JK. (I have an extremely limited DVD-buying budget)

      • Clita del Toro

        FF here’s the cast:
        Conductor Andris Nelsons
        Director Hans Neuenfels
        Stage Design Reinhard von der Thannen
        Costumes Reinhard von der Thannen
        Lighting Franck Evin
        Video Björn Verloh
        Dramaturgy Henry Arnold
        Choral Conducting Eberhard Friedrich

        Lohengrin Klaus Florian Vogt
        Heinrich der Vogler Wilhelm Schwinghammer
        Elsa von Brabant Annette Dasch
        Friedrich von Telramund Thomas J. Mayer
        Ortrud Susan Maclean
        Der Heerrufer des Königs Samuel Youn
        1. Edler Stefan Heibach
        2. Edler Willem Van der Heyden
        3. Edler Rainer Zaun
        4. Edler Christian Tschelebiew

        • FragendeFrau82

          Thank you, kind Clita! Really, is there a better name than Schwinghammer?!

          I missed Ortrud (listening at work & interrupted). How was she?

          Not chatting b/c I really can’t at work. I remember chatting during Bayreuth last summer. Miss you all.

          • Clita del Toro

            Act II begins in a half hour. Then we’ll see how Ortrud does.

          • Camille


            FF82, don’t give up on Jonas. QPF said he sounds ‘better than ever’ or words to that effect, so maybe he has got the devil of illness out of his system at last.

            I AM worried about him showing up — or not — for that Parsifal next season, tho….

          • FragendeFrau82

            Liebe Camille, thank you for your concern as always! I never give up on Jonas, despite my 50% track record in seeing him live.

            In fact my 2 tickets for Parsifal arrived in the mail yesterday. Hope springs eternal!

            Not only that, but I ordered (ie, entered the lottery) for tix to Trovatore in Munich next year.

            And of course, will try for Don Carlo at Royal Opera House.

            Good thing they invented credit cards. Enjoy the weekend!

  • Froshlover

    “..and the Metropolitan Opera said it was not re-evaluating his role in a new production of “Parsifal” in New York in February. ”

    Thank god the TIMES is on top of this! We can’t have anyone singing on the opera stage who might once have done--or said, or even THOUGHT--something that we might not agree with now. SHUDDER!! Opera must be a Virtuous Art Form, performed only by the Most Pure in Thought, Mind and Deed. I trust the TIMES, and all the opera blogs and chat rooms, will immediately begin a FULL investigation in the past of everyone connected with the art form. We must ROOT OUT any with a suspicious past, lest we be inevitably lured to the dark side, completely against our will, by some partially obscured tat that is hidden from our view by the singer’s costume.

    We cannot be too vigilant in our fight against those who believe — or might once have believed — differently than we do!!

    • Camille

      very funny.

    • Straw man demolished, film at 11.

      Back in the real world, it is possible for artists to do and say things that have an impact on people’s willingness to work with them, hire them, or buy their products. Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski and Lars von Trier are three names that spring to mind. Many individual and cultural factors will condition people’s reactions. Some folks have no difficulty separating, say, their disdain for child-rape from their esteem for an artist. For others, the one taints the other. It is not constructive for the former group to say of the latter that they “want purity tests”, any more than it would be helpful for people in the latter group to say of the former “see -- you love child rapists!”

      This is an area on which reasonable people can disagree.

      • Camille

        greetings, m. ~~

        Not to be outdone by little moi, M. Camille has decided to accompany me to Feng Yi Ting, saying “It couldn’t be as bad as Tan Dun, nothing is”.

        so then, more later…..

        • I could think of some things worse than Tan Dun, but I won’t name names.

          I hope you guys have fun -- Jiang Qihu and Shen Tiemei are strong artists. It’s a pity that the opera is so short, but there are practical constraints, I suppose, on the number of singers that could have been hired and rehearsed for this specialized work. Sorry I won’t get a chance to hear it myself -- will be interesting to see how the Sichuan and Beijing operatic styles blend (or don’t). In some respects, the whole thing reminds me of Prince Igor or perhaps Carmen- the oppositions male/female, “civilized” Beijing/”wild” Sichuan encapsulated in a contrast of musical language.

          • Camille

            Chinese water torture, mebbe?

            Just kidding, yuk, yuk.

            I know you cannot go--that is why I am going proxy on you, cher m. croche, to thank you for all that you do to proselytize for better east/west understanding and to thank you for all the efforts you have made to that end, including the translations of l’affaire Nitikin and your excellent new website.

            Although I will not understand much of what I see there is the eagle eye and ear of M. Camille, who certainly will know more about separating the wheat from the chaff.

            Regards, until the day we are able to convene at Pagan on Clement Street!

      • armerjacquino

        Straw man was the phrase that sprung to my mind, too, especially as the quote from the Met makes it clear that they’re not sacking him.

  • ardath_bey

    The time for the German people to be this inflexible was when the horrors of the holocaust were being committed. Hitler got 13 million votes in 1932 and no one should buy the lie that “we didn’t know”. Germans knew, their kids knew, many still alive today. And they took part in the mass murder too, Hitler couldn’t have murdered 6 million Jews, gays, gypsies, the disabled, Jehovah’s witnesses, political opponents, the unemployed, the homeless and other minorities on his own without the complicity and help from a *lot* of Germans.

    Nonetheless I applaud Bayreuth for making this an issue. I hope the same thing happens to the creep at the MET, I don’t care how good of a singer he is. As for the article, it fails to just call the man an idiot, at best or at worst, a supremacist.

    A tattoo is known to be a permanent mark on your skin, it’s painful, expensive and time-consuming, you have to make an appointment and choose the image you’ll have to live for the rest of your life with, so just don’t call it a “mistake” from your youth, especially when it was done just a few years ago in your early 30s or late 20s.

  • More Woolfe, this time on baroque opera stagings: Building a 21st-Century Baroque.

    • Amazingly succinct but wonderfully comprehensive piece; I am incredibly envious of him!

    • “Whether it was correct is a more suitable question when it comes to performing the Baroque repertory, which is defined by its precision and stylistic rigor — in other words, by its correctness.”

      I’ve seen a number of “definitions” of the Baroque in my time, but this is a new one for me. I wonder: how is Cavalli “precise” and “rigorous” in a way that, say, Mozart is not? If singers of Italian opera in the early 18th century regularly ornamented the written text, how is that “precise”? Wagner’s orchestral music often seems more choreographed to individual melodramatic gestures than, say, Handel’s -- yet the Baroque is more “precise”?

      This gobbledygook isn’t wholly ZW’s fault (though he’s not helping matters here). “Baroque” is a crap term, encompassing a number of diverse styles and trends while creating artificial distinctions between similar repertoire. I look forward to the day when the word disappears from journalistic use.

      Also: Maybe back in 1980 people worried first and foremost about being “correct”. Nowadays, I think people worry more about what “works”. Same as any other music.

      • JJ

        Here is a problem with which I can identify, and in a way it’s the Catch-22 of arts criticism. A writer doesn’t always get to say exactly what he wants to say or even what he means to say in a deadlined, time-sensitive piece. Sometimes the point one is trying to make is subtle and ambiguous, sometimes the argument hinges on a precise definition of terms, and other times the basis of the argument is a large volume of historical or cultural background information that the writer can’t be sure the readers will already know,. And yet, there is generally not enough space to bring in this extra information.

        I too find the sentence you quote a little unclear, though perhaps “stylistic rigor” is a more helpful term than “correctness.” But sometimes we writers have only a limited range of words that can apply, and “correct” is probably a better word here than “rigorous.” I am trying to think of a single word that better gets the idea across: “faithful” isn’t quite right; neither is “authentic.”

        As to oedipe’s complaint, I see what Woolfe is getting at here: he’s talking about a specific production that purports “to mimic as precisely as possible the way the opera would have been put on at its premiere,” and the point is that such a reconstruction is likely to be largely guesswork and conjecture, based as it is on modern readings of period accounts of period performances. The problem with relying on this sort of account is that, lacking the direct experience of the performance it describes, we can’t be sure how accurate or complete the account might be. A big problem with this sort of documentation of performance practice is that some of the most deeply-ingrained conventions of the genre might be so familiar to the writer that they would not register with him and therefore would not be reported. For example, it’s an obvious convention today that the first appearance of the conductor always receives some applause. But if one were looking back from a vantage point of 350 years from now at reviews of performances, it would appear that such an ovation happend only rarely, e.g., when James Levine returns to the podium after a long illness.

        The difference is that our future historians will have more and different documentation from what we have about performances in the 17th century. In other words, they will have the data necessary to create (if they like) a much closer approximation of 21st century “performance practice” than we do for the 17th century. (And, obviously, just introducing the notion of “21st century performance practice” echoes m. croche’s complaint above: there is no overarching “practice” than can usefully describe so vast a range of performances.)

        • oedipe

          Because it involves so much interpretation, nothing is ever perfectly clear about history and, even with large(r) amounts of data and technology, things are unlikely to change in the future (as a recent example, with all the tools at our disposal, the Nikitin “case” is far from perfectly, objectively clear).

          As for performance practices in 17th and 18th century France, there has been an enormous amount of recent research and there is now a large body of knowledge. Incidentally, for those who will be in Paris at the time of the David et Jonathas run at the Opéra Comique, I urge you to check the schedule of (free) conferences that will accompany this run. When a baroque opera is produced, the Opéra Comique generally organizes conferences that analyze it in depth, including performance practices.

          In interviews about his staging of Hippolyte et Aricie, Ivan Alexander said that he wasn’t under the illusion he could “mimic as precisely as possible the way the opera would have been put on at its premiere”. This couldn’t be done even if we were omniscient about performance practices: the materials we use today, the lighting and acoustic technology, the stage mechanisms, etc. are so different as to make the production a different experience. His staging is an interpretation of history where the modern point of view, though less obvious than in regie, is nonetheless present. Think Athys

          There are many individual styles that can be put to use in producing baroque opera. I like exposure to a variety of individual styles. Quality is a variable that’s independent of style.

          BTW, I found the staging of David et Jonathas -with its ethnic allusions and cinematic imagery of people (Fiddler on the Roof?)- mesmerizing and disturbing at the same time.

          • oedipe

            Atys, bien sûr.

        • “I too find the sentence you quote a little unclear, though perhaps “stylistic rigor” is a more helpful term than “correctness.” But sometimes we writers have only a limited range of words that can apply, and “correct” is probably a better word here than “rigorous.” I am trying to think of a single word that better gets the idea across: “faithful” isn’t quite right; neither is “authentic.”

          How nice of JJ to grace us with his presence! I realize that short-form writing is hard, harder than it may look to some (Voltaire’s excuse for writing a long letter to Catherine the Great: “I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”)

          This is Monday-morning quarterbacking, of course, but rather than trying to find the right adjectives to fit in that paragraph, wouldn’t it have been better to work with a different concept? Jettison “Baroque” as a term to encapsulate the French tragedie lyrique, written with court consumption in mind, and with its specific aesthetic of classicism, and Italian dramma per musica, written with public popularity in mind. It’s easier to draw a contrast between the two genres in a short time than to find an accurate adjectives to describe all the musical art that falls between the now-sanctified years 1600 and 1750.

    • oedipe

      …the calm confidence with which it purported to represent the details of a culture whose details are in fact now largely lost.

      What? Largely lost? That’s news to me and would certainly come as a shock to the thousands of historians and documentalists who for centuries have toiled over the collection of information on French culture and who, in the process, have filled up miles and miles of national library floors with documents of all kinds.
      Hey, we are talking here about the French baroque, not about Atlantis!

    • It’s a shame that Woolfe didn’t see Opera Atelier’s production of Lully’s Armide at Glimmerglass before writing this article. Opera Atelier draws upon period style in its stagings (Baroque dance, rhetorical gestures) without attempting to do “reconstruction”. The productions still have a dramatic sensibility that is modern. I think it would have added to his article.

  • TV coverage of the Bayreuth opening and Nikitin scandal.




    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      You have to hand it to the Germans for their extensive coverage of cultural events and opera in perticular. Some of the commentary is also very tongue in cheek; sample paraphrase: ‘Bayreuth is always the right place to look for something scandalous.’

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        Katarina Wagner’s ARD buck passing: “He [the Nit] himself did not want to sing here any longer… he sopke with his agent for two hours.. you have to ask his agent for more information.” There is a perfect photoshop opportunity with the image of the Wagner sisters in black with bouquets and smiles -- easily adjusted to add some of the old images of Hitler.

      • oedipe


        The Germans are not the only ones with extensive coverage of cultural events. It’s just that the others’ cultural events don’t get as much coverage on Parterre.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Yes, of course you’re right, Oedipe, I should have said all of Europe, for there the put America to shame in terms of recognizing the importants of the arts -- especilly on TV and mixed media

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I wonder where one can find technical details of the making of the opening ceremony for the London Olympics for TV. For example, how many wireless earphones were distributed to the performers, how many stage managers were calling cues to the various groups of people through those earphones and what were examples of those cues; breakdown of the costs of all of it. Michael Phelps still looks like he’s stoned

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Worst costume award goes to Ralph Laurent for making the USA Olympic Team look like a third world nation! Boo and hissss. Furthermore those clothes were made in China. Sick at heart for the America that shall never be as it was.

      • For my part, Lebron James never looked better.

  • zinka

    There was no Nazi symbol. The boy was born in Russian Polar north and was always nterested in Scandinavian mythology, Eddic poetry, Iselandic sagas and history of the Viking age. In his hard rock years he wrote and sang songs in the style of Eddic and Scaldic poetry. All his tatoos done in that period are the well-known mythological images and among then the hooked cross (but not the Nazi swastika) which represents the god Thor’s hammer -- the? weapon of the Thunder-god killing the Serpent.

    This was a comment on youtube…….

    • Well, my view would be that anybody, particularly an outsider, who claims to know the whole truth of the matter probably has an agenda to push.

      At first some were saying not to hassle Nikitin because the swastika tattoo was done in his youth and who among us hasn’t had a swastika tattoo in our youths… Now some are saying, there was never a swastika, just an amazing, amazingly unlucky coincidence that an unfinished tattoo just happens to resemble a swastika.

      These defenses are all plausible, but they require one to ignore evidence that doesn’t fit in with them. If someone is just looking to exonerate Nikitin, they can find a reason to do so. But if someone is trying to figure out what the truth of the matter is, then they probably should refrain from making definitive pronouncements.

  • brooklynpunk

    Am I the ONLY ONE listening to “Parsifal” live from the Festspielhaus this Sunday morning…it di make me wake up early, to catch it, but I am the only one in the chat room!!--LOL…!