Cher Public


A Court of Appeals in Paris has ordered BelAir Classiques to remove from its catalog a video recording of Dialogues des carmélites as staged by Dmitri Tcherniakov for the Bayerische Staatsoper on the grounds that the production is a “betrayal” of the intentions of Georges Bernanos and Francis Poulenc.  

  • PCally

    ???? I can’t believe it. That production is a total masterpiece, one of his best.

    • Often admonished

      ils ont leurs raisons

      • manou

        …que la raison ne connaît point.

  • Buster

    Performances are not forbidden, though? It will play for four nights in Munich (January/February):

    • Feldmarschallin

      I will be at two of them.

      • Krunoslav

        One trusts you will report to us if any of the nuns is obese and deserving of the guillotine.

        • luvtennis

          Kruno -- you are so bad…..

  • miss kitty litter

    …..a “betrayal” of the intentions of Georges Bernanos and Francis Poulenc.

    Oh no they dint!

  • Ilka Saro

    Wow. How did they do that? Did they hire Madame Flora to trouble the rest of Poulenc’s spirit and demand an affidavit?

    This falls into the same category as the censorship dealt to Death of Klinghoffer, but it dressed very differently. The public is not allowed to take in what a composer or librettist or designer or director or performers offers. The public can’t have it because it’s wrong or will give them the wrong idea about the meaning of x or y, and they can’t possibly have that, because then … then… the sky would fall, it’s a betrayal blah de blah etc.

    At least in this case, I wonder if 100 years from now, I wonder if these kinds of lawsuits and judgements will be viewed with amusement, in the same way we see the “controversies” and gossip around Mary Garden or Geraldine Farrar.

    • turings

      It’s a bit different, Ilka. As far as I understand the article, this is a case brought by the actual legal copyright owners of the work. You can take issue with the executors’ views on the subject, but the analogue would be the future artistic executors of Adams’ and Goodman’s estates objecting to a production in which Klinghoffer isn’t murdered.

      • Ilka Saro

        I am unfamiliar with the production. Are the nuns not guillotined at the end?

        And you are right. I question whether there is a true legal basis for artists controlling how their work can be understood or interpreted by others, regardless of what an artist puts in writing. I find it difficult to accept because unlike patented inventions like cheese graters, a point of view can only be perceived through human understanding, not dictation. Much ink is spilled on how to understand the “authentic” context of Vergil, or the authors of the Torah, or the censors of Rigoletto. But we can access the discussion and decide for ourselves. I don’t care what Poulenc’s will says, except as a matter of interest, not a source of limitation.

        • turings

          I haven’t seen it either, but according to the article, no – Blanche sacrifices herself and saves the others, which is a major departure from the text. I’m not sure that’s really an interpretation, more the creation of a different version.

          I’ve mixed feelings on the role of executors and copyright holders when it comes to the arts, but in any case it’s a different legal situation when something is still in copyright and when it isn’t.

        • armerjacquino

          I (in partnership with my mother and sister) am the executor for my dad’s estate- various of his plays and translations are still performed here and there.

          We’d never pull a trick like the Poulenc/Bernanos estate, obviously, but at the same time I don’t fully buy ‘whether there is a true legal basis for artists controlling how their work can be understood or interpreted by others’ either. We’ve had to close down a production which had grossly plagiarised dad’s work without crediting him, for example. In a case which is perhaps closer to this one, a director tried to present my one of my dad’s plays, cut about 40%, and replaced it with scads of his own terrible, terrible dialogue. We said it would be acceptable to present it as ‘devised by (X) based on material by (My Dad)’ but they couldn’t claim to be presenting dad’s play. The director refused to change it so we refused them permission to perform. It wasn’t a question of interpretation- it was a massive textual rewrite and we felt the resulting mess would have harmed dad’s reputation.

          • David

            Fascinating insight -- thank you

      • dallasuapace

        French law has a concept “droit d’auteur.” If a work is under copyright, the holders of the copyright can object to certain uses of the work.

        • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

          Well, they can try, but they won’t always succeed and the loss may prove costly, too. Here’s a story from Italy where essentially the same diritto exists, regarding the Beckett estate and a femme Godot:

          In fairness, I understand that Godot still didn’t turn up…

          • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

            [Gee -- hope I haven’t spoiled it for any of you].

            • manou

              Are you next going to tell us that the Cavaradossi firing squad is not using blanks?

            • Krunoslav

              Maybe that’s a way of getting Zinka’s two favorite Italian tenors off the Met rolodex?

  • JohninSeattle

    For those of us who have found the warmth, intelligence and charm of Mozart DESTROYED by every outing of Seattle Opera, can we have a séance for Wolfgang and get an injunction on this continent?

    Honestly, the courts do seem to be a happy medium for bankrupt intellectual musings. This is another exhibit for that litany.

  • Batty Masetto

    I’d be surprised if this isn’t appealed to the Cour de Cassation. I doubt the game is over.

    The courts would be an absolutely terrible arbiter of aesthetics. They have enough trouble even getting simple facts right. (Exhibit A for the US: All the murderers convicted “beyond a reasonable doubt” whom DNA evidence has proved were innocent after all. French courts don’t do much better.)

  • swordsnsolvers

    If I decided to stage Porgy and Bess with a white cast and chorus, you’d better believe I’d hear about it from the Gershwin estate. Maybe legal proceedings aren’t the ideal way to settle this kind of disagreement, but an artist (or their estate) has an interest in protecting the integrity of their work and the law gives them a way to do that.

    • Krunoslav

      Hasn’t the R & H estate objected sometimes to cross-gendering interpretations of songs and shows? God knows Maria St. Just shut down various productions of Tennessee Williams on scanty grounds.

      • grimoaldo

        Yes, the R&H estate keeps a tight rein on productions of the works they control, there will not be regie productions of “Oklahoma!” or “Carousel” etc while they are still in copyright.
        The puzzling thing about this case to me is why the Poulenc estate etc thinks the stage production is OK but a DVD is not.
        I know it is a long long time ago but when Gilbert and Sullivan was still in copyright pre 1961 the D’Oyly Carte company simply did not permit any professional productions of the pieces other than theirs in the UK. The G&S operas were very popular with amateur companies all over the country and a condition of being allowed to perform them, besides having to pay a fee, was that they were required strictly to stage the pieces according to detailed instructions about blocking, costuming,gestures, everything.
        D’Oyly Carte would send out spies to make sure the amateur companies were following these staging instructions to the letter and any company which did not would be blacklisted and never allowed to perform G&S again.

        • armerjacquino

          The Agatha Christie estate used to behave in a similar manner, until they realised that- both on TV and on stage- something with more of a contemporary feel didn’t do the work any harm.

    • JohninSeattle

      I understand what you are saying. But the ESTATE OF controls the release of the work. Once they agree to release the work to Company X, wouldn’t they be in violation of their own contract?

      My prettiness can’t take in the fine legal points. But once the copyright holder affirms the right to someone else to produce the work, what’s left quibble over? If you don’t want Company X to create their interpretation of your work, then don’t hand over the rights to them.

      Honestly, I think the audience of this work is capable of discerning the merits and shortfalls all on their own. But if you’re going to make me read a court opinion -- and in French! -- well that’s simply beyond my ability. (I’m lucky to follow along with a score. Now I have to follow along with a Court Verdict? Oh dear.)

      • Krunoslav

        No, some of these theatrical estate interventions have come after reviews appeared and the estate realized what had been done in the way of reinvention.

        • JohninSeattle

          Well, AFTER the production is mounted seems like the horse is out of the barn.

          I’d think the responsibility should have been spelled out in the contract releasing the rights. It’s *rumored* (and therefore TRU!!!) that the Gershwin estate reviews and signs off on production designs of Porgy. If that’s so, then they probably inserted the language to that effect in the contract.

          Btw, I feel for wee Willy Shakespeare, who’s TWELFTH NIGHT I’ve seen set on Mars and on a Caribbean Island with bikinis. Yes, TWELFTH NIGHT, Or What You Will has enjoyed many suspect twists. But to (mis)quote Duke Orsino: If (mis)Interpretation be the food of love, play on! let me have excess of it.

          • manou

            Shakespeare, whose play is subtitled What you Will has lost any legal redress.

  • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

    From a news article: “He essentially removed the religious elements of the opera, instead turning the nuns into a group of isolated, paranoid women who collectively commit suicide by turning the gas on in their shared house. Sister Blanche sacrifices her own life to save theirs.”

    • Cicciabella

      Hey, in my salad days Sylvia Plathism used to be a religion.

      • Krunoslav

        I am seeing a Plath NORMA production concept, ending domestically of course.

        Ted Hughes as Pollione
        Assia Weevil as Adalgisa
        Dido Merwin as Clotilde

  • Batty Masetto

    Worst case, as I read it Bernanos’ droit d’auteur expires in 2018. If it was his heirs who were mainly behind this – and in light of Bernanos’ own religiosity and stroppy treatment of Poulenc, that wouldn’t be surprising – they lose their say then. But Poulenc’s heirs keep their hold till 2033.

  • laddie

    Since I already own a copy, perhaps it will become more valuable. It is a terrific production.

  • Will

    A couple of decades ago Samuel Beckett caught wind of a performance of one of his plays being done at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA not strictly according to his stage directions. He made legal moves to shut down the production but the American court upheld the right of the production to explore the material in alternate ways. Beckett had to settle for a note in the program stating that “the playwright is disgusted with this production.”

  • Cicciabella

    Tcherniakov makes really intriguing, original productions, but can someone explain to me why he often goes for ugly, shapeless costumes in dull colours? What does this aesthetic mean to him?

    • He probably intends it to be how people are, no?

      • But not you or I of course!

      • Cicciabella

        You mean how people are ON THE INSIDE?

        • No, just how they dress every day. E.g. on the NY subway.

          • williams

            The subway in New York differs greatly in dress from line to line. A trip downtown on the Lexington Avenue 6 on a weekday morning would reveal much in the way of Brooks Brothers, Chloe, Turnbull and Asser and Saint Laurent. A voyage on the L towards hipster Williamsburg in the evening might feature Varvatos, Rag and Bone and McQueen. Plenty of jeans, skinny and otherwise, would be in evidence on both along with Converse and Timberland footwear as well. Lots of frumpy unstylish schmattas to be had too but methinks you were overgeneralizing.

            • Cicciabella

              @ williams Tcherniakov seems to be strictly into Rag and Bone.

            • Porgy Amor

              Hmmm…I’ve seen a number of his productions, and I’d say his characters are dressed appropriately for whatever it is. I don’t think he has a consistent aesthetic that he forces everyone in every opera into. Look at his Tsar’s Bride. They’re all very smartly tailored in different ways, suits for the execs, preppy fashions for young Marfa and Lykov.

              Very different from his Khovanshchina:

  • zinka

    Who goes to Tannhauser for the LANDGRAVE?????

    I was overwhelmed!!!! …and remember, I saw the creator of Hagen!!!!!!!!!

  • Batty Masetto

    I’ve always been deeply annoyed that the Strauss heirs refused permission to tape John Cox’s exquisite Versace Capriccio – I mean the original one in San Francisco, or at least the lovely though not-quite-as-good reembodiment from Covent Garden, nothing resembling the very degraded and unsatisfactory revision for the Met HD – on the same grounds of infidelity to author’s intent. It had all the ensemble polish and wit of the later Carsen version for Paris but with no heavy-handed Nazis or mirror tricksiness, and with a superb, handsome cast that included Hanna Schwarz, William Shimell, Hakan Hagegard, Victor Conrad Braun, Michel Sénéchal (as M. Taupe) and a delightful, hilarious Reri Grist(!) as the Italian Singer. The costumes were magnificent, not just for the women (Kiri’s beaded evening gown was eye-popping) but the tailoring for the men. It was the absolute sleeper of the season – what, Capriccio, a hit?? – and once the word spread, every performance sold out. I think I saw it 5 times.

    Cox was the first, I think, to recognize, and brilliantly, that for all their talk of Gluck, etc., these are not remotely 18th-century people in 18th-century relationships, but sophisticated, articulate people straight from the first third of the 20th century. Unlike Hofmannsthal in Rosenkavalier, this time Strauss and his librettists simply weren’t able to create a historically believable social structure. Just for one thing, for all the freedom of salon society, it would have been mind-bogglingly scandalous for a lady of the Countess’s standing to contemplate marriage to a professional composer or playwright in, say, 1785, or to entertain an actress (shudder) as an equal. In that sense, the third act of Adriana Lecouvreur is more historically “accurate.”

    As I understand it, Cox absolutely refused to re-do the production in the traditional Dresden-figurine 18th century for a recording, so that indefatigable yes-man Lotfi Mansouri took over and we have the recording that we have instead. And the biting irony is that the very next year, I think, the Strauss family permitted recording of a vastly inferior Salzburg production that also involved an update to the 1930s.

  • Feldmarschallin
    • Krunoslav

      No. I will be interested to hear what you think of it. Quite a high level cast, though Hopf I really enjoy only as the Kaiser in the Boehm studio FRAU.