Cher Public

Anvil chorus

Christiansen“I currently await, with trepidation, something set in the lavatories of a gay night club,” shrieks Rupert Christiansen of The Telegraph.

  • armerjacquino

    God, he’s pompous. And it’s ridiculous to accuse Katie Mitchell of sensationalism. Whatever one may think of her work, she’s almost comically serious-minded. Whatever her motivation for directing LUCIA in this way, cheap sensation won’t have been any part of it.

    • 98rsd

      I didn’t realize it was Mitchell who directed the Written on Skin performance I saw. Without question, it was one of the greatest productions of anything I’ve ever seen. (And my comfort zone is more 19th Century opera, so it wasn’t an easy sell for me.)

      Based on the Benjamin, I’d be happy to see anything Mitchell directed.

  • RosinaLeckermaul

    I have seen many Katie Mitchell theatrical and operatic productions over the past quarter century and have always found her to be the emperor’s new clothes. Now even Opera News is dubbing her a genius. She has a small bag of tricks (people running around for no reason in semi-darkness in front of off-white sets is one of her favorites). As armerjacquino points out, her work is humorless and overly solemn, which sometimes makes it unintentionally funny. I have learned to avoid her work.

  • me

    Yet what he writes in the bulk of his piece is eminently correct, I think. Absolutely correct. And while this site is heavy on the gay culture winks (picking this quote out of a well reasoned piece) (“piece!”), puerilely making fun of Alagna’s accent (“Butt-erfly” joke comments) it is about opera, which while embraced historically by homosexuals is not in itself typically about homosexuality, at all. The chimera of tattooed proletarian youth is correct, as well as the fact that people come to opera in their own time, as long as you keep people aware it exists, and let it exist on its own (great singing and some drama, not associating it with elitism or anything else. Encourage people to come to opera and make it just about the music, with all welcome and a diversity of productions (just as German and Italian operas are often so different, so productions can be varied). Thanks for sharing this well thought article, but boo for the gay-bashing (“shrieks!”)

    • armerjacquino

      I don’t see what substance there is in his article to be ‘absolutely correct’ about. It’s just generalised, chuntering ‘Down With This Sort Of Thing!’.

      • armerjacquino

        By the way, when you say ‘make it just about the music’ what you’re talking about is a concert.

      • me

        I’m not going to quote from the article as it is clearly written, but he made many points, much of which I agree with wholeheartedly. As for being about the music, that doesn’t make it a concert, it makes it unassociated with class issues, socioeconomics, etc., which have been fettered to opera for a long time; I mean dissociating it from all that, and making it about what is on stage, not in the audience.

        • I look forward to seeing your ideal production of Le nozze di Figaro, unfettered to class or socioeconomics.

          • Krunoslav


            • armerjacquino

              Probably best to remove that awful agitprop moment where Rodolfo says his poverty is killing Mimi, too. Can’t have nasty socioeconomics intruding on opera.

          • me

            Why can’t you understand what I’m saying? I thought I was clear, but I’ll try “better” -- actually, I was clear. I wasn’t talking about separating socioeconomic issues from operas that deal with socioeconomic issues (obviously) -- I spoke of separating opera from ideas about who the audience is, ie, if you go to the opera you will meet rich folk, or you will show yourself to be elitist, or educated or intelligent, or fat or slim or well dressed. Make it about the opera, not the “experience” of going involving extraneous factors like socioeconomics, etc

            • I can’t understand you because you’re not bothering to offer a cogent argument; rather, it seems that you’re mouthing platitudes that you assume “everyone” agrees with.

              At the very least you express yourself badly, and then you get defensive when people misunderstand you.

              Now you seem to say that an opera production should take into no account what its audience might be, which is nonsense.

              Now, as to the “shriek, it’s not exactly the word I was looking for. I was looking for a verb that denoted an emotional utterance and connoted a sort of getting all lathered up, muttering, “Oh my stars and garters!” and so forth. What I was trying to get across was that I thought Christiansen, as has been his wont of late, was reacting in a prissy, old-maidish sort of way. (It was actually a toss-up over whether the image for this posting would be the one I ultimately chose or Christiansen as Miss Prism.) The thesaurus yielded not many choices of which “shriek” was the least inaccurate.

            • me

              Your “old maid” comment bothered me so much I re-came to this site to address it. An older unmarried woman has nothing to do with this man, and its use in a derogatory sense is retrograde misogynism -- its use in any sense other than an unmarried older woman is problematic, and frankly even as that. The internet now, in 2016, only pulls up the card game, but if you add “definition” it pulls up “a single woman regarded as too old for marriage”, with the card game a secondary meaning. Perhaps you can find alternate ways to say what you mean without resorting to slurs. Thanks!

            • overstimmelated

              I assumed it was Christiansen’s own use of “shriek” (in an operatic, not a queer context — he refers to “shrieking fat-lady stereotypes”) that consciously or unconsciously prompted La Cieca to echo the word.

              As for “old maid,” Merriam-Webster online, perhaps not an arm of the language police but arguably a creditable mainstream source, gives “spinster” for the first definition and “a prim fussy person ” for the second, with no designation as “slur.”

            • overstimmelated

              And after “a prim fussy person,” Merriam-Webster gives this gender-specific example (which didn’t show up in the html post because it was enclosed in angle brackets): “he was a real old maid about burning rubbish — R. C. Ruark.”

        • armerjacquino

          So your response to being asked what substance there is in the piece is to say ‘there are loads of things but I’m not going to say any of them’.

          Brighter minds than mine have already pointed out the absurdity of your desire that opera should live in a vacuum, unaffected by and having nothing to say about the world we live in, but I’d just add that if we’re talking about ways to kill the art form, I reckon that would be just about the quickest.

          • me

            That’s not in the slightest what I was saying, see above.

            • PCally

              “That’s not in the slightest what I was saying, see above.”

              Uhm in fact it is.

              “I’m not going to quote from the article as it is clearly written, but he made many points, much of which I agree with wholeheartedly”

            • me

              Pcally, below (there is no reply link to your comment), I never said opera shouldn’t relate to life. That was the statement I said I never made. The confusion seems to come from the fact I was responding to the article linked, which the posts were supposedly about. I said I agreed with much of what RC said in his publication article, which I do, and have no need to bullet point summarize -- if one reads the article, one will see many points made, most of which I agree with. I also added, that I feel a problem with opera in US society is that it has been yolked to socioeconomic images, in an effort early on to entice rich folk or the aspiring, to subscribe. So many people feel opera is for a certain “type” of person, a socioeconomically rich person. I meant it is time to separate out the opera from the image made as to its audience -- opera is for everyone, who happens to like it after going a few times, to a variety of operas and productions. I certainly wasn’t limiting types of operas that should be presented (no Nozze d.Figaro, it’s about socioeconomics!)(how could anyone think I was saying that?!)

            • armerjacquino

              Compare and contrast:

              “I also added, that I feel a problem with opera in US society is that it has been yolked to socioeconomic images, in an effort early on to entice rich folk or the aspiring, to subscribe”

              “I wasn’t talking about separating socioeconomic issues from operas that deal with socioeconomic issues (obviously)”

              When what was actually said was:

              “As for being about the music, that doesn’t make it a concert, it makes it unassociated with class issues, socioeconomics, etc., which have been fettered to opera for a long time”

            • PCally

              Well then you just haven’t been explaining yourself all that well because this latest post doesn’t resemble you original one at all. And I still have yet to see any evidence either in your posts or in the article, just generalities and assumptions.

        • redbear

          You would not be aware, of course, but “Marriage” was banned in Vienna. They understood it as a threat to the current comfortable social order. Marie Antoinette, far away from her Austrian home, loved it for the music (and you can Google to find out how she finished.)

          • Krunoslav

            The play was banned; not the opera.

    • Explain to me how you make it out that only gay people ever shriek.

      • me

        I never said only gay people shriek, but it is a stereotype association, a euphemism if you will, like being “gay.” Or “fruity”. Or “queer.” The article isn’t “shriek-y” in any way, so the word came out as having the insinuation and in a negative sense. I can’t believe that needs spelling out!

        • You are as good at mind-reading my intentions as Mr. Christiansen is at mind-reading those of the stage directors.

          • me

            I was pointing out how it came across, or at least how it could to an attentive segment of readers. I assume at heart you don’t really wish to contribute to such a reality, so being alerted to the dynamic you might be less likely to engage in it. (what I mean is on reflection you wouldn’t want to come across as referring to a critic as a shrieking hysterical person necessarily, for all its “queen” history, and gay bashing history (he was shrieking, he was hysterical, he’s a queen -- these were like “gay,” but have not been folded into reclamation (“proud to shriek”,etc.) It came across to me as a slur on the man based on sexuality in part, especially as the piece itself was calm and well thought out, not drama-queeny (a word which I don’t normally use but which springs to mind when words like he shrieked were used) -- in other words your private intention, whatever it was, I can’t testify to in court -- it is the effect or association of the writing that I was addressing/pointing out

  • Su Traditor

    Rupert is, of course, referring to this:

    • armerjacquino

      And his snide, side-eye reference to it epitomises what is so dishonest about his whole article. The people who have written this haven’t sat down and said ‘Hey, let’s create a new young audience for opera by writing about sex!’ because that’s not why people write operas. They have become passionate about a story they want to tell through music. But that’s harder to sneer at.

  • Uncle Kvetch


    • armerjacquino


      And the sentence it comes from- ‘The harder you try to sell opera as groovy, the greater the suspicion and resistance, the stronger the shrieking fat lady stereotypes, the louder the catcalls of elitism and anachronism’- is as childish an example of ‘This is true because I have decided it is true’ as I’ve read in a long time.

      • Precisely. We have no evidence that anyone is trying to “sell opera as groovy” besides his own assertion that this is happening. Designing marketing materials so they look fresh and modern (instead of stale and fusty) is not trying to be “groovy” but, I think, simply trying to position opera closer to the mainstream of culture — that is, as one of a number of different types of art and entertainment that the intelligent, curious arts consumer might want to include as part of his experience.

        This is in fact a relatively old idea rather than a new one: it used to be that cultured people attended the opera just as they went to commercial theater and the cinema. It’s relatively recent in the US (say, since the 1970s) that opera has become so narrowly specialist an art form.

        Again we have the phenomenon of the critic who mistakes the familiar for the authentic. His experience of attending the opera is that the core of the audience are specialists, so he assumes that this experience is reflective of an eternal truth that the opera audience always has been and always will be specialists. And this is as silly and blinkered a notion as the one sometimes promulgated around the Met that only an elderly audience has the time and resources to attend the opera, and therefore opera should be tailored to the tastes of wealthy retirees.

    • actfive

      Seriously, nobody ever used the word “groovy” even back when it was groovy to be groovy.

      • Niel Rishoi

        I learned “groovy” from The Brady Bunch.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I like these shrieks:

    • perfidia

      Is Berrugi as good live as he sounds in this clip? Such warmth.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    There was the Tell furore and there is this Lucia (which I haven’t seen yet, but which I gather is just not all that good, as opposed to packed to the gunnels with all manner of controversy). I’m not sure what his other examples are. I note the picture from Salome, but I also note that a severed head is pretty integral to the drama in that particular case, and that severed heads are prone to bleeding. Now there WAS some gratuitous nudity in that production, but maybe Rupert didn’t think that was anything to complain about…

    Incidentally, today I saw ENO’s Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close. The lady next to me said to her companion ‘Wow what a wonderful theatre, wouldn’t it be brilliant to see an opera here, let’s see what’s on’. And I thought how fantastic, mission accomplished ENO, well done. Because apart from actually managing to actually or very nearly sell out SOMETHING this season, something none of their opera productions achieve, that right there was a potential new audience member for what they spend the rest of the year doing -- her curiosity was piqued and even if she doesn’t follow through, somebody somewhere in that massive auditorium who has never seen an ENO show before will. The Minghella Butterfly is the next opera to open -- maybe it will do well off the back of 40 or something Sunset Boulevards. I hope it does.

    • armerjacquino

      That’s encouraging about ENO. I don’t think they got an audience bump from SWEENEY, but then the crossover between the opera/Sondheim audience is probably bigger.

      I’m not a fan of ALW myself, but in more general terms I think your point is very well made. The debate about whether opera houses should ever stage MT seems over to me.

  • Patrick Mack

    I think it’s super quaint that The Telegraph is reprinting opinion pieces from the 1970’s. I just hadn’t realized that Rupert Christiansen had been writing for them for so long? Oh, these crazy kids and their Rock & Roll!

  • Lankin

    Oh how nice – the condescending last paragraph sort of tops it off. Fascinating how much misogyny and elitism can be fit into one article! The little side remark referring to the gay club even adds a sprinkle of homophobia for good measure.

    The article is a really good try at insulting everybody. The older opera goers who allegedly want to see a pretty period costume and park-and-bark performances, the young people, claiming they are all idiots with tastes much less refined and relevant as the author’s, … Did he even exclude anyone?

    To various Lucias: I remember that Sutherland cover where she was virtually soaked in blood. In Düsseldorf, I saw Christoph Loy’s take on it which was also very bloody and quite explicit – but there, it wasn’t any sort of scandal really, people loved it in general.

    To Katie Mitchell: If you just always respect the audience’s comfort zone, the result would be awfully boring. Mitchell’s very aesthetic and intelligent Alcina from Aix I heard being called “disgusting” and “pornographic.” (Which is hilarious; for even more modesty, they would have had to put up a two men tent over Alcina and Ruggiero, maybe.)

    Someone will always mind, and someone will always be discomforted. I don’t think Mitchell’s take on Lucia is created with a possible scandal in mind. She wants to set the opera in scene in a way that is relevant, and that’s what I would generally recommend directors to do.

    Finally to the suggestion of an opera set in the lavatory of gay club. Oh well, … actually why not? I am serious. The intended and anticipated reaction of the imaginary reader to that remark of his reminds me of the reception of Carmen when it premiered. Gypsies! Cigarette factory! Workers! Blehhhh, … That isn’t proper opera! Maybe a two-act piece, or a competition of mini operas on the topic, and personally, I would stage a pre-event in the foyer, a Lied program, definitely including “Half A Box Of Condoms” by Gabriel Kahane.

    • lyrebird

      Unsure of what ‘cover’ (record?) you remember, it’s worth noting that (very conservative) Sutherland was never covered in blood, and although she (as far as I know) started the blood thing in the first place, it was very much debated in 1959 -- the big debut -- and discussed as risking vulgarity, let alone that she appeared in a night gown run up from bed sheets. Callas was the satin and pearls Lucia.

      Even much later -- here in 1986 when she was 60 -- the blood was a smear and as with all things Joan, carefully applied to suggest a figure, which she didn’t have.

      • Lankin

        Yes I was thinking of that one. Seems quite bloody to me, all over her hands too. Thank you for the history lesson; I didn’t know!

        • lyrebird

          Well that certainly looks pretty bloody; bloody bloody actually. Anyway, marketing aside, the general effect was always rather more restrained. For interest, here’s a shot from 1959.

  • phoenix

    At least the foto is amusing -- the article is just dull.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    The London performances of Pleasure (which is a co-production with the Royal Opera) have completely sold out. So it’s a popular idea with some people, at least.

  • Milly Grazie

    To Katie Mitchell…
    “Katie, if the material upon which to base your productions isn’t actually there and you “feel” the need to invent some scenes to counter “the gender argument” and give Lucia a voice you view as lacking in the original work then don’t direct that work (or state clearly
    “this is Lucia di Lammermoor” loosely based upon the Donizetto/Cammarano) or alternatively go find something else to direct that fits your ideas.”.

    • armerjacquino

      Yes, if she changed the words or the music she would have to state that it was an adaptation. But she hasn’t. What this is is a production with some blocking and some costumes you don’t like. Have you seen it btw?

    • And on which of the Sinai tablets was this engraved?

  • Anyone watching the lulu on PBS right now? Have to say this production plays much better on TV than in the house. In the house the overwhelming busyness of some of the staging was annoying. On TV the closeups on the performers are much easier to watch.

    • WindyCityOperaman

      WTTW viewers in Chicago are following a slightly different Met telecast schedule. Last weekend was Otello, today is Tannhauser. Lulu is 4/24.

    • PCally

      Ivy, I only saw the HD and thought it was excellent, but even then I remember thinking about how different it looked live and your review only made me wonder more.

    • gustave of montreal

      Yes I watched LULU on PBS , liked it but hated the projections. During the prologue of the Animal Tamer when he is presenting the “serpent Lulu” with a quote in the orchestra, she never appeared. I found this to be a major error in staging.

  • Arianna a Nasso

    Of this Lucia, Tim Ashley writes in the Guardian “Though undeniably powerful in places – the last 40 minutes are unforgettable – this is ultimately a version of the opera rather than an interpretation, and the stagecraft can be over-complicated.”

    It would be great to have a detailed report on the production from anyone attending. I had to give up my tickets for this initial run. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Is Lucia a strong enough piece to sustain this kind of staging?

    • manou

      The ROH page of comments also has links to many of the reviews:

      • LT

        A production of a classic opera that alienates audiences, especially future ones, as it’s inappropriate for kids. How brilliant.

        • ianw2

          Won’t SOMEBODY think of the opera-going children?

          • Lankin

            Funnily, here the theatres – and audiences – seem to be a lot more relaxed about it (in general, and overall.) When I asked the Schauspielhaus here whether they could tell me if their “Fairy Queen” would be potentially really not suitable for a pre-teen, their reply was like “Well there is love, and hurt, and heartache, couples quarreling, you have to decide whether you feel ready to talk about this with your child.” Yes, correct.

            What I love about the reply is that it actually focused on emotional things, and not on gore or nudity. (They gave the originally quite plot-less Fairy Queen a stringent plot, and when I asked it was in large parts about that.)

            Here you can see some production pictures when you scroll down the page.

            It is going to be revived next season and I’ll surely take my girl this time. (The first time I saw it I could only get hold of one ticket after all, and only because of the benevolence of someone being involved in the production as it was completely sold out.)

            Setting up real or hypothetical children as an excuse for one’s own opinion is so lame. Politicians do it all the time.

          • JohninSeattle

            “Won’t SOMEBODY think of the opera-going children?”

            Okay, I *snorted* my coffee reading that. Dang you!

            Point. Set. MATCH.

        • “Future opera audiences” are not built from children, but rather from teenagers and young adults. In general these “future” audiences, having little experience of opera, have ahead of time only a vague sense of what a performance might be like.

          I do think it is fair to assume that this “audience,” assuming you can get them into the theater, prefer something exciting and emotionally gripping to something “authentic” and unthreatening. Of course people who actually go to opera as a theatrical event (as opposed to the canary fanciers or the musicological pedants) also prefer something on the exciting side. And, honestly, I think that is the basic motivation here on the part of the director and the presenting organization, to create something exciting. It’s miles away from anyone’s mind to do anything “groovy.”

          • fletcher

            Yes. I can really only speak to LA and SF, but so many of the people I see at the opera, particularly on the younger side of things (let’s say below 40 to be polite) seem to have come for the big arias, and because it’s the opera and it’s a nice fancy night out. If a production can be genuinely exciting, explicate the plot (no one likes being confused), provide real spectacle, and hold the interest of the room, it will be a success and bring audiences back. Sadly, I’ve only been to a few shows that have done that. The Norma in LA with Meade and Barton and Thomas, for example, I found astounding in terms of vocal performance, but I went with around twelve other young artsy types that should be prime candidates for “future opera audiences” and they were so bored by the silly production that they came away unimpressed and unlikely to see anything else. It’s sad.

          • Donna Anna

            I agree-first, you have to get them into the hall, or club, or wherever it’s going on. As several articles and posts point out, the trend is toward more intimate venues.
            Our sons aren’t regular opera goers but they don’t avoid it, either. We took our then sixteen year old to a performance of Peter Grimes at Indiana University. Fortunately, he was with a friend of his who loves opera, and that helped--as it always does. At intermission, I asked what he thought and he said, “I really like it. It’s not the like some of the stuff you guys listen to. And it’s so ambiguous.” A couple of months later, he asked if we had a recording so he could listen to the “sea music.”
            As kids, both of them loved the Ring. Now it’s a matter of time commitment, $$, and of course, someone to go with.

        • Well, an opera about a woman forced into a marriage by her bully older brother and who goes mad at consummation on the wedding night isn’t exactly appropriate for children.

      • Cicciabella

        I’ve really enjoyed reading the reviews of this production. Rupert’s was the most negative. He even complained about including the Wolf’s Crag scene. Why? The rest described a cleverly conceived production that was not always successful in the execution, and it seems that nobody loved the conducting. Indifferent conducting will take at least a “star” off ratings. If I had the time and means I’d definitely go see this, flaws notwithstanding. Having a pregnant Lucia miscarry as a result of marital rape is simply a brilliant idea. Running water during the final tenor scene would, however, drive me insane à la Loopy Lucy. Some of the boos seems to have been provoked by the warning the ROH sent before first night: the reception was definitely divided. From what I’ve read, the most distressing scene is probably the miscarriage, especially to those in the audience who might have gone through a similar experience. Obviously, the ROH could not warn about that without revealing the directorial concept. At least the Against Modern Opera Productions people can’t complain about modern dress and updating: it’s in period costume. That it seems to describe a brutally masculine world in which women are no more than human currency and brooding machines is just an extension of the libretto. It has been done before, for example, by Monique Wagemakers in Amsterdam, although with less blood.

        • Porgy Amor

          At least the Against Modern Opera Productions people can’t complain about modern dress and updating: it’s in period costume.

          Nineteenth-century costume, though, so it is an update.

          • Cicciabella

            I didn’t realise that. Reason to complain after all.

  • “me,” you’re now on moderation.

  • me

    Why? Because I discussed opera and replied to people who misconstrued my post? Or because I criticized your use of a misogynist phrase, “old maid,” which is an important thing to do, because it is rooted in misogyny and associates an unmarried woman with personality traits (fussy, prim -- per Websters as another poster noted) and its use to a man (as an insult) perpetuates the negative feminization of men (an insult to call a man a “sissy,” etc). I thought this was an opera forum, my (corrected) mistake.