According to the NY Times for Tuesday, July 31, Katharina Wagner’s new production of Die Meistersinger for the Bayreuth Festival featured topless dancers, complete male nudity, plastic phalluses, and “a bizzare auto da-fe” In the third act. My wife related to me a production (this one?) that had Hans Sachs made up as Hitler. One doesn’t have to have seen the particular production to comment. We’ve all seen eurotrash productions.
For years I’ve vacillated back and forth about the validity of such productions. I’ve been reluctant to condemn this sort of thing outright out of cowardice (just like many, many critics), a reluctance to appear to be a close-minded reactionary. But enough is enough. Opera (unless you specifically set out to make a film, such as H.J. Syberberg’s Parsifal) is not a director’s medium. There is a huge dissonance between 1860s music and 2007 post deconstructionist neurotic infantilism. You don’t have to bring the bearskins, metal brassieres and horned helmets back, but Hans Sachs needs to be a grounded, humane figure, Wotan better be missing an eye (this has deep plot relevance) and Sigmund better pull a weapon from the tree, even if it needs must be a submachine gun rather than a sword.
Some operas may potentially benefit from deconstructionst treatment, and some you should leave strictly alone. Here’s a partial list. Feel free to add to it.
Works that may potentially benefit from radical directors:
1. Die Zauberflote
2. Cosi fan Tutte
3. Tristan und Isolde
6. Any of the Orfeo operas; any opera seria (this stuff is so dramatically inert that any dramatic reconsideration is an improvement)
Works to be left strictly alone:
1. La Traviata
2. Die Meistersinger
4. Peter Grimes
5. Der Rosenkavalier
6-7 Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades
When in doubt, leave it alone. Mozart, Verdi and Wagner knew more than you do. And think long and hard about putting sex and violence in…We’ve had too much of that already. In “City Journal” Heather McDonald has an excellent article on the topic. I know nothing of Ms. McDonald, except that my wife finds her politics unsavory, but the article is indeed an excellent one.
Palate-Cleansing Meistersinger DVDs