Just in: French appeal court bans opera DVD

Just in: French appeal court bans opera DVD


norman lebrecht

October 20, 2015

The Court of Appeal in Paris has banned the sale of Dmitri Chernyakov’s 2010 Munich production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites.

The cae was brought by the Poulenc and Georges Bernanos heirs, who called the production ‘a betrayal’.

Now the BelAir label has been ordered to remove the video from sale.

So much for freedom of expression.

Report here.

tcherniakov dialogues


  • John Edward Niles says:

    I saw this production and I loved it!!!
    What a tragedy that new and well thought out conceptions are stopped.
    I agree there is much of REGIE THEATR that makes me break out in hives but
    this production was super.
    John Edward Niles

    • Beaumont says:

      The production changed the ending completely – the nuns were gassed and Blanche saved them. So the entire point of the opera was lost. Really great!

      • RW2013 says:

        So how were the guillotine noises (the most chilling sounds in any opera score) justified?

        • Olassus says:

          They weren’t.

          So glad the family won this one, but sadly it’s the small and innocent record label, BelAir, that suffers. Meanwhile the culprits at Bavarian State Opera, who approved the dumb staging back in 2010, apparently are free to stage it again and again, with four performances due in January 2016:


          They note however: “Vor dem Hintergrund eines in Frankreich anhängigen Rechtsstreits weist die Bayerische Staatsoper darauf hin, dass die Erben des Komponisten und Librettisten der Auffassung sind, dass die Umsetzung der Schlussszene durch den Regisseur das Werk von Bernanos und Poulenc abwandelt und entstellt. Nach Meinung der Erben muss der Märtyrertod aller Nonnen zwingend szenisch umgesetzt werden. Ansonsten würden Deutungsmöglichkeiten eröffnet, die der Kernaussage des Werkes nicht gerecht würden.”

          Now it is no longer just a Meinung der Erben.

  • Max Grimm says:

    I don’t really see an attack on freedom of expression here. Mr. Chernyakov could have taken Hollywood as guidance, given his production an attention-grabbing or philosophically sounding title and adorned it with the words “inspired by” / “partially based on”.
    As with most existing works, people mostly do expect the wrapping to reflect the contents.

  • sixtus says:

    Too bad Wagner is out of copyright and his estate cannot stop ridiculous Eurotrash video productions. Indeed, some of them are produced by Bayreuth itself!

  • Nigel says:

    If the “harm principle” can be applied to a work of art in the same way as to a person, then to in my view this assault on Carmelites is certainly a strong candidate. It’s one of the most abominable productions I’ve seen of any twentieth-century opera, so I can’t blame the estates of both Bernanos and Poulenc seeking to prevent its dissemination beyond Munich.

    A pity, since musically the performance I saw was very beautiful, but the house brought it upon itself by hiring a director who was clearly so out of sympathy with the work. Would they have hired a conductor who was similarly hostile to the spirit of the opera? You’d like to hope not (and in this case Nagano showed a most poetic understanding of Poulenc).

    • John Borstlap says:

      A comment showing much common sense. When begin people to udnerstand that works of art have their own character and identity that have to be respected?

    • Olassus says:

      Nagano’s conducting in 2010 and 2012 was for me anemic and superficial, and in fact his vaunted 1990 Virgin set is not much better. All despite good casts.

  • T. Manor says:

    Glad this is being taken care of. Nothing worse than a director who wants to work out their “creative impulses” at the expense of another’s work — especially one who’s already passed on…quite despicable.

    As I say to anyone like this; if you want to be creative, write your own work.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Of course. Such attacks upon a work are mere vandalism. It is quite possible to present an opera while respecting the character and meaning of the work itself, there is then still very much room left for personal interpretation. ‘Regietheater’ is parasitism by envious, untalented people, projecting their hatred of achievement on past culture; it is part of the core of postwar modernism which wanted to destroy prewar culture in the name of ‘progress’.

      In Germany, modernism is still a badge supposed to represent morally ‘good Germans’, i.e. on the right side of history, and not on the side of fascism, a grave and sorry misunderstanding leading to cultural selfdestruction. It is hoped that such provincial narrow-mindedness will erode with younger generations.

      This is a shocking example:


  • Eddie Mars says:

    But who is to say?

    Some 5-6 years after the premiere of Carmelites, Poulenc was at a press event for a completely unrelated work.

    He was ‘door-stepped’ by a perceptive, and somewhat supportive musical journalist, who asked (allegedly – no record exists of the exaxt words, since the moment was not recorded) him the following question:

    “Monsieur Poulenc… your opera ‘The Dialogues Of The Carmelites’…isn’t it merely a thinly-veiled allegory for how Vichy France betrayed the French Jews to the Nazis, and willingly put the Jews on the trains to Buchenwald?”

    “Errr… no comment!” replied the clearly-flustered Poulenc.

    What we have in the printed vocal score may not always be the final word on the matter.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But that does not mean that what is printed in the score can be changed at will.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      It would be nice to have your source for this. “Not recorded”? But apparently reported – by whom? where?

      As it is, it’s complete nonsense, as the question was. I imagine Poulenc flabbergasted by this and unable to answer another stupid, aggressive, self righteous journalist.

      They wrote with Bernanos what they wrote. It’s there for all to read, if they can and want to. The meaning of the work is plain and simple, for all to see. Mr Chernyakov never stages what’s written, he’s rewriting just about everything, sometimes openly so. This production is at the very opposite of every meaning B and P have worked into the play, and, as such, it’s NOT the play.

      Mr Max Grimm is absolutely right: “loosely based upon” – and there’s no trial and no money loss.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Dear Mr Mars,

      Let me remind you that we are still waiting for your source of this fascinating anedcote about Poulenc.

      All the best to your protégées, the Sternwood sisters.

  • George Porter says:

    I attended the Chernyakov production of Lady MacBeth of Mtsenk at the Colisseum on Saturday. Great performances all round, but the staging diverged further from the music and libretto the longer it went on, culminating in a final scene in a small prison cell when the prisoners were supposedly trudging towards Siberia. What a disappointment, especially following the marvellous 1987 Pountney/Lazaridis production .

  • Martin says:

    A good decision.

    The production is a completely false and degrading representation of an opera not even 60 years old, not to mention the Carmelite nuns who still live according to the same rule as they did during the horrific French Revolution in which these innocent nuns were brutally murdered.

    The Regietheater crowd always cry out “freedom of artistic expression” but this only applies to themselves and their often poor and false presentations. They are not interested in the artistic freedom of others however. And woe to them who reject and or refuse to go along with a Regietheater director’s “concept”. Basically one can leave one’s career at the stage door and seek new employment.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is no word in our times that is more abused than ‘freedom’.

      Also, this problem of Regietheater is related to the problem of authority: a work of art emanates authority, performers ‘have’ to follow ‘instructions’ which are the result of a creative act by an artist. ‘O dear…. no freedom for me, who has never created such thing, but does not want to feel inferior’. It is mere teenager protest, resulting from inferiority complexes and insecurity, and then installed in establishment institutions.

      • Martin says:

        well said John Borstlap

      • pooroperaman says:

        No word? What about ‘equality’ or ‘relevant’?

        • John Borstlap says:

          Yes…. and, on reflection, there are another dozen of words that have lost their meaning because being used-up in the wrong contexts. I won’t list them…. everybody knows them…

          • Gonout Backson says:

            “Racism” is one of them, “fascist” is another, both turned into insults, instead of describing any definable reality.

            And, as usual, wrong diagnostics producing wrong therapy, this language abuse makes fighting against real racism and real fascism virtually impossible.

            I sometimes wonder if that was the point, but where’s purpose, there’s intelligence. I’m afraid stupidity is a much more likely hypothesis here.

  • Marina Boagno says:

    Freedom of expression has nothing to do with this. The AUTHORS have freedom of expression. The “producer”, or “director” has just the task to “stage”an opera (in Franch, the director is correctly called “metteur en scène”) and has the DUTY to respect the autohrs’ work, nothing less, nothing more.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. And if he tries his best to represent the work faithfully, the gap between what has been written-down and physical reality will be filled with his own understanding. And if he tries to get the work understood, he will be both personal and loyal.

  • pooroperaman says:

    This is a wonderful precedent. Could the Puccini family now sue Benedict Andrews, please?

  • AB says:

    Following your logics, Marina, someone should sue also Karajan for his tempos liberty: his 9th Symphony of Beethoven lasts over 70 minutes instead of 45 as the composer precisely wanted. Or for example, neither Ponnelle nor Chereau would not be able to do any of their famous productions.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Very old argument, many times answered.

      Ponnelle and Chéreau, even in their less successful productions, tell the story as it is. They can do it in a fantastical way, but the drama remains recongnizable as such.

      So is a symphony, even if played faster or slower than it is marked. No one really respects Mozart tempos in Don Giovanni, and yet you recognize the work after two chords, whether it’s Klemperer or Harding. Not possible with Cherniakov’s Don Giovanni.

      In Regietheater, there’s no way to guess what it is you see without the music. With most of these things. there is no way guessing which scene is from which production, since they all look alike, using. so it would seem, the same costumes and similar sets.

      The Chéreau Ring, the very old crown argument of Regietheater enthusiasts, sticks to the libretto in every detail, under Boulez’s control. Words keep their meaning, so do the notes.

      Regietheater rewrites every work, sometimes from top to bottom, provoking semanticm dramatic and musical nonsense.

      When shall you stop flagging this dead horse? Find some new arguments, people.

      • Yes Addison says:

        What’s this fascination with “guessing”? It reminds me of that reactionary web site where they put up pictures of non-traditional productions and you’re supposed to “guess the opera.” Do people really walk into opera houses, take their seats, and promptly forget what is going to be performed, and they’re depending on the stage decor to act as visual aid? I know the opera audience skews elderly, but I wouldn’t have thought the level of cognition would be that low.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          When nothing else works, use insult?

          Let’s pretend this was a real opinion and treat is as such. The point is to avoid “guessing”. When you hear pa-pa-pa-paaaaam, you don’t have to guess, be it fast or slow. That’s interpretation. When the curtain goes up in one of Regietheater productions, there’s no way to guess what you’re about to see. Not even a hint, because it can be just about anything. That’s rewriting. Thence the little, innocent game on the “Against Modern Opera Productions” facebook page. Which is “reactionary” indeed, but not in the “ideological anathema” meaning you use, but as a reaction against aggressive, modern Kitsch, trying to intimidate us with “progressive” volapük.

          So: No, Addison.

        • Yes Addison says:

          I still don’t understand why do you would NEED to “guess.”

          I would have zero interest in an operatic art form in which comforting obviousness was a lofty artistic goal to be applauded. At the very least, I would only need to see each opera one time, like a film.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            It’s not about “NEEDING to guess”, it’s about “NOT HAVING to guess”. The game played on the site you so vigorously condemn (on ideological grounds) is a natural, non-violent defense… reaction, making fun of the howling absurdity of Regietheater where it’s usually IMPOSSIBLE to guess what you see.

            The very identity of the work performed has been abolished, the author – dispossessed, and his name used and abused as a simple “logo”, free of charge.

            There is no defending this, whether on artistic, aesthetic or moral grounds – therefore the members of this sect stubbornly refuse any serious, argumented discussion. “Ich lieg und besitz” : that’s their motto.

            The “comforting obviousness” is demanded only in the “WHAT” department. The “HOW” is free and open – as long as the “WHAT” remains preserved. It’s the same “comforting obviousness” you yourself demand in a concert hall, in a bookstore or in a restaurant. To get what you have paid for.

  • Gonout Backson says:

    Nothing to do with “freedom of expression”, even if Le Figaro’s music critic gets hysterical and warns us that the sentence “signifierait tout bonnement la fin de la liberté des interprètes en matière musicale et théâtrale” (“could simply mean the end of freedom for the interpreters, be they musical or theatrical”).

    Of course, the next pianist who risks playing Boulez’s Sonata backwards, pretending it’s an “audacious rereading of an old warhorse”, could indeed get in trouble. Otherwise…

    • John Borstlap says:

      I once played Boulez Second Piano Sonata backwards on a chamber concert and it was received more receptively than the original version, probably because it sounded better. I suspect Boulez first composed the piece and then turned it around himself.

  • A Colleague says:

    Two observations:

    what is one’s trash is another’s treasure…

    if you don’t like what is put on the stage, don’t attend the performance…

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Another old one…. Ugh.

      It’s not about “how”, it’s about “what”. Therefore it’s not about taste (subjective), it’s about facts (objective). The only question being : is what I see “Dialogues des carmélites” or is it not. In Cherniakov’s production, it’s clearly not.

      How you determine it? Easy, like with pornography: you know it when you see it.

      As for your last phrase, read it again : “if you don’t like what is put on the stage, don’t attend the performance…”. To see what is put on stage, you have to attend the performance. You can leave, but then you’ve already paid for it, and you won’t ever get you money back. You bought a ticket for “Dialogues des carmélites” (or the DVD), and they gave you something else. So they lied to you, but no one wants to admit it.

      Someone has tried to get his money back for the ghastly Neuenfels’ production of Fledermaus in Salzburg, a few years back. The court refused it in the name of “artistic freedom”. Now, it would seem, they got Capone the other way.

    • Marina Arshinova says:

      I’d like to make my point in this discussions. Conductor is the person in charge of all the production, not the stage director. It should go that way in any case. The great opera productions that were made by Carlos Kleiber, Karajan, Solti etc – were made by conductors, not directors. Today we still have a few conductors, who guarantee the quality of opera production. Among them are Tilemann, Pappano, Santi (though he is pretty old), Muti.

      Talking about the stage directors, we go the wrong end. When there is no conductor able to create coherent text, it’s necessary to compensate it somehow.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        This is almost word for word what Riccardo Muti says.

      • Gonout Backson says:

        Dear Marina – first of all, thank you for your kind words and your support.

        I agree with you completely: since it’s a musical work which brought all these people together, the conductor is and should be the cap’tain.

        In a normal world, he should also run the theatre – assisted by a strong, able and loyal administrator, with no artistic ambitions whatsoever.

        Of course, you need a conductor with a very powerful, theatrical instinct and knowledge. And in my opinion – here is where I don’t entirely agree with you – we have many. My list would be much longer than yours. Unfortunately, they have no chance to prove their talents in this field.

        Toscanini got his first theatre before he was 30, and spent most of his life in the pit. That’s the “secret ingredient” of a giant.

      • AB says:

        Dear Marina,

        how, for God’s sake, the conductor can be in charge of the production in the modern world? Nowadays 95% of the conductors (especially all great conductors, including all the mutis, santis, mehtas, barenboims etc etc etc) arrive 10 days before the premiere, to attend the stage orchestra rehearsals? How can he be in charge conducting concerts/operas somewhere else, when the crucial decisions about the staging/set etc should be taken 8-10 months in advance?

        • Gonout Backson says:

          The question remains – what is the cause, and what the effect here “in the modern world”?

          My bet is : give them back their lost power in theatres, along with strict demands and conditions in the contract, and they will stay and run the business. Not all of them, pray you, I’m not talking Gergiev and his twelve identical siblings, but those who really want and deserve this kind of job.

          • John Borstlap says:

            At the time Mahler was director and principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera, running an opera house was ‘simpler’ than nowadays, there are many more decisions to be made in our days. And then: is ‘opera’ a purely musical genre? It is supposed to be a synthesis of music and drama, where the music carries the drama, expressing the inside of what is going-on at the outside: what is happening on the stage. A stage director only has to keep to the original work, its plot, its meaning – if there is one – and represent it as best as he can.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            You’re absolutely right on both points – therefore an “administrative” partner is more important than before, and the conductor has to be a man of theatre, rather than a strictly musical “dictator” (the danger exists and should not be underestimated). Even Toscanini had his Gatti-Casazza, but experience proves that the best operas are those ran by conductors or, at least, musicians (Liebermann). For an obvious reason: the final product is theatrical, but the main ingredient is music. And there are big opera houses in the world run by notorious musical analphabets…