Munich claims the right to change opera plots

The heirs of composer Francis Poulenc are up in arms over Bavarian Opera’s revival this month of Dialogues des Carmélites, in a 2010 production by Dmitri Cherniakov which deviates significantly from the original plot.

In particular they object to a gas explosion that kills the nuns in the climactic scene, instead of execution.

Last month, the heirs won a French court order prohibiting distribution of the DVD and now they have told Munich to take down the show or face further action.

Munich’s response: ‘The stage direction must have the freedom to deviate from history. Thus the work is not disfigured, but rather its ideas are depicted from today’s viewpoint.’ Our man in the wings says the company is also supporting the DVD distributors in its appeal against the French judgement.

 

Would Poulenc have minded? Who knows…. he died in 1963.

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  • It’s the conflict between the work and Regietheater. There should be a law prohibiting vandalism opera plots, as it is also prohibited to damage a cathedral or a painting.

    • The problem is that, unlike a painting or a cathedral, an opera, as any other work of the performing arts, requests interpretation – unless you consider the printed score itself is the work. As there is no such thing as the one and only correct and perfect perfromance, and performing artists are humans, not robots, every performance of an opera, a stage play, a sonata, whatever, is an interpretation.

      Of course there are great, fair, and horrific interpretations, but it is impossible to agree on generally accepted criteria for judging this. And any intent to define good and bad art by law has proven fatal in the past. So simply let the audience and the free public discussion come to their conclusions.

      The good thing is: An opera, unlike a painting or a cathedral, can never actually be destroyed or even damaged in its essence unless you destroy all existing copies (including the digital ones) of the score.

      • Entirely agreed.

        But maybe the margin of interpretation is not totally unlimited: changing notes in a Beethoven symphony is not ‘interpretation’, and changing the plot of an opera in a literal way, say: one person is changed into five, or taking-out words (and music), and the like – that is crossing a line which can be defined. Freedom of interpretation is comparable to freedom of speech which is also not unlimited if we want something of a civil society to survive.

        For instance, cuts in operas which are deemed ‘too long’ are damaging the work and can be considered vandalism like breaking-down part of a monument in an old town centre because it hinders the street to be widened. There are boundaries which can be formulated without totalitarian overtones.

        It is known that composers in the past had no scruples to lower a note in an opera if a singer had difficulties getting it right. But if the author himself provides an ‘ossia’, that would be allright. Other people should not get their hands on such notes if not authorized, because the identity of the work would be at stake.

        ‘Freedom’ is a meaningless concept if not carefully related to the ‘from’, the ‘of’, and the ‘to’. Otherwise it is a mere empty slogan. If people cannot exercise their own responsibility towards works of art, it is left to the state to protect them – that is not a demand for fascism.

        • Mostly agreed, too. However:

          Notes in Beethoven symphonies: Well, intended changes of notes are still taboo (and I guess this will remain unchanged in the forseeable future), but unintended changes have happened at all times. 😀 And so have intended changes in the instrumentation of many, many orchestral works of many composers.

          Cuts and musical amendments in operas: As you point out yourself, they have been very common until the mid-19th century. But, say, Donizetti was certainly not always present when one of his successful works was staged somewhere in the Italian province and could agree personally to all the transpositions and other changes (including taking arias from other operas according to the preferences of the singers at hand) – and still all this was common practice, and it didn’t end with the composer’s death.

          I am certainly not arguing in favour of these practices to be used nowadays (and I can get quite furious if I notice a cut in one of my favourite operas…), but I must admit that the assumption that an opera is a monolithic work that exists (at least muscially) only in one definitive version is a rather modern concept.

          Boundaries: Well, they are hard to define, and, in my humble view, a too narrowly defined legal boundary (and, as we can see in other policy areas, governments like to narrow boundaries more and more once they are established) would do much more harm to opera than all thinkable excesses of Regietheater could ever do. Good operas are much greater than all their (good and bad) interpreters. Tannhäuser, e.g., will still be performed in manyfold interpretations (and many of them, hopefully, good) when the recent Düsseldorf Swastikas version will be long time forgotten.

          • Again, agreed. But ‘Werktreue’ is a fundamental value and messing around with a work, also and especially before, say, 1850, is / was damaging. That is why the whole idea of keeping as much as possible to what there is in terms of definition of a musical work, has developed at all: otherwise continuous erosion would make the works unrecognizable, like ruins from antiquity, and it would mean the works would no longer be ‘alive’.

            So, we can only hope for the understanding of performers. And take the freedom to criticize apparent abberations.

            Concerning the instrumentation of musical works: embedded in the European musical tradition is the idea that the notes count as the work, and that instrumentation is one of the means of bringing-out the meaning of the music. So, to some extent instrumentation could be seen as ‘performing’. If done by the author, players should keep to it, but if arrangements are made – say, for some practical need – the work still has its identity (unless you perform Beethoven IX on 3 accordeons, or Mahler VI with a mandoline orchestra). Where instrumentation takes-over the identity of the intertextual relationships of the notes, you are on a slippery slope and you end with Xenakis or in the middle of Pli selon Pli.

            But yes, purely instrumental performance is sometimes also ‘invading’ the work, by playing forte where piano is indicated and the like, and sometimes conductors tastefully add to the musical expression by highlighting certain aspects which cannot be found in a literal sense in the score. It is a grey area where performers – and composers – have to steer with the greatest caution and care.

          • I think your scholastic approach is not the answer, but Phenomenology is.
            “Werktreue” is good and important when it comes to editing, publishing and archiving the notations of musical works.

            In interpretation, succeding in creating the bridge between the composers intention and the listeners perception is the key.

            Including the perceiving human into the equation has consequences. The further away the perceivers mental evolution and constitution is from the creators, the more interpretation will be required, and “Werktreue”, misconceived as a rigid concept of “everything exactly read and performed as we interpret(!) it was done back then” can turn the music into a farce (or fart).

      • I agree, good summary, except for a fundamental misconception.

        The “essence” of a painting – representative for all art that materializes in tangible matter like architecture, etc. etc. – is in the painting. The painting is “it”, it’s the artist’s materialized creation.

        Music is fundamentally different. The score is NOT the artist’s materialized creation itself. It is only a notation about it, a manual how to re-create it. The creation itself originally *only* exists or existed in the composer’s mind.

        Such is the nature of the sonic world. The sonic world is a priori tied to the grid of time. It only materializes in the moment, in the now, and disappears immediately. It can not be conserved, like a painting, like architecture. It can only be re-created anew again and again.

        Now some will argue a recording could do that, but that’s not true. A recording is more like a score too. It materializes *some* aspects of (a performance of )a musical creation. But it can never hold all relevant parameters, that constitute a full experience of “it”.

        The vast materializations of performance culture, of the “messengers of music” who re-create it again and again, is evidence of this.

        Now I do not say that scores or recordings are not important or somehow inferior. No, they are what they are, an indispensable link between the composer’s idea and the listener’s perception of it. The listener is the actual re-creator of the music, nobody else.
        The musicians, the recording people, the score editors, they all are only messenger’s. Of course in order to do “transmit” properly and with inspiration, they must be their own first listener’s as well. But what they hear is “it” only for themselves, not for their audience. They have to do their own mental recreation.

        If you think all what is said here through, it has manifold consequences…

        cheers

        • Wise words, apart from these: “The listener is the actual re-creator of the music, nobody else.” This is nonsensical, the listener is not re-creating anything. In the mind of the perceptive listener, the sounds assemble automatically, without the efforts of the listener, into a musical experience which can only happen if the trajectory from the composer’s mind via the performer(s) to the listener has been capable of transmitting such experience.

          And because music is such a transitory art form, it is extremely important for the performer(s) to try to keep to the concrete evidence of a work as there is available, as much as possible. If the score does not give enough information, circumstantial information (biographical, historical) may help to fill this gap. For this reason, the existence and maintaining of a musical performance tradition is important: it provides a framework of evaluation and assessment. And therefore it is important to keep to these basic elements of evidence like the score, and with opera, the plot. Also when performers try to keep as closely as possible to the score / plot, there is ample space for personal interpretation and composers know that and usually they don’t mind if interpretations differ – but in general, they insist on keeping to the score as much as possible and for good reason. We know of the complaints of Debussy who worked intensily on his scores to make his intentions clear, while performers – especially pianists – thinking that it was ‘impressionism’ in music – messed around because of the ‘vagueness’ of the music.

          Informative story: once, a string quartet played a quartet of Brahms to the composer in his home to have his opinion of their interpretation. B said: “Beautiful, it’s allright. But last week there was another quartet here, playing this same piece, and they did it very differently, but also very well, and that was allright too”.

          • “…“The listener is the actual re-creator of the music, nobody else.” This is nonsensical, the listener is not re-creating anything. In the mind of the perceptive listener, the sounds assemble automatically, without the efforts of the listener, into a musical experience which can only happen if the trajectory from the composer’s mind via the performer(s) to the listener has been capable of transmitting such experience.”

            Not sure I get you there. This is missing the point, according to what we know today about musical perception.

            The “trajectory” of music transmission from composer via performer – possibly via recording – into the mind of the listener does not carry any experience with it. Perceptional psychology knows pretty much today, that the listener is processing what the auditory sense suggests, there is a very complex interpretation – again – happening in the listener’s mind. Incoming sounds are compared against known stored patterns, categorized, synaesthetic information is consulted for ambiguous sounds, a map is drawn of directionality, based on early childhood “calibration” references, sonic stimuli of harmonic tensions, progressions toward increasing tension or toward relaxation, are interpreted as emotional qualities, etc etc. If this is “automatic” (I guess you mean synonymous to subconscious?) or not, would not be relevant.
            What is relevant is that THE EXPERIENCE is a multiplication of the incoming stimulus with the existing repertoire of known basic stimuli as well as complexer patterns of stimuli that are stored as one “gestalt”.
            The experience is a two component entity of a key and a lock that match and a door opens to another world. It happens in the mind of listener, and not earlier in the transmission chain.

            You give the listener too little credit, by reducing him to a passive “automatic” mirror of an experience that is transmitted to him. That is not how musical perception works.

            You need a listener, with a well developed repertoire of sonic experience – not necessarily an encyclopedia of classical works in his mind, no, that’s not what is meant – and a positive, reception inviting, and generally empathetic mindset to have a gratifying and meaningful experience. That’s why more complex music like most classical music requires an education, not only as a performer, but also as a listener.

            Now what makes music so special and so universally powerful as a common “language” that all people understand is its many layers on which the incoming sound is processed in the nervous system.
            From the highest cerebral levels to the lowest visceral levels there are direct nerve connections from the ear. Something that elevates the ear over the eye for instance, which has no such direct access to instinctive and emotional visceral levels of our nervous system.
            Even a bushman from Papua New Guinea who never heard classical music can enjoy its visceral information, while the “knowing-all-nerd” in the west can add additional layers of cerebral storms, maybe sometimes to the lost benefit of “hearing” the music in its raw visceral form…

    • When a perceptive French journalist asked Poulenc, in 1961, if his opera The Dialogues Of The Carmelites “wasn’t surely a clear allegory of how Vichy France had handed over its Jews to the Nazis in When a perceptive journalist asked Poulenc, in 1961, if his opera The Dialogues Of The Carmelites “wasn’t surely a clear allegory of how Vichy France had handed over its Jews to the Nazis in WW2”, the clearly flustered composer replied:

      “No comment”.

      Who are you, to decide what you believe the composer ‘meant’???W2″, the clearly flustered composer replied:

      “No comment”.

      Who are you, to decide what you believe the composer ‘meant’???

      • Changing notes of a work or changing the plot of an opera is clearly invading into the meaning of the work, whatever that may be. This is merely an observation.

        • What Mr. Borstlap wrote is entirely clear and understandable, regardless of one’s agreement with his opinion. What you wrote, Mr. Mars, is equally clear, but it doesn’t make any sense aside from you venting some unwarranted aggression.

  • First world problems. instead we should teach the new immigrants in Germany, how one legally *can* act out violence and rape. Regietheater would be one of these possibilities. Since most of the immigrants know nothing about classical music and opera in particular, they are actually perfectly qualified.

    • Indeed there is a remarkable discrepancy between what is shown on opera stages, in commercial movie theaters, TV movies, games, exhibitions of contemporary art, and what is apparently allowed in public space in the West. (Although in the USA public space is nowadays quickly imitating the movies.) For a young Syrian refugee these different contexts of acceptance of physical violence: at home, in European public space, and in Western cultural products, must be bewildering.

      The contrast between utterly sophisticated technical efforts to imitate actions of the most abject primitivism on screen, is a source of perplexity for the over-educated, reminding them of the mentality which created the Roman amphitheatres.

      • I think we call that *civilization*. The higher a civilization rises from its Amoeba origins, the more sophisticated are its ways to codify and *art*ificially super-elevate, project, side-grade, outsource etc. its primal instincts.

        It must be indeed confusing for an immigrant from a “trailing” or regressive society, like for a Syrian village boy, to see a porno film and not to take it at face value that that is how men and women “do it” here in the west. They lack the cultural knowledge, the code of conduct in fine print any society has.

        They have the very same problem with their “holy book”, they do not understand the cultural context in history and take it at face value. Maybe it is really quite simply a lack of intelligence and education.

        • I would say: lack of education. But most of the Syrian refugees come from the cities and are middle class, educated people, westernized. Before the war, Syria was a reasonably developed country – as far as the cities are concerned. In many developing countries, the big gap in development is not so much between the West and the rest, but between the cities and the countryside. I saw this immense gap between immigrants coming from cities and the countryside here in Amsterdam, and it is quite stunning.

    • Rereading your last sentence: that can be understood as a generalizing sneer upon war refugees: almost as despicable as Regietheater.

      • There is an virtually unlimited amount of ways how you csn interpret what someone said, and in that moment there is nothing I can do about it.

        All people perceive the amount of hatred, greed, lies and violence they want to, its a matter of choice. Unless you live in a war zone, then the onion of your perception has one layer less.

  • It would be interesting to find out what the contractual obligations of the theatre are. Usually with a work that is still under copyright, the producers must agree to not making wild changes to the work as part of the performing rights. I suspect Poulenc’s heirs would not have been able to take their case to court, were there not some agreement that was abused. Otherwise they’d have a pretty slim case, from a legal standpoint. Anyone care to comment?

  • Regisseurs seem very powerfull in Germany and very bad. They seem to think they have every rights to savage a piece of music. The heirs of Poulenc should sue the Munich opera to the very end.

    • I’d rather say that heirs have too much power. Any copyright should expire 20 years after the author’s death the latest. It is by no means understandable why the grand-nephews or the like of an author or composer who died half a century ago should be able to draw economic profit from performances of a work they didn’t contribute to and set conditions for its interpretation.

      Just imagine the heirs of Händel, Bach and Mozart would have prohibited the performance of these composers’ works in the style that was usual before the period performance movement came up. 😀

      • If I were a posthumously successful composer while living in poverty during my life, it would be a source of compensating satisfaction to see, from my cloud, that at least my children and grandchildren could enjoy some of the fruits of my work. Given the shabby way composers were and are mostly paid, including the better ones, posthumous ownership is one of the means of compensation the world bestows upon creators.

        • John, in the present case, it is not a matter of copyright (I assume the rights-holders received their royalties) but of moral rights over the work performed. Therefore even if we agree with you that a composer’s grandchildren are entitled to receive a compensation when his works are performed, we can still inquire whether there is any serious reason why the heirs should be able to decide which interpretation is valid and which is not.

          • Copyright is not just about collecting royalties, it’s about the right to control what is done with the work. Performance rights and editing rights and all that.

          • But is it about validity of interpretation? I thought it is about invading the identity of the work. If I were an architect and replaced the façade of Strasbourg cathedral by a glass and steel cube to get the front updated and fitting better with modern times, would that be interpretation? But with the performing arts that’s different… still, updating musical works and opera plots does not seem right at all.

          • To Robert: you’re right of course, but I was responding to John re his point on heirs’ retribution (copyright, performance rights, and so forth). So what I meant that this was not the problem here. The problem is what we call in France moral rights, that is rights regarding the content of the performance.

            To John: I have not seen Tcherniakov’s production. You may be right. But that is beyond the point. My point was: why would Poulenc’s grandchildren, who may have no musical or theatrical abilities for what I know, be the best people to judge? And frankly, is a French judge who knows nothing about opera but listens to Johnny Halliday all day long in the best position to make that call? That is not to say that there is no objective threshold of distortion.

    • Oh no, they are just imitating the conductors. To go out on stage, be greated like a king, then let others do 99% of the work, while acting like a creature half god, half magician, who creates everything himself, then collect the majority if the audiences gratification. that must be a very tempting proposition to someone in pathological need of grandezza and recognition.
      That the concert ritual with conductor is a ritualized way to celebratd music, snd that this mise en scene of a single creator is both a reward for a weeks profane rehearsal work and a ritual symbolizing the power of the musical creator, with the conductor symbolizing the composer, that requires an insight into the mechanisms and the iconography of classical music one can not expect from outsiders like opera directors to the trade.

      • This is a cheap and populist misconception of the task of the conductor, which is very different from the stage director. Without conductors, there would not be a performance culture. Baroque music, with its steady ‘beat’, can – with good players – do without a conductor. From Haydn onwards, that is impossible. Such misconceptions are the result of ignorance about music practice.

        • Have you ever bothered to listen to the likes of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra? The trouble with this approach is not that it would be artistically inferior, but that it is very much more labour intensive and therefore more costly. And on top of it marketing is much harder because audiences and agents are fixed on wanting a well known face and a ‘Big Name’. In our capitalist world, that does it. It has a lot more to do with money than with artistic necessities.

          • With all due respect, but that is pure, undiluted nonsense. Ensembles without conductor – they are always small groups – have a restricted repertoire and there is nothing wrong with playing in this way, but a normal, regular symphony orchestra simply needs a conductor to be able to function at all. This is a purely practical and artistic condition, and as such it has developed since the late 18th century because the music required it. In Russian communist times, I think it was in the thirties, there was an orchestra experimenting with working without a conductor because that structure was considered too elitist and not fitting for a communist society, and all decisions were made ‘democratically’, and it did not work: rehearsels got stuck in endless debate about how to play this or that. To get a string quartet working together as a unity is already hard enough, let alone a group of 70-100 players, with very different approaches to playing due to the differences of their instruments.

            A conductor brings all the players together in a musically-intuitive way, he/she is the only one with an overall view and understanding of the totality of the score, and the best ones work miracles of ensemble playing and expression. As a composer I have worked with conductors and know something of their practice…. just to discourage useless pirouettes.

          • You write: ‘A conductor brings all the players together in a musically-intuitive way, he/she is the only one with an overall view and understanding of the totality of the score, and the best ones work miracles of ensemble playing and expression.’ Let’s start with your third point. Her I can agree with you, but as you say, this applies only to the very best. Your first point describes an ideal if it works. If it doesn’t work well, which is not exactly a rare situation, the orchestra will pull it through nevertheless, while the conductor receives the praise afterwards. Only if everything goes totally wrong, it will have been all the musicians fault, of course. But your straightfaced claim that the conductor would be ‘the only one with an overall view and understanding of the totality of the score’ must be a joke. Not I bad one, I must admit, it got me chortling.

  • The particular problem of Dialogues de Carmelites is that the mode of execution – the guillotine – is actually written into the score and the voices of the 16 nuns “die” one-by-one. To have them blown up (singly or en masse) defies both the musical and dramatic intent of the composer.

    Personally, I’m cheering on the Poulenc estate.

    • Thank you. Someone finally said it. It’s that slow, one-by-one killing that is so chilling to watch. You’re right. Poulenc had it right, the Munich opera not so much.

    • I’m cheering them too. And from a musical point of view, too, you make exactly the right point: the guillotine is precisely notated in the score, and it makes a nonsense of this to change the mode of execution to something more “contemporary” or headline-grabbing.

    • Exactly right! And in the recent production of “Don Giovanni” in Salzburg, the horns and Leporello tell us exactly how the Commendatore accepted the Don’s invitation to dinner with a nod, but the gigantic eye-photo substituted for the stone statue (otherwise “The Stone Guest”, be it noted) is dumb on this point. Transposition is a necessity in opera performance, as singers are only human, catch colds, deal with the consequences of long-term contracts, etc etc. (David Poleri famously walked off the stage near the end of “Carmen” after falling out of synch with the conductor, shouting “Finish the opera yourself”, leaving Carmen to die of lack of commitment.) Common sense is the guide to whether the point of a work has been enhanced, or controverted or perverted by a mis-director. (Didn’t Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal write a whole opera to argue this topic? And should Der Komponist and Zerbinetta clasp hands to show their agreement about how the “cuts” in M Jourdain’s opera should be handled, or should they “form a more perfect union”, right on stage???)

    • I’m with you. And furthermore, Cherniakov makes the change from a very effective and moving ending to a less effective and affecting rather sophomoric ending for ideological reasons that have nothing to do with the work as envisioned by Bernanos and Poulenc.

    • Exactly. I love this opera, but the final scene with the nuns singing Salve, Regina and marching one-by-one to the guilloutine, with Blanche returning to join in, is what makes the opera what it is. Take that out, you might as well have Wotan give Brunnhilde a plane ticket and send her off to Hawaii. I’m all for creative interpretation, but copyright or no, changing the final scene like this makes it a different opera.

  • As a whole it is a poor production – a ‘greenhouse’ type structure which is moved around a vast empty stage for a couple of hours. The ‘denouement’ is so much less effective than Poulenc devised!! When I saw it (on its first outing) it was not that well sung either!! Go to DOaR’s production if you wish to see how effective the opera can be!

  • Playwrights, librettists, and composers are not directors or designers. They should give other artists the same respect they demand for themselves.

    • Strong objection.
      There are creators and there are interpreters.
      The interpreters have to respect and protect the intention of the creators.
      Otherwise we end up in a “my neurosis us bigger than yours, that gives me the right to abuse you for my satisfaction” tyranny… hey, wait a second…

        • If they are indeed “creators” – why do they hide behind other people’s names and titles? Shouldn’t they be proud of their “creations”? And sign them as such?

          Mr Boulez could write music in his spare time, by he most certainly didn’t pretend he was the “creator” of Mahler’s symphonies he conducted.

          • We don’t “hide behind other people’s names.” The fact that some people never look farther than the composer’s name is their failing, not ours.

          • @Jeffrey E. Salzberg
            The composer’s name is what brought them to the house, and – sorry to remind you – what had brought YOU (since you say “we”) to the house in the first place. Without Mozart, no job for you. Without composers, no opera houses. The singing and playing bunch, which work makes YOU relevant, don’t pretend to be “creators”. “Interpreters” seems to be good enough for them. Why isn’t it for you?

            And, if you feel in a creative mood, please, create, by all means. And then sign your work, as Mozart did.

        • I don’t know why you think that.
          They are not creators, they are re-creators. There is nothing inferior or shameful in being a re-creator. It is what it is.

          It is very obvious and even evident in the renumeration schemes. Copyright belongs to the creators only, and copyright is only with composers, librettists and in some cases arrangers. That’s it.
          The performers have the rights on their performance, and need to acquire the copyright of the creator.

          • The fact that someone doesn’t know why I think that indicates ta lack of insight on his part.

          • @Jeffrey E. Salzberg
            If you want people to know what you think and why, the best way so far has been to explain yourself.

            “Lack of insight” comes sometimes from lack of information. Give us that.

          • indeed Mr. Salzberg, That’s why I said I don’t know. If you answer by explaining your apodictum, we might have the option to understand why you think that way. Otherwise we are wasting time. Your thought process certainly is not self-evident to anyone except yourself.

  • When I saw Norman’s headline I knew immediately who would comment on this and pretty much exactly what they’d say. Glad to have my instincts so comprehensively confirmed.

    The term “Regietheater” is opera’s equivalent of “ZanuLabour” “ConDemNation” “Tony Bliar” and “Political Correctness Gone Mad”: a sure-fire indication that the person using it almost certainly stockpiles canned goods and is very probably wearing a tinfoil hat.

    We can only dream of a day when every operatic revival is by Zeffirelli and every new production is by Ellen Kent (the orange sellers in her “Carmen” sell only actual Seville oranges).

    Until then, gentlemen, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability…
    *inches gingerly towards the door*

    • It seems to me that the term “Regietheater” has taken the meaning of describing an ideology which regards the staging as more important than the work staged. This has become the norm in the German actor’s theatre in the last decades. In music there has been an ever growing interest during these same decades in trying to understand better what conventions a composer would take for granted in his time. Now even the mainstream of the musical world aims to do a composer’s work more justice by attempting to get closer to his intentions, while in Germanic countries the theatre directors in their majority regard the authors’ intentions as ever less relevant. Therefore it is obvious that the field where these different approaches are bound to clash first and most is the opera. Musicians understand opera primarily as a musical art form, while both theatre and stage directors mostly perceive it as theatre with some music. And while the musicians have most of the audience on their side, the Regietheater proponents have the power to decide within the institutions. Whether some staging is “Regietheater” has nothing to do whether it follows exactly the directives in the libretto or not, but whether the work itself has been respected as a work of art which has to be served by the staging rather than just being some raw playing material for the director’s whims and obsessions. It goes without saying that this leaves plenty of room for discussions in a lot of cases.

      • All very true.

        Regietheater in the German-speaking world resulted from a more general wish to be ‘modern’ after WW II, and a good reason was seen in plots of plays and operas which came from former times and were thought to be suitable to ‘bring up to date’ so that modern audiences would understand the plot better. So, as a service to the audience, which was considered incapable of, for instance, understanding the social complexities in Mozart’s Figaro.

        Staging opera in a very literal way, as was common in the 19th century, takes away the symbolic nature of the art form. Half-realistic seems to work much better, and that can be done in many different ways. But once on the trajectory of non-realistic staging, stage directors got over-ambitious. And then, things got out of hand.

  • Les Carmelites is a dangerous opera. At the dress rehearsel of the Valencia performance of 1984, the card board guillotine made a very unrealistic impression, so that at short notice an improvement had to be found by borrowing a comparable contraption from the Escorial. At the premiere, the new guillotine was a great success with life-like executions, but all the following performances had to be cancelled when it appeared that the blade had been real.

    • It is indeed dangerous. It is an allegory of how Vichy France collaborated with the Nazis to send France’s Jews to Auschwitz. The reason it ends with a sadistic auto-da-fe is that it portrays the full horror of the Holocaust.

      Yes, and all the collaborationists are there – the aristocracy which ran away, the turncoat priests who shamelessly claimed that “these are problems of others – not ours”.

      At the time the opera was written, it was still very dangerous to mention Vichy – because many Vichy officials had clung to their posts after the war, and would stop at nothing to prevent being exposed.

      Why else would the composer write an opera which considers the tragic fate of an exclusive group of religious worshippers, who refuse to abandon their faith in the face of death? Look at the picture painted of the Revolutionaries – hardly a pretty picture of France’s heroes, is it?? And the reason is because they are the Wehrmacht, of course.

      Perhaps if you stopped prattling garbage about “Regietheater” and stopped for even one second to think what this opera is ABOUT, you might have a moment of understanding?

      Because if you think this is about a bunch of women in petticoats, and fops in powdered wigs, you’ve missed the point entirely (((((((((((((

      • Not quite sure how a novella written in 1931 would be about Vichy. It would be news to von Lefort, Bernanos (no Vichy friend) and Poulenc.
        Also le dialogue does not end with an autodafe. An autodafe is Catholics killing Jews …

        • The murder of the nuns of Compiegne was a historic fact from the 18th century.

          Poulenc has used the story to create an allegory of the slaughter of France’s Jews by the Nazis – which was organised by collaborationist Vichy. Perhaps if you took your head out of your underpants, and opened your EARS, you would notice this in the MUSIC.

          Or explain to us why a French composer chose to portray the Revolutionaries as Nazi stormtroopers? Hardly the most patriotic of approaches, is it?

          Have you even heard this opera? I strongly doubt it.

        • Bravo.

          The one and only act of “censorship” here is the one perpetrated by Cherniakov and the Staatsoper – on Bernanos and Poulenc. Every other argument used in this umpteenth exchange by the defensors of Regietheater (the silly ones and the sly ones, e.g. the dishonest abuse of the word and the concept of “interpretation”) have been answered and put to death a hundred times, but what can they do? They don’t have any others.

          The Staatsoper’s statement would be disgusting if it weren’t so ridiculous.

      • At Valencia, one of the staff wanted to use the guillotine from the Escorial to apply to one of the critics who had written negatively about the production, claiming that the plot was about WW II, but could be stopped in time by the alarmed police.

  • BTW: it would be nice if Mr Eddie Mars gave us something serious to read about his “Vichy” theory. I mean, beyond Alan Rich’s hypothesis. Some quotations from Poulenc would be welcome. “No comment” isn’t good enough.

      • Sir, you most certainly deserve the honorary title of “Resident Troll” more than anybody else. Don’t be too humble!

      • Dear Mr Mars,

        “Protector of the Vichy regime”. “Resident troll”. Because I asked you to give me something to read about a very interesting subject?

        Or is it all you have? Come on, I can’t believe you told us what Poulenc really wanted – without any source, document, quotation?

    • No nuns in sight – had they been disposed off already? Crazy staging.

      But what a wonderful, impressive and expressive music Poulenc wrote: very simple and entirely convincing, while being entirely traditional and entirely Poulenc. The music is fully alive and contemporary forever.

  • To return to Peter’s biological description of music perception on the 9th: that is merely another way of describing the same. Explaining the working of the radio set in technical terms does not deny the fact that a programme is being transmitted, i.e. the contents and nature of the programme is the result of an initiative from outside.

    It is, of course, true that the door only opens if the lock is made to receive the key, but it is the key which takes the initiative and the lock is merely moving on the impulses of the one, turning the key.

    Perception is dependent upon conditioning and acculturation, of course, as with everything in human life. But when the perception apparatus is in place, what happens in listening to music is not comparable to the agents who produce the music. The ‘passivity’ of the listener is in some ways also ‘active’ but not in the way the agents are, it seems to me. To place the activity to the position of the listener, is taking away all the input that has been created. The listener does not create in a psychological sense, even if his body does assemble the input in a creative way. The creativity of the body is of a different nature.

    The miracle of music perception is that a musical work can travel through this material trajectory but is, in itself, not material at all. Describing such processes can be done on a material level and on a psychological level. Both are sides of the same coin. Roger Scruton has written about describing these processes in his ‘Aesthetics of Music’.

    But all this is an academic discussion not suited to the poor readers of SD! (Your description would have suited modernist composers from the fifites and sixties excellently; they preferred the radio set to the programme.)

    • You are unfortunately too preoccupied and fixed in your own mental constructs, to comprehend what I said. We will have to leave it at that. Again you cling to your preposition that the musician is active and the listener is passive. Not so. The listener, evident by the very fact that he is sitting right there, ears wide open, and he is not only moving on the impulses he receives, but there are constantly decisions being made by him how to interpret what he hears.
      The listener is the ONLY creator of music ever. There is no other place for music to happen, than in the listeners mind!!!

      Music is ONLY in the listeners mind. Before you rebuttal with preconceived ideas, please wait a few hours and give it a second thought.

      (musicians are also listeners, so are composers)

      • Nobody knows for sure what other people’s ‘mental constructs’ are… they seem to be exclusively located in the mind of the reader. And I never simply said listeners were ‘passive’. Your theory is isolating ‘music’ at one location, while the art form is holistic, in my opinion, involving the three parties: composer, performer and listener. An isolationist theory is denying the creative input of both composer and performer, and glossing over the differences between the three parties by calling them all ‘listeners’, denies the very different ways in which ‘listening’ is processed by these parties. I can only refer to Scruton’s Aesthetics of Music, chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8.

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