These fluttered down on us in a German opera house this week

These fluttered down on us in a German opera house this week


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2018

In the first act of The Banality of Love by Ella Milch-Sheriff, a world premiere at Regensburg Opera, the audience is showered with yellow stars in the opening act.


One the opening night, some people walked out.

My own reaction was mild amusement, not much more.

The opera recounts the affair between the brilliant philosopher Martin Heidegger, who became an avid Nazi, and his Jewish student Hannah Arendt.

Why was I not shocked by the yellow stars? Perhaps because the power of such symbols has been neutered by over-familiarity. Perhaps because the opera was gripping enough not to need them. Perhaps because I resented the Israeli director, Itay Tiran, over-simplifying the story with such gestures.

Were the stars inappropriate? I am still in two minds.

More about the opera itself before long.




  • John Borstlap says:

    Of course it is a ridiculous Regie-oper gesture. If ANY production needs such ‘in-your-face’ gestures, it only damages the work, whatever its qualities.

    The difficulty with such subjects for opera is that it is so morally-loaden that any artistic opinion is buried under the pressures of politically-correct obligations: thou shalst be on the right side of history & keep thine mouth shut about any possible flaws because the most important hing is… etc. etc. If the music is good and expressive, listeners will be relieved to react positively, so that they don’t have to feel threatened by the thought of possible rightwing sympathies. If the music does, as music, not work so well, listeners’ reactions will be buried as their deep, dark secret, like a sin never to be detected. In short, the subject and its utterly subjective nature – being about real people and real atrocities – takes away any freedom of audiences to react with honesty. It seems to me a much too literal treatment of the theme, which would be more effective if put at some distance.

  • Wiebke Göetjes says:

    One of the most shocking facts that I learned from singing at the German Operahouses since 1995 is that the Nazi time and antisemitism is very actual among managements, directors and conductors.
    For instance:
    Talking about a certain singer who was singing somewhere and we didn’t understand because she didn’t have the qualities, the answer was that she was 1/4……. We didn’t understand at first, but they meant 1/4 Jewish, meaning that the Jewish people give jobs to eachother……

    Once we travelled with a German pianist who played the solo piano in Ariadne aux Naxos the night before. Chatting along we asked if he was playing this part in many opera houses, then he answered that he actually was a conductor and wanted to conduct but all the jobs were given to “das Blut”….. We left the train at the next stop, I couldn’t stand being in the same train anymore…..

    When singing Tosca among the paperwork in Scarpia’s book were original Nazi letters. I got them and destroyed them….

    After an audition somewhere I went for a coffee with a colleague who I had just met. She was obviously upset and wanted to tell her story, so I listened…..: She had been the celebrated ‘diva’ of an operahouse in the south of Germany and the new intendant had called her and said “I have to sack you because with you I can only play one opera: La Juive”…….

    The operaworld is full of it, still…… very scary…..

  • Sharon says:

    In New York City which has a Jewish population of hundreds of thousands there is the expression “He had a rabbi” to indicate someone with “pull” or connections or approach through someone, the “rabbi”, who can act as a fixer as in “He had a rabbi so he got the job”.

  • Jay Haskel says:

    I am of one mind. You are very naive.

    Some years ago I worked in Iran in a Hotel. My Boss was German and I was and am American. One day I casually mentioned that my Mother was born in Baku and came to the states when she was three years old. He replied that his favorite Uncle died as a captive in Russia during WWII. Thereafter he treated me like dirt.

    I was naive and therefore neglected to tell him about all of my Jewish family who were killed in Concentration Camps in Germany. It probably would not have helped anyway.

    I will be unsubscribing from your blog. I don’t like hearing from bigots.

  • James says:

    In my experience of the classical music scene, it is usually either the gay mafia or foreigners in general who are held to be too thick on the ground. Neither the WASP nor the Jewish ascendency is normally mentioned. Here in Germany, the
    foreign element, starting with the dead, …Abaddo, Maazel, Marriner, Skrowaczewski, Solti, Tate, Belohlavek, Pretre, Boulez, Hogwood, then to Ozawa, Haitink, Muti, Previn, Rattle, Runnicles, Blomstedt, Barenboim, Petrenko, Bychkow, Jansons, Carter, Nagano, Shelley, Norrington, Lopez-Cobos, Griffiths, Ashkenazy, the Jurowskis, Sokhiev, Wolf, Young, Kosky, Chaillly, the Jaervis, Nott, the Fischers, Harding, Gardiner, Mehta, et al(even an incomplete list is not unimpressive) certainly does predominate in the higher echelons. And so what?
    Thus the cookie crumbles. The need for a scapegoat is all too human.
    Time to grow up.