Calixto Bieito: I love my work

Calixto Bieito: I love my work


norman lebrecht

May 16, 2018

The provocative Spanish director shows his softer side to a Guardian interviewer:

Bieito threw up at school, suffered disrupted sleep and developed phobias. Years later, he found it harder and harder to fly. From his home in Barcelona, he would take the train: to Edinburgh for the international festival, to Dublin via the ferry, to Copenhagen, Salzburg, Paris … “It was crazy,” he says…

“Anxiety and depression have things in common, but in simple terms, with anxiety, you are worried about everything and with depression, you don’t care about anything,” Bieito says. “Anxiety, anguish or angst is something that is inside all of us. I am not special in this – it is common.”

Read on here.



  • Caravaggio says:

    And yet all that anguish is no license for serial assault.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Demonstrating clearly how Regietheater, filled to the brim with neurosis and perversion, is created by ditto directors.

    • John Rook says:


    • Olassus says:


    • Max Grimm says:

      Tout à fait.

    • Clem says:

      Pretty amazing how some people still think they can grasp and judge all Regiethater in one fell swoop and still feel themselves mightily intelligent. If you include spoken theater there must have been hundreds Regiethater productions all over Europe by now. Trying to judge them all just on the basis of the Regiethater label is slightly pathetic. But go ahead. Reactionaries are just as necessary in any cultural system as revolutionaries, imitators and producers of kitsch.

      • Sue says:

        I’d say your last sentence displays a degree of self-awareness not usually found on this site.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A comment revealing complete ignorance about the very notion of Regietheater. Pointless to explain it, would be too sophisticated. Only one very simple thing: with every theatre production, be it Shakespeare, Goldoni, Mozart or Strauss, the original idea of the makers should be respected and no layer of meaning spread over the work which has not been there. That is not reactionary, but respect: Werktreue. We also don’t add sunglasses or a more modern hairdo to the Mona Lisa, or give Michelangelo’s David a T-shirt and jeans. ‘Reactionary’ are the crazy people wo look down upon audiences and think they have to change the nature of a work to make it ‘accessible to contemporary audiences’.

        • Clem says:

          Two simple words, “should be”, reveal your painful ignorance and your limited artistic vision (ok, vision is too grand a word). You have absolutely no clue how the performing arts work. You are a sad, old, fossilized, pompous little man staring at his wrinkled belly button. And you mean absolutely nothing outside of the circle jerk that is this website.
          Which I check because I very much appreciate Norman’s efforts to keep us up to date, AND to enjoy the pathetic comments of a sad little gang of frustrated keyboard warriors.

          • Leo says:

            We didn’t insult you personally (at least I didn’t), so why get so heated?

            Are you Calixto Bieito? Lol

          • John Borstlap says:

            We take-up this ‘comment’ with pincers, like archeologists digging into the earth and stumbling upon remnants of some archaic, pre-civilizational tribe which had not as yet discovered the notion of arguments and logic…. a splinter revealing the stark underdevelopment of prehistoric attempts to ward-off awareness of mental limitation.

        • Yes Addison says:

          That comparison of theatrical works to paintings and sculptures, always silly on its face, is now both silly and tired. No interpretation of any kind is necessary to present the Mona Lisa. It’s done, it (or a reproduction) gets displayed, people look at it and then move on to the next thing in the gallery. It doesn’t have to be played, sung, conducted, designed, or blocked.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Every opera consists of a) the music, b) the plot. The presentation of both is not fixed but has to be interpreted, and for the music there is the collection of more or less precise instructions in the score which, together with a performance tradition and the understanding of the performers, can produce a more or less stable identity. The visualisation is much more dependent upon material and historic circumstances and thus more vulnerable to misunderstanding and deformation. To counter this insecurity in terms of identity, the only possible attitude for a director is: what has been meant by the makers (the composer and the librettist)? This offers already so much space for the director’s interpretation that to consciously depart from this attitude is a garantee of misunderstanding and deforming the work.

            Does the audience want to see/hear the work, or the interpretation of the director for which he uses the work? If well done, direction serves the work, and not the other way around.

            It is not so hard to think such things through…. imagine being a composer and knowing that a director, who is incapable of writing a single note of music and has not written your libretto, will intrude into all of your efforts because he knows better than you what should be done with your ideas. It is like the delivery man of the supermarket changing your order because he has a different opinion of what you should eat.

            Which does not mean that there are no serious problems with interpreting existing works, even if meant loyally. The silly heroism in much of Wagner’s Ring, especially the Siegfried role, is a problem for every director, and he will have to make do with what there is, and let the heroism spoeak for itself: it is silly and fake, and logically it leads to Siegfried’s Untergang. A good director cannot delete a maker’s flaws, but can render them more or less acceptable or excusable. Which is better than changing the plot altogether.

    • Sue says:

      The ‘meat and 3 veg’ of “The Guardian”. Gotta keep them gob-smacked with the latest thrill. Bread and circuses for victims of “the patriarchy”.

      • Leo says:

        I am always astounded by the degree the press has distanced itself from the general public.

        And then they wonder why their finances are declining.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      My own mental health was challenged whenever I attended regietheater opera. The past tense indicates that I kicked that habit.

      Other than that, I can’t assume anything. I am not sure about cause and effect. I wouldn’t make assumptions about the mental health of directors I liked.

  • Leo says:

    Calixto Bieito: “I love my work.”

    Singers performing his work: “we hate his work, but if we ever say this publicly – our career is over.”

    Artistic managements engaging Calixto Bieito: “we love his work. He makes this boring opera thing so exciting!”

    Public witnessing his work: *puking*

    Dead composers of the works in question: “WTF??”

    • The View from America says:


    • Clem says:

      Never saw anyone puking. Attended three Bieito productions, two of them twice, and felt and witnessed great enthusiasm, standing ovations even, every single time. Yes, there was one lonely old fart booing just once during Bieito’s Stuttgart Parsifal. He probably had a thing against cannibalism.

      Artists saying privately they hate his work: know a lot of them, do you?

      • Leo says:

        Yes. I know a lot of them.
        They never signed up for Regietheater – they wanted to do opera.

      • Yes Addison says:

        Well, you know, Leo has been taken into the confidence of every singer who has ever appeared in a Bieito production. They shared secret messages with him, and now he holds the information that could end dozens of careers. I am sure he will guard it wisely.

    • Sue says:

      Damn; I wondered what happened to my pin cushion and now I know. All those fruitless years of searching when I had sox to darn.

  • Clem says:

    He is a magnificent opera director. His production of Lady Macbeth of the Mstsenk District in Antwerp was not only a gripping opera production, but one of the best theatre productions I’ve ever seen. I didn’t see anyone puking, it got standing ovations every time it was performed.
    His Tannhäuser in Antwerp (now playing in Leipzig) was hardly iconoclastic or radical. On the contrary: it was supremely moving.
    Bieito’s controversial Parsifal, which is shown again and again in Stuttgart, is a masterpiece, even if it completely contradicts Wagner’s message of redemption. I personally think this message is essential to the work, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying and appreciating Bieito’s version.

    Next season, Bieito will produce a new opera in Antwerp, with a libretto by Händl Klaus and music by Hèctor Parra, based on Jonathan Littell’s shocking Holocaust novel Les bienveillantes. Those who are interested in new, exciting, thought-provoking work on the operatic stage know where to go. The rest can go on moaning and complaining and stewing in their own boring complacency as far as I’m concerned.

    • Sue says:

      Yes, we all know ‘where to go’ and we’d like a make a few suggestions for you too.

      • Clem says:

        Lovely. Always open for new experiences. You can keep your Zeffirelli DVD’s though.

        • Leo says:

          What would be wrong with someone following Zeffirelli and producing works in an aesthetic fitting their intention and spiritual content?

          People talk of “diversity” and propagate exactly the opposite.

          • Clem says:

            Nothing wrong with Zeffirelli DVD’s. Just not my thing. And I’m very grateful they keep the fossils out of the theatre halls.

          • John Borstlap says:

            ‘Everybody should be different, like everybody else.’

    • John Borstlap says:

      Regietheater is for culturally-ignorant people without any historic sense.

      • Leo says:

        John, although I share your opinion on the issue, I have to disagree with your choice of words.

        If you want your opinion taken seriously you have to phrase it less offensively than “culturally ignorant people” – you commit here the exact snobbism for which you condemn your opponents.

        I agree that Regietheater is based on a large degree ignorance in some issues (and more knowledge in others in which traditionally musicians didn’t mind that much) – now let’s show the people who don’t know, WHAT they don’t know, and why it’s important. Maybe you will be surprised to find some open minds, and even convince them.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I never criticize people for being ‘snobbish’. I merely think it is useless to be tolerant vis-a-vis intolerance, and if you had read carefully, you would have noticed that I merely state the obvious and what is common sense, as a correction to so much nonsense on this site. I don’t want to convince people of something which is not difficult to see for themselves…. and hope to contribute a bit to understanding the art form for which we are all here.

          • Leo says:

            I have encountered some intelligent people on “the other side”, which while not being very knowledgeable about “classical music”, nevertheless are well versed in other interesting subjects.

            I had the pleasure of successfully convincing a few of them. And I rather do that than bash them for having a different opinion.

            What I would bash others for, is enforcing their opinion, claiming it is the only one valid, and using public funds to do so.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    … and the photography is from a coming Bieito producction of ‘Kiss Me, Kate.’

    • Clem says:

      It’s from the Antwerp Opera season’s booklet. Each season they ask another artist for illustrations of the productions. This is the one that accompanied Bieito’s production of tannhäuser. Bieito had nothing to do with it.

  • Leo says:

    Why not the old (and young) reactionary farts unite, fundraise and make our own production, how we think it should be done?

    • Clem says:

      YES! why not? Well, maybe because you would have to move your wrinkled arse from behind your keyboard and actually DO something instead of whining? 😀

      Gee, this really is the most satisfying comment I have ever read online. Go Leo, go!!!

      • Leo says:

        What would be to you so offensive, if aside from all the Regietheater, one also puts “old fashioned” productions up in theaters here and there?

        If people want it – why not?

        It seems to me doing what has been successfully done in the past is THE one big taboo today in contemporary art, not only Regietheater.
        I am still trying to understand this all engulfing fear of the past.

        • Yes Addison says:

          Where in the world are you going to the theater where you can’t see “old-fashioned” productions?

          But some defining of terms is probably necessary. If we’re talking about Wagner stagings that look like the photos of Flagstad and Melchior from the ’30s, even Otto Schenk resisted the urge to be that hackneyed.

        • John Borstlap says:

          “I am still trying to understand this all engulfing fear of the past.” This sentence is touching at the heart of our contemporary cultural problems. After some 150 years of utopian thinking, stimulated by science and the urge to improve society, the West has put all of its cards on the idea that everything will, should, be better in the future. As far as dentistry is concerned, this will probably be true, but for culture such thinking is catastrophic, as we all can see in the ‘museums of modern art’ and the ‘festivals of new music’. The greatest art of the 15th and 16th century was created in times of disruptive upheavals, maybe as a heartfelt reaction to them, but at the time, ‘being modern’ meant taking historic examples as points of departure and what we got is the ‘Renaissance’. The opera was an imaginative invention meant as a recreation, a revival, of the theatre plays of Antiquity. The idea that the past is ‘another country’ that better be untouched is relatively new, and the result of not understanding that there is no contradiction in what people created long ago and what people could do today.

          • Leo says:

            You know well that this “new music” thing has been imposed from above since day 1, to the dismay of the majority of performers and public to this very day.

            Since the beginning, these works never found public resonance, except as a gimmick, like an animal in the circus doing some peculiar trick (cage’s 4:33, for example, or Stockhausen’s helicopter quartet). Or as the centerpiece of a new snobbery using it to excerpt presumed intellectual superiority.

            What I also don’t understand, is why people who obviously have not the slightest talent to write music insist on it so much, using all the intellectual and political tools they can find to pass their production as music.

            If I would be, for example, a miserable dentist, no book by Adorno or political bon-ton would be able change that.

          • John Borstlap says:

            To Leo: I agree with that.

            The notion of an Adornoian dentist is thrilling (in more than one sense).

            The obsession with ‘modernity’ in the arts was inspired by science and social engineering, and the fear of being considered ‘conservative’ – while it would be wise to conserve the things that need to be conserved, which can be combined with the best available contemporary means, as dentistry again demonstrates which is ALL about conserving. The problem is that the notion of ‘modern’ can be used in so many contexts and with so many different meanings, that it has lost all meaning alltogether. It has merely survived as a meaningless slogan. But the word has ‘magical’ overtones which are then explored by sonic artists.

            The recently published book by German musicologist Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz: ‘Die Heilung des verlorenen Ichs’ (Europa Verlag 2018) offers a wide panorama of how this strange aesthetic confusion has come about. When treated as a trajectory of depth psychology, suddenly all kinds of striking insights are the result.


  • Barry Guerrero says:

    That photo reminds me of the Jeff Goldblum movie, “The Fly”. Creepy!

  • Dave says:

    He must be a member of Slipknot.