Opera chief wears Stalin t-shirt for his curtain call

Opera chief wears Stalin t-shirt for his curtain call


norman lebrecht

September 26, 2018

The Berlin opera boss Barrie Kosky has created a stir in Zurich by taking his curtain call in a t-shirt emblazoned with the unmistakable image of the young Stalin (that’s before he murdered 30 million Soviet citizens).

Kosky, who was directing Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, has refused to comment.

Would he have worn a picture of the young Hitler? Was he just trying to grab a headline?

History is not a toy, Kosky.

Photo: Christian Berzins



  • Doug says:

    Only 30 million? You’re being generous.

    You are dead on. History is not a toy and “we’ll get it right this time” is no excuse to even entertain the idea of communism. And if you do, for even one brief moment, you are either a useful idiot, or downright evil.

    Now go read some Solzhenitsyn.

    • Lenin says:

      How many people have died because of capitalism? Hundreds of millions.
      Your sanctimonious epithet would be more accurately applied to proponents of that dying ideology.

      • jaypee says:

        doug supports cretin donald the pussy grabber.
        Stick to one-syllable word… Othwerwise, he won’t understand…

      • John Borstlap says:

        The difference between extreme capitalism and extreme communism is that with extreme capitalism you wither away in freedom.

        • Brettermeier says:

          “The difference between extreme capitalism and extreme communism is that with extreme capitalism you wither away in freedom.”

          Nice. (The comment, not the withering part.)

      • M2N2K says:

        If and when “lenin” can name a capitalist country that murdered over thirty million of its citizens within less than three decades, I am sure that he/she will share such knowledge with us.

  • Alex Davies says:

    “Would he have worn a picture of the young Hitler?” No, because there is a peculiar double standard when it comes to the place of the far right and the far left in our cultural vocabulary. Stalin and Mao are appropriated as cultural icons with seemingly little regard for the atrocities that they perpetrated. One can even buy t-shirts celebrating the more obscure Enver Hoxha. Of course, nobody would dream of wearing a t-shirt depicting Hans Frank or Reinhard Heydrich, let alone Hitler.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    He thought he was being hipster with a picture of Barry Gibb.

  • MacroV says:

    Please don’t generalize about Right and Left. As a left-leaning type (in the US context), I find this appalling, as I would if it were Mao, Che, Leopold, Cecil Rhodes, etc. (though nobody knows what the last two look like).

    A rare shout-out to Norman for calling this one out.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It does not surprise me of Kosky.

  • william osborne says:

    Kosky is the first Jewish director to work at Bayreuth. Both there and in Berlin, he has addressed anti-Semitism in a very forthright manner unusual for Germany. In Bayreuth he stressed this in the way Sixtus Beckmesser was portrayed, a character thought to be an anti-Semtic caricature. He put it so over the top that the veiled anti-Semitism was clear for all to see. He was also the first person who was not a member of the Wagner family to direct Meistersinger there.

    One aspect of Hitler’s hallucinogenic anti-Semitism was that he thought communism was a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. Exterminating Jews was the same as destroying communism.

    From this perspective, I suspect Kosky’s Stalin t-shirt at the Zurich Opera (a city whose secret banking industry is thought to be a paragon of capitalist corruption) was at least in part a calculated provocation. And judging by the reactions here, it seems people have swallowed it whole.

    • william osborne says:

      Kosky defends his wearing to the shirt in the article below. If anyone has a subscription, perhaps they can tell us what he said:


      When my wife was given a professorship in Germany, she had to sign a standardized document saying she wasn’t a communist. Naturally mindsets like this lead to people like Kosky to act up.

    • Escamillo says:

      Kosky was not the first person who was not a member of the Wagner family to direct Meistersinger at Bayreuth. Heinz Tietjen was 85 years ago. And diverting though Kosky’s Meistersinger may be, it remains Kosky’s, not Wagner’s.

      • william osborne says:

        True. He was a close friend of Winifred. He was active in the Nazi music world, and viewed by some as an opportunist. Given the context and history, I have no problem with Kosky staging Wagner from his own perspective.

        • william osborne says:

          After all, do we want Wagner’s antisemitism to be staged literally?

          • Escamillo says:

            Actually, Tietjen owed his position to Winifred against the expressed wishes of the Party hierarchy, and he was regarded with suspicion.

          • Escamillo says:

            Except there isn’t any in Die Meistersinger.

          • william osborne says:

            He had some disputes with the Nazis, but he was supported by Göring who as I noted appointed him to the state opera. In 1933, he fired 27 people from the State Opera and Theater. He was, however, cleared by a de-Nazification proceedings. His relationship with the Nazis seems mixed. He definitely collaborated with them.

          • william osborne says:

            Ah yes, we’ve all heard how there isn’t any anti-Semitism in Wagner. Not a trace…

            Wagner’s second wife Cosima Wagner noted in her diary on March 14, 1870, during a Meistersinger performance in Vienna that Jewish spectators protested about Beckmesser. She commented, “Complete victory of the German.”

            See page 9 of the linked document:


            The relevant passage: “Als 1870 die Meistersinger in Wien aufgeführt werden, kommt es zu Protesten
            während der Vorstellungen, weil aufmerksame Ohren in den Arabesken
            und Melismen, die der Beckmesser da im zweiten Akt bei seinem
            jämmerlich missglückten Ständchen singt, eine Persiflage auf jüdische
            Musik, jüdischen Synagogengesang, erkannt haben. Cosima dazu
            angewidert im Tagebuch: „Unter anderem hatten die Juden dort
            verbreitet, das Lied von Beckmesser sei ein altes jüdisches Lied,
            welches R. habe persiflieren wollen. Hierauf Zischen im 2ten Akt und die
            Rufe, wir wollen es nicht weiter hören, jedoch vollständiger Sieg der
            Deutschen.“ – Man kann das mit der Jüdischen Musik so hören oder
            auch nicht, Wagner hat es wohlweislich nicht bestätigt…sicher ist wohl
            nur, dass der Beckmesser ein böser Seitenhieb auf den Wagner ja so
            verhassten Wiener Kritiker Hanslick war, und der hat elegant reagiert, als
            man ihm mitteilte, Wagner habe ihn als Juden porträtiert: ‘Ich bin nicht
            jüdisch’, hat er gesagt, ‘aber ich würde es mir zur Ehre anrechnen.'”

            Numerous scholars have written about anti-Semitism in Wagner. The denial remains…

          • DB says:

            Cosima speaks in the conditional tense (the old-jewish song “which Wagner should have wanted to mock [according to the protestors]”), she does not confirm that it was actually Wagner’s intention. The phrase “total victory for the Germans” seems more to be a reference to the German spectators who applauded the music, as opposed to the Jewish protestors who heckled Beckmesser’s song. So this citation seems to me hardly any evidence that Wagner consciously wrote antisemitic characters into his operas.

    • almaviva says:

      Odd choice for one to wear a Stalin t-shirt whilst protesting anti-semitism. Unless he is (willfully?) ignorant, I can’t imagine why would one wear the image of such a notorious anti-semite, whose purges after 1948 rivaled Hitler’s in the 1930’s. Only his death in 1953 prevented a second holocaust from happening.

  • Sue says:

    He’s always been infantile – a perennial undergraduate. And extremely coarse.

  • RW2013 says:

    So over this guy.
    Why was Carlotta a sculptress and not a painter?
    Why does Salvago have no hands?
    Glad to hear that he’s not extending at the KOB.

  • Anon says:

    Isn’t there a subway stop in Paris called Stalingrad?

    And there are too many things named after Columbus to even count.

  • Ted says:

    Well, the following story is a little different, but it does involve someone–my father–wearing an image of Stalin, so I’ll tell it here.

    My dad was a cryptanalist (code-cracker) in the Korean War. The high-security intelligence complex where he worked was color-coded, everyone wore photo-ID and the color of your ID determined which buildings you were allowed to enter, and the guards had orders to carefully check IDs every time you entered a building. When my dad first arrived, the General in charge gave a welcome speech to the new arrivals, emphasized the importance of security and urged them to undertake personal projects to improve security on their own initiative. Well, my dad was buddies with the guy in charge of making the photo-IDs, and he got this guy to make him an ID with a photo of Stalin! And my dad wore this ID and went in and out of buildings for MORE THAN SIX MONTHS before a guard noticed. (Guard: “Wait a minnit, you don’t have a mustash!” –Dad: “Well, I shaved it off!” –Guard: “Lemme see that!”) So dad went before the disciplinary committee, and said “The General said to undertake personal security-projects, and that’s what this was, and I’d say the security here needs some work!”

    That’s a true story.

  • Michael Endres says:

    What a powerful message against capitalism and Swiss banking ( which will have funded his generous fee. )
    I guess we must applaud the sublime message and admire the courage it took staging such protest in Zurich.

    The banalities of Regietheater are one thing, but the hypocrisy that comes with it reeks.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “What a powerful message against capitalism”

      I’d call it shallow. Why, you might ask.

      In capitalism we have private ownership of the means of production.
      In communism we have the common ownership of the means of production.

      In capitalism we have corrupt politicians and industrialists.
      In communism we have corrupt politicians that are industrialists.

      You blame the symptoms while you should blame the cause. (That’s humans, btw.)

  • jaypee says:

    @ doug the deplorable

    “Here we have four useful idiots. I wouldn’t call them evil simply because they are downright stupid.”

    says the moron who voted for cretin donald the pussy grabber…
    Say, moron, do you like being the world’s laughing stock?

    That’s what happen when a cretin is elected -thanks to people like you and sue- president.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Since you are capable of nothing but abuse I wonder why you are infesting this website? As a French Jewish leader put it, the hate-filled left.